Friday, June 22, 2007

Jakarta and looking for Krakatoa

The day starts early in Yogyakarta, with Sinta helpfully giving me an unnecessary wake-up call for a flight that is now two hours later. I have to take the call in reception. I tell her I'm going back to bed. After breakfast of scrambled egg on toast with sambal chilli and plenty of pepper, I finish packing, contemplating my bag knowing that AirAsia luggage limit is only 15kgs. No chance. Anyway, I say bye to the friendly Bladok staff, and head out to find a taxi, past the inevitable becak gangs.

The cabbie doesn't speak much English, and I worry that his question about whether I had visited the Prambanan Temple has turned into a fare there. Despite the fact that I had explained several times (some to an acknowledgement) that I wanted the airport, he handed me a fare chart to consider my destination. I sighed. At least, having been to Hugo's, I knew exactly where the airport was and therefore that we were heading that way, regardless of what the driver thought the destination to be.

At the airport, check in was painless, security unquestioning (and the whole liquids thing hasn't filtered through here yet, I get my 1.5l water through two checks, twice). Seat 2A, and we're through, though I head back out to locate the post box, which turns out to be such a suspicious battered old thing, next to a bunch of lads, that I hold on to my postcards for Jakarta. I'm flying today with Adam Air, for no particular reason except that they aren't Lion, who were so horribly delayed last time.

The plane arrives 5 minutes before departure time. Crikey they've got this quick turnaround thing sorted out! Cabin staff stroppy with me, not realising my First Class long-haul credentials. I am of course first off at the other end, and out. It's pouring with rain. Not very inspiring to go to the beach. I'm so tempted at this stage to just head round to the international terminal and leave Indonesia. I've really had enough of the country for one trip. Possibly the only thing stopping me is the certain knowledge that someone would try to rip me off on the shuttle bus round there.

I book a domestic flight to pop over to Surabaya a final time in a couple of days time. Total price just over 500k, or less than 30UKP, return. The girls in the Lion Air booths giggle, one points at the other and says she fancies me. I'm not in the mood to play along. So, I'm trying to go to Carita. This is on the west coast of Java. The way to get there, apparently, is to take a bus from Kalideres bus terminal in West Jakarta to Labuan, then take an angkot, a small minibus up the coast to Carita. It's now about 1pm, and I'm at the airport.

Bus into town. There are about 8 different airport bus destinations in Jakarta to choose from, with different buses running. There is no help whatsoever as to which is best. I ask a few about Kalideres and receive frowns and obvious speculation back. I hop on the one to Kamayana. On the way in I work out that this is not necessarily a bad thing. Out and into big hassle. People just won’t give me a straight answer, and keep trying to direct me to taxis, which just makes me angry. I walk off down the street, and find a public bus. This is going to Senen, another bus station. I find a bus here going to Kalideres. The girl sitting next to me guesses it will take two hours. Two hours! Just to a Jakartan bus terminal to leave the city!

At Kalideres I am fairly rude to someone hassling me, who turns out to be the conductor of the bus I want. Oops. By the time I'm on Labuan bus and leaving, it's 6:30pm. My book says this bus will take 3.5 hours, so it will be 10pm by the time I arrive, and presumably there will be no angkots then. The conductor offers me a private service for 100,000r, a ridiculous price. I tell him to get lost and put my headphones back on.

The driver of this bus is an absolute maniac. It occurs to me that there are no speed limits anywhere in Indonesia - probably because speedometers never work anyway! The miracle here is that our bus didn't hit anything. For the first time in my life I've actually seen people dive out of the way of an oncoming vehicle. The loud horn is being used as a weapon, and the floodlights are flicked on and off like a strobe light. On arrival, I know the drill, I don't wait around, just march off along the road. The hassle is incredible, ojak after ojak (motorbike taxi) pulling up in front of me, sometimes blocking my way. Eventually after a couple of hours walk, I hitch with a small truck, who drops me at the wrong end of Carita, but saves me a couple of hours walk. What a day. I am totally fed up with Indonesia.

Haggling with hotel gets me nowhere, and they tell me they are full tomorrow. Great. I wander out along the dark road to a restaurant I saw open earlier, hoping to get some food. I order Mee Goreng, and munch through it as the mozzies hover all around. I can hear crashing waves on the shore, and though I can’t see the water, there are lights of boats further out. My room is full of mozzies. I don’t sleep well. Next morning at about 5 or 5:30, the crack of dawn, there is tremendous racket outside my door – it would seem that some sort of Islamic conference is going on – hence the hotel being full.

Breakfast is coffee with fried rice and ultra-fried crisp piece of chicken. The owner asks me if I’d like to stay another night? I thought that you were full. We are, he replies. So why did you ask me then?! Thanks! I wander down to the beach. It’s fairly quiet, and is a lovely bay stretching round. I wade into the small swell and have a refreshing swim, potter about in the water, and bodysurf a bit. There are coconuts washed up on the shore here and there. But no sign of Krakatoa on the horizon, which is why I’m here!

Almost worth the nightmare journey

Kids enjoying the small swell

So with nowhere to stay, I leave, probably about 10am. Minibus costs 5,000, though I note others all pay 1,000. Ripped off again, but I’m not in the mood to do anything about it. He drops me at the junction, so I walk up to the petrol station where I was dropped yesterday. A chap wanders over and tells me that there are no buses from here, I should pay for an angkot up to the bus station. I walk off in the oppressive heat. As soon as I walk far enough up the road, a bus whizzes past me to petrol station. As I said before, you can’t trust anyone here to give you reliable information. Anyway, I walk on, to the usual mix of genuinely friendly hellos mostly from girls or women, and the usual motorbike touts hassling me.

Bus station, on the bus, it's so so hot and humid. The bus fills up, and I end up with my full backpack almost on my lap. It’s very uncomfortable, but that’s okay, it’s only another 3-4 hours! The conductor tells me the price is 30,000. It was only 25 coming here I say. No, 30. I hand it over. Then with the money he says this is the price because I am English! The woman behind him hits him, and he hands the extra 5,000 back. I thank her. Strangely all the buses have a sign up in the windscreen saying the price is 17,000. Why?

Eventually get to Kalideres, to inevitable mass hassle. Catch my old fav senen bus into town. I’ve now worked out that there is some sort of express bus system using the extra bus lane, but there don’t seem to be many buses plying the route – the ones that have passed us have been rammed full, though they look air-conditioned. I can’t work out how I’m supposed to easily change, and as this bus is going where I want to go (vaguely), I’ll just stick with it.

Football, Jakartan-style

Quiet bus

From Senen, I walk to hotel, chatting to a nice chap heading the same way, who warns me not to put my postcards in the standalone post boxes. He also invites me to stay at his house, which seems genuine, but I need some comforts! To get to the hotel, I have to cross 8 lane roads without a crossing, and cross straight towards the heavily-fortified American embassy, looking distinctly like a suicide bomber with all of my bags! Gulp!

As usual, the Lonely Planet map is completely inaccurate, so I miss all the budget places and accidentally (cough) end up at the quite nice (but expensive) Cemara Hotel. I’m in no mood to object, get to my clean simple room and have a wonderful shower. For dinner I can’t bring myself to venture out, so I have fish and chips in the hotel restaurant. Next morning a tasty breakfast then head to airport. My domestic flight is at 2:30pm, so I leave the hotel at about 10:30am. Can't be too sure in Indonesia. I walk to Gambir.

What on earth are they?

As usual, the flight is delayed. Something about the captain requesting it? What started as a domestic flight ends up taking the whole day, arriving at my hotel (the lovely Mandarin Oriental again) in SB at 6:30pm. Next day, over to Tunjungan for internet. Get some blog done, then all goes wrong with AirAsia changing flights and screwing my brother’s connection as he flies in from the UK on Sunday (it’s Friday afternoon now). I leave at 4:30pm for 6:25pm flight.

There are massive traffic jams, caused in the majority, as far as I can see, by police manually running junctions instead of letting traffic lights do their job – they seem to be giving big priority to a small slip road rather than the 5 lane we’re on?! I am stressed. I get to airport, find flight is 7:30pm. And as I write it's 7:25pm and the boards still say "Check -in " for this flight. I enjoy a bongkos beef curry with rice, which is super spicy.

Eventually we fly, and I get to my hotel at about 10:30pm. Yet another day wasted travelling.

Indonesia.. in review
I have gained a certain confidence now, which comes from being here long enough to have a feel for prices and what people are up to. Coming out to the bus into town, I march purposefully through the touts, knowing that there is a Damri bus out round to the right, and it will cost 15,000 rupias (not sure how much a cab would be, I guess 100k or so?). The problem here is that the first time you arrive, you get the airport touts hassling you en-mass, which is fairly intimidating, it's not obvious where the buses leave from, and when you find them, you have a choice of about 8 destinations in Jakarta, and of course you don’t know where any of them are. This is important, as unlike other big cities, there is no subway or bus network with a map. To get from a to b, you need to ask for help, and generally people don't know. They will speculate of course, you will rarely here someone say the actually-quite-helpful "I don't know" - they'll just send you off in the wrong direction.

So you really want to get the right airport bus. Then once you're on it, avoiding the clouds of mosquitoes dancing around your face, you will have to pay. Actually the Damri airport bus is the best I've had so far, but in generally they will try to charge you more. Not because they're supposed to, just because you're foreign and they can get away with it. If you're lucky, you'll be sitting next to an honest local (almost invariably female), who will object to this. Every couple of minutes, the bus will stop, not for passengers, but to let a load of people on trying to sell stuff, children (some very young) to beg, which of course is targeted especially at the foreigner, people playing various musical instruments or just singing for money, and so on.

When you arrive, you'll get off the bus, and especially at bus terminals, be swamped by people yelling at you, where are you going, who are you, do you want to go to Bali, becak, taxi? Usually they'll grab you on the arm too. Watch your wallet. If you do want to take any of them up on these "offers", be sure you'll have to haggle hard to get anywhere near the local price, unless of course you know it. Can you imagine why I've had enough of this place?

I enjoy a short overnight in Cemara Hotel, including receiving my beautifully pressed and cleaned laundry. Check out at 4:30am, walk to airport bus stop next to Gambir station, it’s still dark, but humid already.

Check in, and the chap asks me if I want to be on the earlier flight, leaving in 25 minutes. Okay say I. Then he decides he can’t anyway. Fine. At least there's the Cathay or Qantas lounge. But the lounge won't let me in. It’s operated by a third party. What's the point of being OneWorld Sapphire when there's so little opportunity to use it? Incidentally, my bag weighed 16.3kg, making me 1.3kg over the weight limit. The guy points this out to me (he says 1.6kg over but I noticed the scale read 0.3 before I put the bag on). I can't believe they'd even mention 1.3kg - less than 10% over! He says they're stricter in KL and will charge me. This after I've packed an incredible amount of stuff into my hand luggage. Great.

So, to my beloved Starbucks at least. Not open till 7:30am. I'll just wait then, tired and in a fairly bad mood! By the way, to those who believe Starbucks is an evil empire (see Southpark "Harbucks" episode), just wait till you're travelling somewhere like Indonesia or Peru and need some creature comforts. It's all very well avoiding them in London where there is a fantastic variety of chain and independent coffee shops, but here? Starbucks is a heavenly oasis in hell!

I want to leave this country.

Indonesia.. Has so much natural potential, with the beautiful volcanoes sitting atop the Pacific Ring of Fire, jungles with untouched nature, and gorgeous beaches, well-known in Bali but unspoilt elsewhere, but the people… not the every day Indonesian, who is friendly, honest and kind, but the scourge of the tourist, the touts, the rip-off merchants, those who line the tourist and transport trails and take every opportunity to push, interfere, hassle and try to con every last rupiah out of every tourist. Until more is done to stop this, tourism will never take off in Indonesia. I would count myself among those who are fairly-well travelled, but this is the first country (of 15 on this trip and many before) where I have wanted to leave, where I've genuinely had enough of a place. To Malaysia…

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