Friday the 13th

By Jane Mountain | June 13, 2014

14,958 km so far.

Why was today so hard? I mean, it wasn’t actually hard, but it FELT that way.

Stephen’s note: That’s what she said.

First The Good

We are staying in an amazing little place in Jakarta, which I highly recommend to anyone coming here. It’s called Tomang Residence. Like many guesthouses in Jakarta, it’s a little motel of sorts, with all the rooms arranged around an open-air courtyard. The courtyard itself is separated from the street by a high fence, making the residence safe and private, even though it’s just off a busy street.

The rooms are brand new. Ours has a big comfy beds (hallelujah), a flat-screen TV (which we will never use), a spotless bathroom with all the plumbing working (very rare), and even a little patio outside our sliding glass door (it’s too hot to go out there). OK, so all this is great. But on top of that, the owner is absolutely amazing.

He spent almost an hour this morning helping us out with our little two-wheeled problems. Yup, those rascally bikes are making our lives difficult again.

Not being able to take them on the train from Jakarta means that we have had to look for other solutions.

There was no damn way we were getting on another flight, and we don’t have time (or the inclination) to ride the length of Java, especially not since we’ve had a chance to breathe the foul Jakarta traffic fumes.

Looking at central Jakarta from a few kilometres north.

Looking at central Jakarta from a few kilometres north.

So, our hotel owner called around and around until he found a cargo service that will take our bikes. He then negotiated a great price for us and figured out all the details. All we have to do is ride to the freight station and drop off the bikes. There is no way we could have arranged this without his help.

Of course, we still have to see if it all works out, but it’s a great first step.

How Long Is My Lunch Break?

On our way to get lunch, we stopped in at an Alfamart Convenience Store to book our train tickets. Conveniently, in Jakarta, you can reserve your spot on the train at any Alfamart, and conveniently for us, there is one right across the street from our hotel. Inconveniently, their computer wasn’t working right then, so they told us to come back a little later.

We were on our way to get some lunch in a mall a kilometre from here. In most cities, walking a kilometre or so is nothing. Here, as in Kuala Lumpur, there are few sidewalks, and the ones that do exist have random giant holes leading straight into the sewer. There is also brutal traffic packing the nasty six-lane roads with a constant buzz of scooters filling any available space between the cars and the curbs.

Getting from our hotel to the mall took us about an hour. Once inside, it took another 40 minutes to find the veggie restaurant. Bleh.

Why would we go eat in a mall, you ask?

street food cart indonesia

The street food carts here are really cute, but often in nasty locations.

In Jakarata, as a tourist, if you’re not eating street food, it seems the other option is to go to a mall, where they have entire floors or wings dedicated to eateries. There’s something sad and weird about eating in a mall restaurant, no matter how nice the restaurant or the mall. But, so far, the only street food we’ve seen in the city is being prepared beside a giant pile of garbage, next to an open sewer, or on the banks of the most polluted rivers and streams we have ever seen.

The river is smelly and dirty, not something you'd want to eat beside.

The river is smelly and dirty, not something you’d want to eat beside.

None of that is exactly appetising.

Getting back from the mall was another adventure. Since the walk there was all kinds of unpleasant, so we decided to get a cab.

First, we stood in a taxi queue for 10 or 15 minutes. Then, because of the way the roads are divided, we had to first go the wrong way for about a kilometre and then turn around. This added 2 km of painfully slow traffic to our drive. All told, the cab ride took 45 minutes – to go 1.5 km!

(It’s worse traffic than LA. In the rain. On a Friday afternoon.)

When we paid, we just felt bad for the cabby. It cost less than $2.

This seems to be par for the course in Jakarta. People don’t leave their neighbourhoods, because it’s just too hard to go anywhere. Heck, if I lived here I’d probably never leave my house.

And The Frustrating

By the time we were heading home, we were both completely wiped out. But, we stopped by the Alfamart again, to pick up our train tickets. After 10 minutes of watching the poor cashier rotate between: staring intently at the computer screen; pecking out our details onto the keyboard one slow letter at a time; and sitting looking blankly into space, he finally told us that the train we want to take is sold out.

We figured this was another case of “I can’t use the computer so I’m just going to tell them it’s sold out” like we experienced leaving Hong Kong, so we went back to the hotel to do some research. A few minutes online showed us that he was actually right. Our chosen train is full.

Our other options for leaving Monday involved arriving in Yogyakarta at 11:56pm, or around 3am or 4am. Since the last time we shipped our bikes by cargo and arrived in a city at midnight, when we left Beijing to go to Taiyuan, went so poorly, we thought we wouldn’t repeat that performance again. Instead, we resigned ourselves to spending an extra day in Jakarta and decided to book online.

Fast forward to 25 minutes later… the online booking form would not accept our credit cards. And that was using the third-party website that was supposed to take foreign cards. Sigh.

Back to the convenience store I went, for another tooth-pullingly slow transaction with the clerk. No one working spoke any English, I do not speak any Indonesian. Cue lots of hand-waving, writing things down, charades, and interpretive dance to communicate the various parts of the transaction.

Finally, about $50 lighter, and another 30 minutes of my life gone, I left the store, with a dot-matrix printed voucher for some train tickets. Let’s hope that’s all we need.

So, to recap. This is what we managed to do with an ENTIRE DAY in Jakarta.

  1. Eat lunch.
  2. Book train tickets.

Imagine trying to live here!  

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