Discovering the world, one bite at a time!

Jakarta – Friendly People, Deadly Footpaths

Some 1,500 days have passed since I last saw the inside of an international airport.  The COVID travel restrictions were to blame for a majority of the delay, the remaining portion could be allocated to me for not being able to decide on a suitable location my next weight gain.  The days of flying to Europe for less than $1,700 have met the same fate as Australian manufacturing.  My original thought of dipping toes into the Mediterranean had been replaced with a month split between Indonesia and The Philippines.  Two weeks in each country is the only parameter, the rest to be made up on the fly.

For putting me up the night before in Brisbane, I repay my friends’ generosity with a meal of their choosing.  Tip: choose friends that have inexpensive tastes and you will lead a long and happy life.  Their tastebuds led us to Revel Brewing at Morningside.  Thursday night saw all the spermologers gather to test wits against each other in the weekly trivia competition.  The lure, $100 of beer bought in a healthy crowd.  Opting out of trivia, our focus was on our meals, though while they were being prepped we happily shared our knowledge with some dumb shits who were scratching their heads over the colours of the Cameroon flag and the birthplace of Superman.

Philippine Airlines cannot go anywhere without a stopover in their Manila base. This lack of a direct flight to Jakarta and some additional hours of being motionless on tarmacs for prolonged periods made for a waste of a day. It had me questioning whether I would have been better staying at home and weeding the garden or trying to learn the guitar? My biggest gripe wasn’t the delays, even the finest machinery in the world can succumb to issues unforeseen. But here we have a passenger jet which is capable of carrying 350 people halfway across the world that did not any form of entertainment system. Even my parents’ Ford Laser in the early 1980s had a working cassette player! The Wright brothers would be appalled. Instead of cruising between countries taking in the latest box office hits, I’m praying for time to speed up by staring at the faded and cracked blue vinyl in front of me for most of the next eight hours. My copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was worthless given that I packed it in my checked-in luggage by mistake. Hopefully not a harbinger of what lay ahead?

For anybody thinking that the budget for the entertainment system had been redirected to the food and drink options you are incorrect.  The saving grace was the dual packets of Tim Tams.  For the three minutes whilst my blood sugar spiked I forgot all about having my knees in my nostrils and the crying baby two rows back.  Why would an airline give you a bean salad in a plane that already smells like farts? The rest of the food was nothing to write home about so I will stop, leave these pictures and you can judge for yourself.

* * *

Statisticians on the internet list the population of Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, at approximately 11.2m and I would safely bet that they are all out on the road today. My experiences with Vietnamese road users was an eye opener, but Jakarta’s road users makes Vietnam’s traffic look like a quaint country road. A short stroll to the local grocer to pick up a drink (and maybe a sneaky chocolate) and you are confronted with most of the following obstacles:

  1. Bikes – These aren’t the scooters on the road, these are the ones that want to join you on the footpath because it is not as busy there. At least you get a visual warning with bikes coming towards you. However you need to keep an ear out for the chorus of horns, especially when they become frequent and louder – it’s a strong indication that your casual stroll is blocking somebody’s route to work.
  2. Tetanus for all – The footpath is littered with bollards that have reached old age. Originally installed to discourage the bikes on the footpath (above), all seem to have been snapped off, morphing into jagged metal that would carve through an Achilles tendon. Even the slightest graze against this death trap would have you Googling “amputation” once you limped back into wi-fi range. I assume that the remnants of the bollards are now used as scratching posts for the cats and rats?
  3. Cats – Usually seen in at groups of between two and ten, they do not pose an immediate danger. However they don’t move to get our of your way and can be a legitimate trip hazard. Content to take it easy they plonk themselves in the middle of the warm footpath and have right of way. Strays or not? The jury is out. I am sure on one thing, they survive on odd food scraps because a clowder of cats could not bring down a Betawi rat.
  4. Rats – See Cats above… Just goes to show that a diet of rice, scraps of chicken and vegetables can turn anybody or anything into an apex predator.
  5. Holes – Every city has imperfect footpaths but these range in size from garden variety divots to sinkholes. Sometimes there is safety tape which acts as both a warning and a roadside memorial for the unlucky pedestrian who ended up somewhere near the Earth’s core.  You should be thankful if you end up with only a twisted ankle.
  6. Blockages – After spending fifteen minutes gathering enough courage to complete my first road crossing I needed to change route due to the footpath being blocked.  Rather than walk on the road with my back to the traffic I opt to go around the long way and it’s not long before a tree needlessly kills my sense of adventure.  Cutting my losses I turn for home, waiting for another fifteen minutes to cross the road again.
  7. Exposed wires – Electrical safety is never at the forefront of my mind on holidays. As long as I remember to keep the toaster away from the bath I can sleep easy… WRONG. Every street block has a bundle of wires that have been matted together, normally with their ends exposed. The little room to squeeze past and avoid coming in contact with these wires had me questioning whether belly button lint or chest hair are strong conductors of electricity? Whenever I was wearing polyester I became a mobile power plant, my thighs generating megawatts of static electricity. I should have applied for a Government grant, this would have been a smart way to fund the holiday.
  8. Jungle – If you can manage to dodge the low hanging branches that are the perfect height to take out one or both of your eyes, then you will need to test your evasion skills against the city’s network of roadside vines. Next time I will pack a cutlass.
  9. Footpaths – Most of the footpath in my neighbourhood had raised bits that sent me flying multiple times or just crumbled under my feet. It was the footpath that broke up which were the biggest headache as many of these cement slabs were carefully balanced over drains underneath. My body composition compared to the average citizen wasn’t helpful in this situation, I don’t think town planners had factored my frame into any of the footpath computer modelling?
  10. Humidity – An average temperature in the mid 30s with near triple digit humidity doesn’t bode well for a relaxing stroll.  Leaving the safety of the air-conditioning you are greeted with a heat that turns your brain to yoghurt as your shirt instantly transforms into a wet body hugging blanket.  You are not going to see couples walk romantically hand in hand in Jakarta.

And just to ratchet the difficulty up, walking at night involves little light. It’s more challenging than saving for a Sydney home deposit. The first night I was walking home when I heard a man yelling in semi English. Turns out he was trying to get my attention as I had inadvertently chosen the footpath rather than the road. My footpath happened to morph into part of an overseas Embassy and two men carrying large guns got my attention with some high pitch whistles.  The guns were never out of their holsters, however it was nearly as scary as any of the other challenges the footpaths throw at you.

* * *

One highlight of the Jakarta leg was the hotel, a welcome shelter from the continual heat. Located in Harmoni, Central Jakarta it was built atop a plaza which had everything you wanted – if all you wanted was two cafes, Subway, a convenience store, Krispy Kreme, bottle shop, an ATM and a place that sells satay.  It helped keep me alive during my stay so I have nothing but fond memories.  Hotel Yello, though misspelt lived up to its name. Everywhere you looked was covered in some shade of yellow, so much so you could be excused for thinking you had xanthopsia.  Sure the colour scheme was bright and uplifting but nothing made me happier than the strategically placed soft serve machine parked in the lobby, calling my name as soon as I navigated the metal detector. For less than $1 you get to choose from vanilla, chocolate or durian (the polarising fruit that is banned in many public spaces as it can smell like a full nappy but considered by many as a delicacy).  In this weather a return to air-conditioning with an icecream (or two) is one of the best way to recalibrate ones body temperature. And why do this in the lobby, relaxing on a couch that had been reupholstered with unclaimed jeans from lost property?

Had opted for the buffet breakfast for the few first days.  This was to ensure access to a reliable food source while I found my bearings because man cannot live on cheap icecream alone, though I am willing to test the theory in the name of scientific research.

Though buffets have waned in popularity in recent years there is a time and a place for everything. The time and a place for this was 6am daily in the hotel dining area. Whether you want to seek comfort in the familiar Western items or are curious about the Indonesian fare, there are many permutations to chew through. The two most recognised breakfast dishes here are nasi goreng (nasi = rice, goreng = fried) and mee goreng (mee = noodles). My favourite was rice served with a multitude of sides. This could be anything from hard boiled eggs, bits of chicken, tofu, tempeh (a soy-based food mixed with seeds and nuts), dried fish in various forms, beans, sambals, fried garlic or shallots, peanuts and various sauces (usually derivatives of soy sauce). The large Muslim population means that pork is rarely sighted, replaced by chicken, beef, seafood and various other proteins.

There was also stations for pancakes (though these resembled a pikelet for a baby hummingbird), the standard egg station, fruit, dessert/pastries and some for Indonesian soups and porridge (bubur ayam)

There was also some bottles that were not receiving much attention labelled jamu. A quick google told me there were traditional Indonesian herbal drinks which may contain a combination of any number of natural ingredients. They looked very medicinal but there is only so much guava juice you can have before you crave something different. Half a glass of a dark yellow liquid was my introduction. While the list of ingredients were probably numerous it tasted as if it was made out of only turmeric, water and cornflour. The chalky residue led me to think this is probably used as a remedy against Bail Belly, instantly turning your digestive juices to cement. It was exponentially better than the black version. I needed to rinse my mouth out after a swig of that. Tasting notes of licorice, burnt metal, used engine oil, wet dog and Starbucks coffee. I will never say anything bad about guava juice ever again.

My attitude towards the buffet was similar to a marriage on high speed, with each day at the buffet equating to a year of marriage. The first few days I was eager to get in there and try something new. By the middle of the week we took each other for granted, the kitchen staff dishing up the same stuff daily and me just going through the motions. I was hoping the chefs would add something to their arsenal and spice things up, not burst out of the kitchen in some leather arseless chaps, but some actual spice. By day 10 I couldn’t go on as not one dish had changed. I was in a breakfast rut. I resorted to paying someone on the street for my (eating) pleasure.

Though the kitchen staff and I grew apart, mention must be made of the other staff at the hotel. They would always greet me as I left the buffet with a hand over their heart and a smile. I mistakenly thought they had seen what I ate for breakfast and were genuinely worried about my ticker but this is a local custom. We call all rest easy.

That’s the prelims sorted, next time the real eating begins…


One Response

  1. Oh man! So bloody funny. I look forward to hearing about the rest of the trip. I don’t think Megan and I will be following you to Jakarta somehow.

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