There is nothing like arriving into a new country at midnight. You are tired and cranky from traveling all day, a little nervous not knowing what to expect, but damn well sure there is going to be some headache or hassle. Most important thing is to have accommodation already picked out and money changed, so at least that much is settled. Understanding the conversion rate always takes us a few weeks to nail down, especially when it’s has a ton of zeros behind it. Then transportation is next. Should be easy, grab a cab to your destination. Haha, never that easy. Lonely planet plus our hostel have specific directions to only take Blue Bird cabs, who have a great reputation. According to rumor, the rest are more then likely going to rip you off, drive you somewhere to their hotel, or just flat out rob you. So as fully laden sleepy pack animals, you walk out of the airport and are instantly accosted by an army of fixers. Their persistence is admirable, and incredibly frustrating. I tell them we have friends picking us up, but that only stems the tide for a short period. As soon as you whip out the travel bible, it’s over. We manage to find Blue Bird taxis, but the logo on the car has a different name on it. Well at this point we are understandably paranoid, what with all the warnings. After a bit of back and forth, checking their ID’s, inspecting the cab, we just go for it and arrive at Six Degrees Backpacker hostel safe and sound. If the airport would only be more strict with cab companies, people would not have these issues.
Well we meet Bob, our Rastafarian hostel clerk from Flores Island. Tired, but just hoping to have beer and crash he offers us a smoke, but we decline. With the sweet sounds of island rebelliousness in our ears and a beer in hand we wander up five flights of stairs to the roof deck. As we approach the top landing we hear loud thumping eighties dance music blasting from the speakers, and our fears of twenty something’s raving on the roof and everything else you hear about party hostels coming true. We open the door and come across just three guys sitting at a picnic table sipping beer on a roof top oasis. Tiki bungalows, eighties dance music, palm trees and tropical foliage, and even a tiki look out twenty feet up a ladder. No crazy party at all.
We do a walk around as the guys are debating the merits of eighties music. The smaller one is very emphatic and jumps up starting to dance while changing the songs numerous times like a channel surfer. The one guy surrounded by a ring of smoke calmly asks us to not be afraid and join them in a very distinctive British accent. The normal line of questioning begins when you bump into travelers, like where are you from? I say America, which means they then assume Yvonne is from America too, which she really loves (ha-ha). Well half a beer in we exchange names, the little guy is Dave, the calm Brit was Ian, and the even quieter guy was John. Yvonne chatted up the energetic Dave who blurts out “That’s not a U.S. accent, where yee from?”
“I never said I was from the states, I’m from Ireland.”
“Bullshite, your not Irish. Where yee from?”
“Ohhh, no wonder, tis barely Ireland.”
“Ooooohhh, that’s very cheeky of you. Where are you from?”
Well this back and forth went on for a while before they did enough do you know this, or Wexford people are cheeky, to Carlow folks are tarty, and so on and so forth. Kinda like two dogs who walk around each other four or five times before they sniff each others arses and ascertain that indeed, they are both dogs, and not cats.
Now that we were certain we were all friends the real drinking could begin. Both guys were married to Sumatron twin sisters. Yvonne offered to go down the five flights of stairs to get beer, which they agreed to and would buy the beers. Then it was time for next round, and Yvonne offered again,which they readily agreed to, until I pointed out they were using her as a beer wench, which sent them on a million apologies and racing down the stairs to grab beer. On the third round we insisted and both went down only to return to a large wrestling match on the roof. More beers were downed, dance offs of the most extreme kind, deep and meaningful drunk conversation was had by all, and we all agreed we were friends for life. This was how we met one half of the wonderful owners of Six Degrees Hostel and were welcomed to sunny Jakarta.
The next day was pure torture, with a screaming headache, we hid in our wonderfully air conditioned room like hermit crabs in their shell. By time we left the safety for some lunch, we bumped into the equally hungover guys, who decided for them the best recovery would be a trip to the amusement park to ride roller coasters. We felt lunch was a better option and opened the door from the quiet hostel to the screaming loud world of Jakarta. Like a shock wave the heat blasted, quickly followed by the sound and smell of thousands of motorcycles driving by. We wandered down the non-existent sidewalk, mainly on the street, a constant target of the cycles zipping by. We wandered in a hung-over daze looking for food, street food, fast food, really anything. Most buildings here are built behind walls to the road, so you really never have any idea what’s beyond the walls. Well there was a pepper on a sign, so we figured it was food. We went into a traditional Indonesian restaurant where all the food was on a buffet style table about 20 feet long, and we had no idea how to order. I was about to grab a plate and serve myself, but the waiters gestures were a bit frantic so it gave me pause. We sat back down and after some time they had someone who understood English tell us how to order. You walk around the table and point and they will prepare the dish for you. They even gave us some samples.
We also received rice in banana leaves. Well that worked out pretty good, food was great, little bit spicy, but filling. Hangover and all. Now with a filled belly we head out to explore this fine city. Well there is a sky tree here, a very phalic tower to represent the power of Indonesia. We wandered in the blazing heat, across a parking lot that seemed to go on for ever, to some dried out shrubbery and a dried out looking deer park. At some point we crossed the desert like parking lot and made it to the base of the obelisk. Well the base was roped off and everyone pointed a direction to go so we wandered that direction. At the back side of the parking lot there was a staircase that lead to a tunnel that went under the parking lot. We were told that it closed at three. It was five past three.
C’est la vie, we saw it, good enough for us, so we wandered home. On the way back we ducked into a hotel to escape the heat, and ordered an iced coffee for Yvonne. It was a Muslim hotel, so no booze. Once they found an English speaking bar tender, he started making us all kinds of drinks, weird coffee and ginger cocktails. One coffee looked like a Breaking Bad meth lab. There was a round beaker with a candle in it, then a tube going to another beaker with coffee beans in it, the steam went up making the grinds wet, then the candle is pulled away, coffee drips back down and you have super strong java coffee. The bartender was so excited to speak English, and tell us about his life, that he just kept making drinks. In the end he would not let us pay for anything. Seeing how I don’t drink coffee, Yvonne got the worse end of that deal cause she was bouncing all over the place all night, a victim of over caffeination.
Well clearly we had a stressful day, so we figured we would end it by seeing Looper at the movie theater across the street. I loved this movie, it was a great twist on the whole time travel deal, with great acting from the whole cast. I highly recommend it.
Feeling human again the next day, we decide to head out to the old section of Jacarta. With the help of one if the twins, we headed downtown. The city is enormous, with 10,187,595 people living in it. On the train you can see the huge sky scapers that dominate the city, but also the smaller buildings where normal people live and work. It’s overcrowded and poor for the most part, over run with motorcycles, but actually seems much better off than Manila. The old part of the city needs a lot of help. It dates back to when the Dutch ruled, and still has some buildings from that time period surrounding a square. Instead of building more skyscrapers, they should save this really important part of their heritage. There were a few western tourists, but many more Indonesian tourists, which is great. The first place we stopped was the old city hall, which construction all around it, we had to jump a trench to get in it. Once inside there was an impressive collection of antique furniture in it. In addition, they had a collection of cannons from back in the day. One of them has a sculpted fist with the thumb in the fingers, which represents sex. So it’s traditional for girls who want to get pregnant to touch or better yet, straddle the cannon. So of course there was a bunch of teenagers around it giggling and taking pictures, like it was the dirtiest Ron Jeremy porn. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jakarta
The next museum, and by far the best museum, was the Wayang Museum. This museum was not much to look at from the outside, nor even that great inside, but what was great was it’s contents. An enormous collection of puppets used for the traditional shadow puppet show’s that is such an important part of Indonesian heritage. They are traditionally carved out of buffalo hide, but here there are wooded and cloth ones too. This place would give Jim Henson Studios a run for their money. It was room after room of gorgeous, intricate, detailed puppets. The pictures can do more than my words, but if ever in Jacarta, this is a must. We ended this part of the city by eating in a very swanky cafe. It had the feel of old hollywood movies like Casa Blanca. I could actually imagine Hemingway drinking a shot at the bar.
Traffic in Jakarta is just insane. Crossing the street is always taking your life in your hands. At one point the light changed and we found ourselves in a sea of motorcycles, I mean literally hundreds, with a spattering of trucks and SUV’s. Finding ourselves surrounded all we could do is wave at the bikes rushing at us. Breaks were slammed, we dodged, twisted, and jumped. It was not till later that I learned the trick to crossing the street. It’s fierce eye contact, then you have your arms down at your side, and with out moving your upper arm, you wave the hand in a downword motion. If you don’t do this you might as well kiss your ass goodbye, but by doing that, traffic stops momentarily, giving you enough time to eyeball the next bike. In this manner you can cross any intersection, (author takes no legal liability to people trying this on their own). At one point to show my loyal followers the technique, I foolishly recrossed the street so that Yvonne could video it, but due to the danger involved, we could only provide you with a long shot, as opposed to a point of view shot.
Well after that we headed back to Six Degrees, and relaxed and watched their great projection tv. We also cooked our first meal in a month. There’s something so exciting about going to a grocer store, figuring out the system, then using a kitchen to cook a delicious meal. The routine of dicing onions, smelling the flavor as they carmelize in olive oil, browning beef, adding your own flavor plus unique spices from here, is really beyond description. We tried to get wine to add flavor, but we could not find out where to buy it. We asked the twins and were informed that wine was outrageously expensive in this country, forty bucks a bottle. More than I was willing to part with for some spagetti. Well our meal was delicious and better then anything else we could have got. It’s the simple things you miss the most, smell of onions, doing your own laundry, shopping for food, watching your tv show. No matter how many stars a restaurant gets, it can not compare to a meal cooked with your own hands.
We spent four days at Six Degrees, and the twins were so helpful and lovely, they were always ready to help with plans, things to do in Jakarta, plans for outside the city, chat about life, and anything else you may need. I can’t say this enough, the whole staff made our stay in Jakarta wounderful, and I am always ready for another dance off on the roof deck, I may even break out the worm.