Jakarta – the smell of burning trash

Posted on November 9, 2014

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That was the reaction of my well-travelled mate B in Bozeman. There is no doubt this city has a bad rep. I’ve not heard anything nice about Jakarta, so when I landed yesterday I was filled with apprehension but curiosity too.

“How bad can it be?” I thought. If you’ve been to India, then Jakarta will be a walk in the park. Yes there is poverty and areas that are filthy and overrun with rats and rubbish; but this is Indonesia. I expect that especially as i never stick to the tourist areas.

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This morning I left my backpackers hostel (£10 a night including brekkie!) and planned a route heading into the centre of town on foot. No one really walks but in my experience this is how I learn a city. I remember landmarks and routes this way.

After what was supposed to be a 20 minute walk – note to self, don’t ask a local for directions because they can’t speak English and have no idea about distance on foot – it took an hour to reach the National Monument. A beautiful white pillar with an ostentatious gilded flame. It’s known as “Soekarno’s last erection’. I know, it doesn’t translate well. I decided to skip whizzing up it’s “shaft” as the guide book suggested. Plus the queue was ridiculous and I was saturated in sweat. Time to find a somewhere cool.

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Today is family day and people were out in their droves. Freedom Square was rammed. Picnics and kite flying was the order of the day.

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Next stop the National Museum. Most locals I asked didn’t even know they had one. Thank god for the detailed maps in Lonely Planet! It has wonderful ethnographical displays from across the archipelago.

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After a bit of culture I wanted some realism and where better than China Town. An area called Glodok that is a warren of streets filled with all kinds of sights, sounds and smells. En route to the train station I passed the Presidential Palace and a lovely mosque.

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I feel on the whole relatively safe here. There are police everywhere. As long as you are streetwise and don’t look like a victim it’s not a problem walking around in the daytime. My train ticket was a plastic card which you load up with credit. It’s very easy to use the metro here and directions in the station are well signposted.

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Lunch was on the run before hitting the market…..not time for a proper feed, that would be later. So I grabbed a bowl of veggie noodles and my favourite drink – Soursop. i tried this is Sri Lanka and it is my go to for a sugar hit when I need a pick me up.

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I popped into a shop to buy water and was so disappointed to see most fried crisps – potato or cassava – use palm oil. It is sometimes listed as vegetable oil but it is everywhere and these plantations are driving deforestation in Indonesia, decimating orangutan territory and destroying the soil while emitting ridiculous amounts of greenhouse gas.

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Street food is everywhere and everyone just pulls up a plastic chair and eats on the roadside. If I wasn’t catching a flight tomorrow I might have had a go, but I really do not need to be ill on an aircraft. So this time I have abstained.

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I did buy pineapple today from a street seller which was sweet, but not a touch on the ones in Uganda! The market was packed with people and scooters. I think you can buy anything here alive or dead.

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I managed to walk all the way Kota, luck and some map reading. I arrived in what was the Dutch capital of Batavia. Taman Fatahillah, the old town square is surrounded by white colonial buildings. I popped into Cafe Batavia, outrageously expensive for a lime juice but it’s one of the oldest buildings and it is beautiful inside.

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After cooling down I decided to try to find the habour before the light disappeared. The buildings around Kota are pretty if not dilapidated.

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Except my navigation let me down as the roads became less obvious out of town. I crossed town, over the Chicken Market Bridge, walked against the traffic over a railway line, and into a part of town that can only be described as dodgy as hell.

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I looked at my watch 1715. I gave myself 30 minutes to find either a taxi or somewhere to call a taxi. I ended up walking at a pace along a road that was lined with large articulated lorries parked up either side. Sat on the floor on pieces of cardboard where the shirtless drivers smoking. I felt uncomfortable as I could feel them eyeing me up ad down. This road was long and I must have passed at least 50 to 60 trucks. I knew this was not a safe situation and I did not stop. I eventually got to a site with a security guard. I ducked under the barrier and jogged towards the man shining his belt buckle. I pulled out my guide book and pointed to the number for the taxi service.

“You call taxi for me please?” I said pleading and pointing to the page while motioning a phone handset with my hand.

Ten minutes later the cab arrived just as the light started to dip. Phew, that was a close call. I make it a rule never to be out of the neighbour I am staying in at night. As a woman there are so many other dangers men just never have to worry about. Fifteen minutes later the sky was dark. I watched the city light up with roadside fires and lights draped across all the big hotels and fast food joints.

I got the driver to stop at a Vietnamese restaurant i wanted to eat at yesterday but just couldn’t find in the dark. I passed it this morning – Vietopia. A green papaya salad and a steaming bowl of chilli seafood soup I was sated, ready for a hot shower and bed.

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Tomorrow I fly to Borneo to meet one of my girlfriends who lives in the Kalimantan swamp peat forests. She’s meeting me at the airport. Can’t wait to see her it’s been yonks!

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Posted in: Asia