Non-Stop Gridlock

By Stephen Ewashkiw | June 12, 2014

14,958 km so far.

Despite the mess of cars, taxis, busses, and scooters we had seen last night, which one blogger described as 360 degree traffic, this morning we rode our bikes across the city. We decided the guesthouse we had checked into last night was too far away from the train station and the action. Plus, the price to quality ratio was not that pleasing.

The ride wasn’t nearly as crazy as I had expected, and cars actually gave us a pretty wide berth. It helped that we always had a few scooters/motorbikes around us to create a buffer zone, and in the busiest spots, everyone was moving about 5 km/h.

street art in jakarta indonesia

Art on the roadside, Jakarta.

The traffic really was 360 degrees and we had to be vigilant to make sure we didn’t miss a car or scooter coming at us from some unexpected angle. If we had been in a car, however, I am sure the ride would have taken us at least twice as long.


After checking in to our new digs, we headed off in search of food. We left our guesthouse, Tomang Residence, and headed towards a nearby train station. Jane had found some vegetarian options at a mall that was only two stops away.

The back streets near our guesthouse were packed tight with housing; tall, narrow buildings, all of different shapes and sizes, but somehow all fitting together, with not an inch of space between them. Many of the streets couldn’t have been more than four metres wide, and sometimes they were just paved alleyways.

One of the streets near our hotel, Jakarta.

One of the streets near our hotel, Jakarta.

We got a lot of attention as we walked the local neighbourhoods. Calls of “Hello mister” echoed around us, being directed at both me and Jane. They didn’t think Jane was a man, it’s just that “miss” doesn’t seem to be used that much here.

As we crossed the bridge over the Chiliwung River, we gazed out over the makeshift shacks where hundreds of families live.

Local kids playing on the bridge in Jakarta.

Local kids playing on the bridge in Jakarta.

And here were some local children, naked as the day they were born, playing along the riverbank. One by one they jumped in the river and climbed back out, laughing and shouting in the sun.

SpongeBob is almost as universal as Angry Birds.

SpongeBob is almost as universal as Angry Birds.

This could be a scene from any of the hundreds of rivers we’ve crossed on our travels, except for one thing: the Chiliwung is said to be the most polluted river in the world. The stench from the river was almost unbearable, and there were piles of garbage on the shore and more floating past.

It is heartbreaking.

We finally found our way into the train station. I suppose we were expecting a clean and modern metro system, like the one in Kuala Lumpur. Instead, we found a station straight out of our imaginations, or some Indiana Jones movie; this is what a train station in Jakarta should look like.

It was a world of chaos, with wall-to-wall people sleeping, waiting, queuing, carrying huge boxes, bags, and containers. And there we were, two crazy foreigners in the midst of it all. We bailed out of there quickly enough, opting for the slightly less chaotic environment of a tuk tuk.

After a short ride past more corrugated steel-roofed homes, we were whisked out onto a main thoroughfare, and dropped smack dab in the middle of upper-class shopping heaven.

Part of the Grand Indonesia mall.

Part of the Grand Indonesia mall.

Grand Indonesia is a multi-building shopping complex with every fancy-as-all-get-up shop you can imagine. All of a sudden, instead of cardboard and scavenged wood homes, there was Superdry, Ted Baker, Aigner, Mossimo, Tag Heuer… and the customers to match.

The contrast was drastic.

Jane’s note: We went from feeling like out-of-place rich foreigners, to out-of-place underdressed cycle tourists in a few minutes flat. Weird.

The Land Of Coffee

Djournal Coffee was the first shop when we walked into the mall. Both of us half expecting a Starbucks rip-off, we instead found the perfect combination of a small batch coffee roaster mixed with a chain café (with a smattering of diner food thrown in).

Several single origin Indonesian beans were on offer, as well as siphon, cold brew, and V60 as their standard methods of brewing. It was filled with stylish young expats, sitting at their MacBooks looking all metro-sexual and important.

How did we get to San Francisco?

Why does everybody here look like they just stepped out of GQ?

Why does everybody here look like they just stepped out of GQ?

There are too many coffee shops in the mall to count. Most even have Kopi Luwak for sale, a coffee bean collected from the excrement of civets. One place even had uncleaned ‘bars’ of the Luwak on display, some from farmed civets, others from wild ones. It looks like a peanut-filled chocolate bar; presumably, it tastes like coffee-flavoured poop.

Luwak coffee is pricey, pungent, and an acquired taste.

Into The Battlefield

Near Independence Square is a huge statue depicting Arjuna and Krishna, the central figures from the Baghavad Gita.

Arjuna and Krishna racing into battle.

Arjuna and Krishna racing into battle.

In the statue, Krishna is at the reins of Arjuna’s chariot as wild horses carry them into battle.

Horses don't belong in cities, OK?

Horses don’t belong in cities, OK?

Wandering around the Monas (Independence) monument was a challenge.

The Monas monument at sunset, Jakarta.

The Monas monument at sunset, Jakarta.

Despite it being in a gigantic square, it was amid a sea of people celebrating Jakarta Festival.

There were several stages set up, countless food carts and clothing stalls, and people picnicking all over the lawns.

A big show was to start at 8pm, which, as you’ll soon discover, probably didn’t go as planned. I am glad we hadn’t planned on sticking around for it.

woman and motorbike at jakarta festival

Beautiful, Jakarta festival.

We stopped in at the train station, to book our train tickets for Monday. Despite what we had read, it turns out you can’t take a bike on a train from Jakarta. Um, that really puts a major spanner in our works.

As if to match our downcast moods, as we left the station and climbed aboard a bus, the rain started. And it rained. Torrential, tropical, biblical rain. The kind of rain that leaves you drenched after just a few seconds.

We were trying to get some 200 metres from the bus stop to a restaurant in the mall. It was raining so hard, we had to stop half-way at a different restaurant so we didn’t get completely soaked. We finally managed to get to the fairly upscale Social House, looking like drowned rat hobos, completely out of place amongst the fashonistas of Jakarta.

By the time we’d finished dinner, hailed a cab, and made our slow traffic-flooded way home, it was past 10:30pm.

Everything in this city seems to take forever to do. I am not sure how the residents of the city handle it. I guess it helps explain why meditation and yoga are so popular here.  


  1. Comment by Michael Moldofsky

    Michael Moldofsky June 24, 2014 at 10:13 pm

    Ohhhhh. I love the civet coffee.

    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen June 25, 2014 at 12:38 am

      Mm… Poopy coffee.

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