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“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” Ernest Hemingway

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17 March 2015

Jakarta: Slums, Chums and Pushy Parents


It was around 4am by the time we reached the Indonesian capital of Jakarta and it was fair to say we looked like extras from “The Walking Dead”. 42 hours on a durian stained, egg shell ridden coach with ridiculous Bollywood/Eurovision style music videos playing 24/7 had taken its toll and we were desperate to find a place to stay.
The Indonesian women Jono had chatted too was nice enough to share a cab with us and ensure we reached the “Backpacker Street”, Jalan Jaksar in one piece. I have a feeling the taxi driver was a friend of the family as the fare was a little inflated but to be honest we were that drained we couldn’t give a crap about being slightly ripped off. The conversation in the cab started off on a jolly note as it was proposed Jono should visit her home for lunch the following day so he could meet the woman’s daughter.  This seemed like a friendly request and the prospect of free food is something we rarely shy away from but after a little interrogation it turned out her daughter was fourteen years old (probably explains why she was asking questions about the UK benefit system a lot). Now I could at this point make jokes suggesting Garry Glitter picked the wrong country to search for a “partner”, but this proposal did raise some important points. Despite the rapid development of most Asian countries in recent years there are still many people living lives on a knife edge between a basic but happy life and utter poverty. For many parents the best they can hope for is that their children study hard enough to enable them to break through the racial, political and bureaucratic barriers that exist. Alternatively if they feel their child cannot jump these hurdles on their own the only real option is to find them a partner who has financial security. Sure once the penny dropped Jono’s face exhibited a look of horror that I have never seen before but I don’t think you can blame this obviously caring and devoted mothers attempts to ensure her daughter had a better life.
You will be glad to know Jono kindly declined the offer and will not be investigated by Operation Yew Tree on his return to the UK. Although he has almost certainly blown any chance he had of becoming a TV presenter.
Very basic digs
 Once Indonesian Cathy Bates ceased with the wedding planning we were warned that the Lonely Planet’s description of Jalan Jaksar may be a little inaccurate. The friendly, bustling, lively street is actually rumored as the stomping ground of the cities more unsavory characters. According to her many rapists, pickpockets, murderers, gangsters and the way she was going quite possibly cattle rustlers dwell in Jalan Jaksar and the street is developing a notorious reputation amongst locals. It all sounded a bit like Northampton high street on a Saturday night to me but in hindsight her advice was valid (or could have been one final attempt to convince us to stay with her).  

shotgun the bed by the cat flap window
Our first impressions of Jalan Jaksar weren’t great. The dingy, dank road was caked in a layer of waste and shite that reminded me of my old workplace after consistent heavy rainfall and the number of dead rats only added to the memory. We opted for a cheap guesthouse called Wisma Disema which was described as “Spartan accommodation” on Travel fish and they weren’t kidding. It is believed that the Spartans forced their children to leave home at a young age and survive in the wilds with nothing and although we weren’t sleeping rough our room did resemble a set from one of the SAW movies. The five foot by seven foot cell contained no windows, a nice crisp brown and mustard colour scheme with wall rot as an optional extra. The beds looked prime candidates for bed bugs with brown, saggy mattresses and bedding that felt like a sock filled with soil. I’m sure cress was growing through the fabric. We both agreed one night would be enough and in the meantime we should find alternative accommodation.

Sightseeing wasn’t really on the agenda the first day and after a little research we found a hostel with great reviews. A few miles from Jalan Jaksar the “Six Degrees Hostel” is located in a slightly nicer district in the city and has much more to offer. Run by devoted and friendly staff made up of Indonesians and Expats, Six Degrees is a backpacker retreat from the hectic streets of Jakarta. It has a great common room with movies every evening, pool table, gym, kitchen and an awesome roof top bar which proved to be a great place to share stories and make new friends. It not normal for us to rate a hostel so highly especially when we weren’t able to get a room, but the staff were kind enough to allow us to use the facilities and even helped us get a room at a nearby hotel.
The National Monument
The “Batavia Hotel” is a neighbour of “Six Degrees” and acts as overflow for travelers unable to stay at the more popular compatriot. However that doesn’t mean Batavia is lower quality it just offer something a little different. Where Six Degrees is strong at providing a social hub, Batavia offers really clean and comfortable capsule dorm rooms. They also have a more chilled out roof terrace which proved to be a great spot to skype home, kick back or even catch up with your blog. If you do visit Jakarta don’t make our initial mistake and stay at one of these top notch establishments, unless of course you like smelling of musk and becoming flea ridden.

The buildings in the historic district look nice but offer limited attraction
Ross learning English from some kids on a school trip
Sightseeing wise Jakarta is pretty limited. Compared to most capitals cities the historic quarter is pretty uninteresting and lacking in culture and the best you can hope for is a distracting walk along the waste ridden river banks. Which leads to my other pet hate of Jakarta, it’s a tip. It’s almost like Indonesia has looked at the way Malaysia and Singapore do things and gone “yeah they have done a good job, but I can’t be bothered”. A little like saying you’ve done your paper round but in fact you just dumped the newspapers in a secluded ditch. The city sights are really that pathetic and only offer a distraction from the chaos for around 30 minutes maximum.
It's not often you see something stepping into the primordial ooze
Grabbing a much needed pint at Six Degrees
Six Degrees roof terrace bar
Satisfied with our attempts to ride the cultural showboat we focused on using the facilities at Six Degrees to make some friends and that meant getting back on the booze. In fact if there is one positive point to be said about Jakarta it’s that compared to Malaysia and Singapore, you can have a few drinks without requiring an overdraft and that creates a much more open and friendly atmosphere. It worked in Vietnam where a pint was 50p and it works here too. Bizarrely after nine months of meeting people attempting all kinds of crazy trips we bumped into another Englishman attempting to travel to Australia without flying. Tom started his travels five days before us and made his way through Scandinavia, Europe and East across the Caspian Sea with a few friends. After travelling through Kazakhstan into Russia to catch the Trans-Mongolian he continued on a route pretty much identical to ours and now he hopes to find a boat to OZ before he starts his new job in Melbourne. It’s still incredible to think that we may have stayed in the same town, city or guest house and have only just now met. We wish you the best of luck dude at finding a yacht and if they have spare seats give us a call.
The Jakarta skyline from Six Degrees roof terrace
It’s true that Jakarta is often the first or last sight of Indonesia for travels dependent on flights. However it seems few people like to stay and after spending far too long in town we can understand. This city has a knack of keeping hold of people. I mean it took us two days to leave. The first problem with Jakarta is that unlike most huge capital cities its infrastructure is incredibly antiquated and coverage is limited. There is no metro, only a small rail and bus service. This means that unless you’re trying to reach the old town, travel around the city is tough and congestion terrible. Secondly the main means of escaping the cities grip are located miles away on the edge of town. Bus stations, railway, airport are all miles out. This means that you must use taxis to reach these transport hubs.
Unsatisfied with the possibility of getting stuck in traffic and missing our bus (we almost managed that in Bangkok) we reserved a seat on a private minibus service. This was logical as it was cheap, they would pick us up from our hotel and drop us of at the coastal town of Pangandaran. Unfortunately logic does not exist here and after waiting six hours for our 11am bus to arrive we had no choice but to cancel and book an additional night at Batavia. Thankfully with the help of the staff we arranged an early morning taxi and made it to the station and boarded an extremely cheap bus to Pangandaran. It’s time for SUN, SAND & SURF.