It's got me thinking about last year's trip in which we stopped off in Jakarta for a few days. We have 2 sets of friends living in the city, so it was a great opportunity to see them again, and to visit a new city for both of us.
Our trip started by flying from Barcelona to Düsseldorf. Weird, I know, but we had J's sister and brother-in-law staying with us during the week before we left, so we travelled back to Germany with them, and stayed for a few days with J's parents in Bad Karlshafen. Plus, as we were flying with Emirates Airlines who only commenced flying to Spain in August 2010, we had to start our journey with them in Frankfurt.
Flying back into Dubai was a strange experience for us. We felt as if we were arriving home, but being in transit meant that we didn't leave the airport, as we did so many times when we lived in the UAE. So near, yet so far.
The plane behind us with the DXB control tower in the background
An Emirates Airbus A380 looks small against the huge new Terminal 3 at Dubai's Sheikh Rashid International Airport
Arriving at the gate for our Jakarta flight, we were surprised to see an almost empty departure lounge. We boarded the bus that was to take us to our plane which was in an outfield position. Boarding, it quickly became apparent that the 300 seat plane only had 70 passengers for this flight. We were delighted - lots of space for everyone!
The Emirates crew on this flight was super-friendly and very relaxed, as there was not much for them to do with so few passengers onboard. Once the plane took off, I moved around the cabin and spent a lot of time taking photos of various cloud formations and talking to the crew. I must have slept a little as we passed over India, as I didn't see any land!
Crew members asked us where we were going.
"Jakarta," was our reply.
"Yes, but you're going to Bali, right?"
"No, we're staying in Jakarta."
"Why? There's nothing to do in Jakarta!"
We got this response quite a lot!
Arriving at 10pm, our good friend H was there to pick us up. After running the gauntlet of taxi drivers outside the terminal, we waited until a Bluebird Taxi arrived. This is the company that H prefers, as they don't rip off their passengers like she has experienced with other companies.
H and E's house is lovely - big and open with beautiful grounds, gorgeous trees filled with squirrels and butterflies, and a swimming pool in which to cool off in, between the thunder storms which are almost a common daily occurrence.
We settled into their family life, unworried about wanting to venture too far - it was just wonderful to see H again, and to sit and catch up with her after so long. The 2 girls were a joy, and we had fun - attending the younger one's football practice at their awesome American school, and cooking dinner with the older one.
Indonesia's version of Thailand's tuktuk is called the bajaj which is the name of the Indian manufacturer
We got out a couple of times with our other Jakarta friend, S - 1 dinner at an Indian restaurant and another at her home, where her cook made the most amazing food.
Jakarta is a very difficult city to navigate. We could see why people were surprised that we were staying there, and not going elsewhere in Indonesia. The traffic is diabolical and there are very few roads with pedestrian footpaths. Combining these factors with the hot, humid weather makes walking anywhere into endurance and survival tests, and all the senses that our bodies possessed were simultaneously assaulted as we walked along the roadsides, dodging vehicles and roadside stalls. This was just to get to the supermarket!
4 lanes marked on the road, but 6 lanes of actual traffic and motorbikes everywhere!
Despite the high traffic volume, it is organised chaos. No one gets angry, everyone lets other drivers in, and it flows as well as it can. We didn't see any accidents and I believe that we only ever saw one car with panel damage. However, getting around can take ages in the rush hours and in the wet. It's little wonder that most expats choose to employ a driver. The locals are experts at handling the traffic. We foreigners would either be too timid or too aggressive to fit in with the flow. Most of the streets in the neighbourhood areas are narrow, and often one way with little signage.
We did love the people - so open, friendly and willing to help. Indonesia has the world's biggest muslim population, but unlike some of the muslim countries that we have visited or lived in, we felt that there is a bigger sense of acceptance of others then we have experienced elsewhere. Of course, this differs from place to place, and certainly our friend E, (who works for the German Red Cross), was more wary, as he had been shot 3 times while driving in a car in the Aceh province. Miraculously, he survived after being med-evaced with serious injuries to Singapore for treatment. The incident has created ironic bemusement, because after all his many years spent living and working in Pakistan, he had to leave there because it was getting too dangerous; only to be shot in Indonesia within weeks of arriving to work there.
Indonesia was settled (mainly) by the Dutch many years ago, and we ventured into old Batavia for a look around. It's centered around a square surrounded by colonial buildings which now house either schools or museums.
One of the old Dutch colonial buildings
It was lunchtime, so there were kids in the square hiring bicycles and riding around, having fun. We got so many smiles, waves and greetings. It reminded us of a time in Oman when the schoolboys had hung out of the school buses to greet us.
Two gorgeous smiles and waves, even though the second girl is obscured....
...so I got another picture of her!
The bikes, complete with hats, stood in colourful rows waiting to be hired and ridden around the square.
No visit to Batavia is complete without stopping at Cafe Batavia. It was a welcome haven of air-conditioning, and wonderful food and drinks. They were setting up for a company's new product launch upstairs, so unfortunately I couldn't get any decent photos of their beautiful seating area, but the photos and pictures lining the walls of the ladies' toilet and the stairwell made for interesting images.
The ladies' restroom in Cafe Batavia
The poster wall, including a lot of photos of famous people who had visited the cafe. Note the image of Suharto, prominently placed in the center of the display!
Good fortune decorations for Chinese New Year hang in the cafe doorway
As we sat in the cafe, separated from the square by a row of windows, I was able to observe a lot of the activity, and unobtrusively take photos.
Street vendors taking a break
A group of schoolgirls all lost in their own thoughts
I didn't know whether this was a bride and groom getting images taken, or a fashion shoot. The guy in the white shirt is the make-up artist. The photographer had disappeared for a break.
Eating lunch, oblivious to all around her
This kid knew exactly how to sit on the bike. We saw some incredible stacks of people on motorbikes around the city.
Children ordering food
After venturing out of the square, the neighbourhood quickly degenerated. Although the people were still friendly, J became very aware that both H and I were carrying photographic gear that was worth several times more than most Indonesians would earn in a year, so she encouraged us to turn back.
All tucked up and sound asleep
A derelict building
But we did get as far as seeing a river that was mostly plastic which made us despair. Each minute, the volume of rubbish being carried out to sea was more than J and I could possibly use and recycle in a year. Truly disheartening.
Most of the household rubbish would be thrown out of the windows into the river
A guy was collecting some of the plastic - most likely that which he could trade in for money or re-use, but there was so much left in the river to wash away into the sea
Sitting outside her home on the river
Heading back to Batavia Square, we were followed by this cute little guy for a while. He chattered away to everyone around him and, most likely, to a lot of others that we couldn't see!
His hat looked like some sort of official military headwear
Now in the square was a group of kids dressed in very colourful batik clothing.
They were more than happy to pose for photographs, and we exchanged email addresses so that we could send them the pictures that we took.
Our friend H takes photos of the boys
They were visiting from Yogyakarta which is an area renowned for its batik.
These kids were so cool!
They were certainly great ambassadors for their region's batik offerings.
The girls were little princesses!
Tired and hot now, we headed back home.
While we enjoyed our time in Jakarta, we wouldn't recommend it as a tourist destination, but for us with friends domiciled in the city, it was definitely a wonderful experience. We will certainly return to Indonesia to explore more of its offerings outside of the capital.