Beast in a Box (Again)

Well, the ‘slow boat from Jakarta’ plan didn’t work out.

It proved to be too many things: too complicated (the Beast being treated as cargo and sent separately); too time-consuming (endless running between offices near the port); too tiring (language barriers and miming can wear you out) and too relatively expensive (24 hrs on the ship would cost the same as the ridiculously cheap hop between Jakarta and Singapore).

And so I flew the Indonesian coop this morning, popped back into the northern hemisphere (just), and arrived safely in Singapore just over an hour after leaving Jakarta.  The Beast, while whining as usual about being dismantled and packed in cardboard, appears to have survived once again.  I’ll know for sure when I put it back together tomorrow.

I did have time for a poke around the more monumental end of Jakarta before I left.  It reminded me a bit of some cities in the Former Soviet Union (albeit without the same apparent risk of being topped for being rude about the government), or maybe North Korea, with everything laid out neatly and then massively oversized to emphasise the importance of the place.  The Istiqlal Mosque (above) is hard to get a scale on.  My estimate is that the vertical part (below the dome) is about seven or eight storeys high.  It’s a big mosque.

It’s a little easier to appreciate the largeness of the National Monument.  It’s a monster.  And the enormous, carefully tended park around it was an idyllic setting for families enjoying a Sunday stroll yesterday.  Or at least it would have been, if it weren’t for the fleets of hired mini-motorcycles being raced around and around by manic, grinning teenagers.

Now, I’ve seen so many abused bicycles in Indonesia, overloaded to breaking point to carry everything from reeds to dumpling stalls to multiple sacks of rice, that I felt it was time to expose the practice (although, sadly, I suspect that simply pointing it out will not stop the exploitation).

I’ve switched off my hypocrisy filter, by the way.  The Beast actively enjoys being loaded until it creaks and then thrashed across thousands of miles of mountains, deserts and crumbling tarmac.  Honest.


Anyway, this pitiful example was being used as a coffee shop in central Jakarta by a particularly villainous owner.  An owner who insisted on being photographed with his poor, worn out victim.  And then tried to charge me five US dollars for a coffee to cover his modelling expenses.  Bearing in mind that the normal price of a coffee is 5000Rp (around 40 US cents), and that $5 will buy you a meal in a decent restaurant, I declined his kind invitation, and gave him a twenty percent tip on the coffee instead.  I didn’t want a picture with his mug in it anyway.

For the first time on this entire trip, I walked away from a conversation with what I can only assume were carefully selected curses and threats ringing in my ears.  I wasn’t looking back, but I reckon there were probably some less-than-flattering hand signals involved, too.

In fairness, he was the first and only unpleasant human being that I met in Indonesia, which only accentuates how lovely people generally were there.

Let’s hope that Singapore, Malaysia and points further north are as interesting, and the people as nice, as Indonesia has managed in the last month (though preferably with slightly better roads and less manic traffic).


To Jakarta: Hills, Traffic, and Football

It’s been a few days that have felt like an assault course at times.

You can feel the pull of the capital from a long way off.  A metropolitan area with nearly 30 million inhabitants (10m in the city itself) is hard to ignore.

The traffic gets heavier (and slightly more aggressive), the air gets dirtier, and the noises get louder.  The lack of decent sign-posting becomes a major issue instead of a minor irritation.  And the smells get noticeably stronger (and generally less pleasant).

But before all that, there were the hills.

The ride to Bandung on Tuesday looked tough on paper.  And it was in practice.  Two major climbs, topping out at nearly 900m, and an awful lot of little ups and downs in between.

It’s hard to get a sense of steepness across on a photo, but you can hopefully see the gradient near the top of the second climb here (the road follows the line with the rock face behind it).  It was a brutal day, and I was pretty well knackered by the time I rolled into Bandung.  To the extent that I didn’t really notice the increasing traffic until I got back on the road yesterday (Wednesday) morning.

It was mayhem.  And this was on the ring-road, rather than the city centre.  The traffic lights here are on incredibly long delays, resulting in hundreds of scooters, minibuses (‘Bemos’), vans and cars building up at every red light.  When the lights go green, everyone charges across the junction, and then screeches to a halt again as the Bemos pull up in the middle of the road on the other side to disgorge their passengers.  Once you’ve squeezed past them, it’s all clear for a few hundred yards to the next set of lights, where the whole process repeats.

Jakarta, I can now say with some authority, is worse.

As I crossed the last of the hills, it was a steep, twisty and poorly-surfaced interlude between the traffic madness.  It was fun.  There was a constant stream of trucks, scooters and cars going the other way, draped in blue flags.  It turns out that football is just as big in Indonesia as it is at home, and that Bandung had just won the league, with stacks of fans heading into town to celebrate.  At least I finally got my own back on the photo-muggers, and got a shot of some of them (all, oddly, Manchester United fans too, and not even from Surrey).

So, having got as far as Jakarta, I’ve got some logistics to sort out.  I’ve got six days left on my 30-day visa, which is not really enough to get to a port or airport in Sumatra.  With a bit of luck, I’ll be able to get a ferry up close to Singapore from here before my time expires.  Trouble is, it’s pretty much impossible to work out when and if the ferries are running without going to the office and asking.  If there’s one in time, I’ll get it (hopefully with a couple of days to poke around Jakarta).  If not, it’s either a visa renewal or a flight.

Should all be much clearer by next update…