We have been forewarned about the place. Look-up Jakarta on any travel publication, and you will get an almost unanimous warning about Jakarta’s vehicular traffic, made worse by incessant rains on certain months, sweltering heat and humidity.
Jakarta was just a one day stop on our way back to the Philippines from Yogyakarta, so we didn’t plan on seeing much. However if there was one thing Anglaagan wanted to see, it was how he would fare versus Jakarta’s vaunted traffic jams.
Our stop at Jakarta was practically a day-long layover, having just arrived from Yogyakarta late in the evening and flying out of Indonesia on the next. However we didn’t want to pass up the chance to see, even if just a glimpse, the city that’s called the Big Durian.
Coming out of Soekarno-Hatta Airport’s Terminal 3, we were immediately given a taste of things to come. The taxi queue was chaotic to say the least – Manila’s NAIA would feel like it’s run by pro’s in comparison.
Our hotel, the Favehotel at Wahid Hasyim, is just a step away from the business district at central Jakarta. It was a bit hard to find – I had to direct our taxi driver to the location (thank you Google Maps), but all was well once we were there. It’s a budget hotel, but it’s probably the best budget hotel we’ve been to. The lobby was reasonably spacious, check-in was quick and easy, and the rooms were bright, clean and quite large.
Jakarta in the Rain
We went out late the following day, choosing to rest in the morning after the full schedule in Yogyakarta. We had planned on going to the Monumen Nasional (locally called the Monas), the Katedral Jakarta and the Masjid Istiqlal, all landmarks within Central Jakarta. Alas, the skies of Jakarta were not so kind to our plans. As we were hailing a cab it started to rain, and by the time we reached the vicinity of the Monas it was already pouring…and by then, traffic in central Jakarta got from bad to worse. And thus we learned lesson number 1 in Jakarta…everything here that seems so near – even places you can see from your hotel room window – can be so far.
We at first tried to push on to the Monas, but as the rain grew stronger we took shelter under a street vendor’s tarp. The vendor was selling Mie Bakso, the Indonesian version of meatball noodle soup. We just bought one bowl, more as a courtesy than anything else, in exchange for safe haven under her small stall, and it turned out to be a pleasant surprise. The bakso was good. I was half expecting to get a watered-down soup with a few strings of noodles and a token meatball, but what we got was something that was worth coming back to (if you have a strong tummy). Lesson number 2 in Jakarta…good things come from humble beginnings.
After a while of staying at the Mie Bakso stall, the rains of Jakarta showed no sign of relenting, and knowing the formidable traffic that was already upon us, we decided to abandon our positions and make a hasty retreat. For the first time, Anglaagan was thwarted by rain and traffic jam.
We found refuge in one of the city’s humongous malls. The thing that Jakarta is known about, next to traffic, are its lavish malls, and we already passed by some of them on our way in from the airport – large, towering islands of glittering light. We just chose the nearest one to our location – the Grand Indonesia near the Bundaran HI roundabout, the large fountain of Jakarta that has graced many magazines. The mall was a large complex, and thankfully you could really spend an afternoon there.
It’s not hard to understand why oversized malls thrive in Jakarta. They are miniature worlds where the air is cool and traffic is nil, like Truman’s world in The Truman Show. And for visitors tired, weary and beliguered by the chaos in the streets, the malls are the perfect avenue of retreat. And so lesson number 3…when in Jakarta, do as the locals do. Hit the malls.
At the lower ground floor of Grand Indonesia is Cafe Betawi (not to be confused with the more popular Cafe Batavia in the historic Kota Tua district). Cafe Betawi serves Indonesian cuisine in a setting that tries to imitate the old Dutch colonial atmosphere, as much as a restaurant inside a mall could. Their menu has almost all of the most recognizable Indonesian dishes, but perhaps the best thing that we ordered here was the Gado Gado, a genuine Javanese dish of mixed vegetables in peanut sauce. The rest of our orders however ranged from good to average. Had we not been to Yogyakarta prior, I might have rated Cafe Betawi higher. However having tasted what is, for me, the best Indonesia had to offer while we were in Yogyakarta, it’s hard to give Cafe Betawi a thumbs up without reservations. And so lesson number 4…to taste the best of Indonesia, go beyond Jakarta.
The Jakarta Traffic Jam
Heading out to the airport that evening, we had even more of the spactacular traffic jams. And sitting at the front left seat of the taxi cab for what seemed an eternity (they drive on the left side of the road in Indonesia), I just couldn’t help but wonder. Jakarta, on my meager one-day experience, seems like an incredibly constricted city, and yet all over it are signs of great progress. Towering offices, huge malls, and wide roads were all around me. Infrastructure in Jakarta – at least what I saw – was quite good in general, and even better than Manila in many instances. And so I thought, despite all the seemingly impenetrable congestion, the people of this city must be doing something right, and have somehow found a way to make things work. And I guess it really is like a Durian after all…it will work for you, once you’ve learned how to bear with it first.
* All photos taken last December 2013, using an Olympus EPM-2 with M. Zuiko 14-42mm IIR.