My stomach felt cold from anticipation, which newly appeared only a few days earlier. My head was sore from bizarre sleeping positions of the past hours of driving. Yet we were here. 4 months earlier Tina and I bought flight tickets to Indonesia and now we were here, finally embarking on our trip from the Venice airport. Reisefieber, the excitement before travel, was growing and penetrating my dull mind. It was fully unshackled only with a “shot” of Italian espresso.
17 hours of sky soaring followed. They were interrupted twice – in Amsterdam and Xiamen. We entertained ourselves through the first set of flights with a board game Dobble. Up to this day, whenever I remind Tina of her brutal defeat, she PTSDs like a war veteran. Against all odds, the last flight – to Jakarta has been unforgettable. All praise to our airplane neighbour. Little Asian’s unremarkable exterior was hiding a menacing destructive power of unforeseen magnitudes. Every so often, his bowels unleashed a blast of highly effective nerve gas. The one that brings tears to your eyes and forces you to scuttle to the nearest exit. I kept eyeing the red “emergency exit” handle. Luckily common sense prevailed.
The landing in Indonesia’s capital threw us in a completely different culture. Moist night climate, jet lag, 6 hour time delay (from UTC+1 to UTC+7), the omnipresent squiggly writings, closed SIM card shops and intrusive taxi drivers. Confusion ensued. We quickly built a make-shift HQ on the airport’s benches and opened our fresh Lonely Planet guidebook.
Furious brain-storming provided us with a temporary plan. Which failed in its very first stage. Trains to Yogyakarta had all been stuffed, due to the upcoming Feast of sacrifice. This is one of the two official holidays of Islam and is celebrated worldwide. Thus, we had to resort to the much discouraged alternative. Roughly 500km of bad roads needed to be crossed with a bus. Some might consider us spoiled, yet 10 hours of bus-riding demand a certain amount of respect. As it turned out – rightfully so.
Jakarta is Indonesia’s biggest and most populated city. The whole metropolitan area accommodates more than 30 million people! To get to the main bus terminal, near the city centre, we took a transjakarta public bus. Surprisingly, the four-wheeled tin can was air-conditioned and its windows served as a welcome barrier from the chaotic traffic outside. We were suddenly surrounded by worn out shacks and houses, yet pristine looking business-buildings appeared every now and then. Amongst the crumbling structures they rose high – like lonesome peaks. A good number of pedestrians wandered around. All were dressed in colourful clothes and most women had their hair covered with a headscarf. Tina was fascinated by all the vivid colours and said they reminded her of walking easter eggs. It took us nearly half an hour to finally notice we had been driving on the left side of the road.
The great escape
The main terminal is located in a seemingly random building. There is no parking lot with buses in front. Those are waiting on the city’s outskirts, to where you are delivered with minibuses. Station’s hospitable cashiers sold us two tickets at a “special” tourist price – more expensive than for the locals. Since that had been taken care of, we had nothing left to do, but sit in front of the terminal, and wait for our transitional minibus. In the meantime, the searing sun was roasting us until crisp. Everyone, except us two and 4 other Indonesians, had already been picked up long ago, so when our transport finally arrived, dusk was already smothering the city.
Indonesians don’t need to pass any practical exam to acquire a driving license, our fellow passengers explained during the ride. Payment suffices. Apparently, family members teach the lucky ones how to drive (safely). And the unlucky ones? Well, they have to teach themselves. I didn’t know how much was true and how much lost in the translation, but I gazed at our driver and saw – a woman. Suddenly I feared for my life. 😀
When the driver abruptly took a U-turn, confusion flashed on the faces of our co-passengers. “Bus leave withouth us half hour ago,” a girl next to Tina explained. Our chauffeur stepped on the gas and the rusty capsule shot forward in a chase.
After half an hour of hectic city racing and continuous horn honking, we finally stepped on the runaway bus to Yogya. Seats were surprisingly comfortable. My long legs jammed in that narrow leg space – not at least. Despite 10-hours of knee-biting on rough roads I remain a proud owner of all my teeth and worship my ability to sleep in every condition. Our time in Jakarta was short, but it managed to leave a rugged impression.