Saturday, January 31, 2015

Leaving Jakarta

All the blogs and trip advisor posts screamed "get out of Jakarta as soon as you can!", and with it firmly behind me now I can heartily agree. It was meant as a port at the end of a long flight. A place to get a local SIM card for my phone and ditch the jet lag, but it served as a panic button for a day. This is a city almost impossible to explore on foot and is overcrowded with pushy and insistent cabbies and street hawkers. A part of this, I'm sure, was due to my location, as I chose a spot close to the train I'd be taking early in the morning to Yogyakarta, but with the complete lack of anything that felt even remotely safe or interesting, I found myself wondering more than once "what am I doing?" 

I spent half a day running between the air conditioned hotel room with free wifi and a convenience store about half a mile away trying to purchase, register and then set up the SIM card. I even borrowed a pair of scissors to cut the one I could find down to fit into my phone, to the bewildered astonishment of the hotel staff who assured me that it didn't work that way. Ha! Brute force is a strong argument against going back out into the hot and humid mess outside. It's not elegant, but it works beautifully. I celebrated by heading to the nicer part of town for "the best oxtail soup ever". Donna, pay attention because I ate hot soup in this weather mostly because of you.

After a bit of research it became pretty obvious that all the best restaurants in this city are inside of fancy hotels, so I picked one and hopped into a cab. The hotel was lovely, the service was impeccable and the soup was delicious, but I barely stayed awake through dinner and headed back to the hotel to once again pass out early. 

I got up at 5am the next morning to pack up, eat a quick breakfast at the hotel (don't ask, it was some kind of a super salty porridge and coffee), and head out to catch my train, once again repeating "no thank you" to the billion cabbies offering a ride to the end of the block. The process of getting a ticket and figuring out where to go was much easier than expected and I was very soon on my way. 

   Sorry for the blurry picture, but the train was moving very fast.

As the train sped further away from the slums and ruins of the city I began to relax. Here was the lush country I had seen in pictures. Here were the mountains and the endless waterlogged rice fields. Here was the reason I planned all this in the first place. The ride was 8 hours, but I had a kindle and the amazing views to keep me occupied. I started and finished two books on that ride, an insane thought considering that before I left, I'd been inching my way through one book for the last three months.

I hopped into a cab when I got off the train and made my way to the lovely home stay I found on airbnb where I was warmly greeted with the lay of the land and a cold melon juice. It was raining pretty hard so after settling in I popped over to the closest restaurant and ordered something that looked very British and not even remotely local, but it was tasty and as I relaxed under the lazy fans and listened to the rain patter on the leaves of the palm trees outside....I wrote this post! Ha! It's much too early in the trip for deep and meaningful life realizations :)

Friday, January 30, 2015

First Few Days - Slow Start

29 hours is a ridiculous amount of time to spend in planes and airports in one go. After a 13 hour flight you would think that an 8 hour layover would sound like a fantastic idea, however the novelty of being able to move your legs wears off after 2 hours, which incidentally is exactly how long it takes to explore the nooks and crannies of every single terminal of Doha Airport. It doesn't take as long as you might imagine to window shop through two dozen Duty Free stores, to wonder at the strange designs of three different children's play areas that look more like statues than play things, to try and then compare the lounge chairs in every single "Quiet Area" thoughtfully set up throughout, and to locate the hidden showers (unfortunately closed at the time). I clocked in my requisite 10K steps on the Fitbit meandering around the airport and listened to several podcasts I had loaded up on my ipod before takeoff. By the time boarding was called for my 2nd flight, I was ready to say goodbye to Qatar. The next 8 hours slowly ticked by as I shifted and squirmed in my seat, to the imagined annoyance of the quiet girl sitting next to me. I don't think I'll be doing that again any time soon, but I do have to give Qatar Airline props, their tiny packages with socks and toothbrushes and other tiny traveling bits was really thoughtful. Plus they give you candy when you board.

After getting off the plane, getting the visa, finding an ATM and all the other related mundane tasks I decided not to take a cab, but to find my own way to the hotel. The first part wasn't that bad, just a shuttle to a different terminal (found to be entirely unnecessary) and a bus ride to the general part of Jakarta where the hotel would be. Easy enough. The next part though was not as straightforward. With my two backpacks weighing in just under 25kg on my back and the flats I'd worn on the plane on my feet I set out to find the hotel on foot. It should have been about a mile away, but I was about to learn that the streets of Jakarta are not kind to pedestrians. There are no sidewalks, the roads are dirty, broken up, and occasionally filled with garbage. You basically walk along the edge of the road along with the cars, motorcycles, bikes and other wheeled contraptions, all of them merrily beeping along as they pass by. Add to that a lack of signs, the lack of basic navigation information like which way is north, and the curious tendency to name 5 streets with the same name, but also with a mysterious version number and you'll find me 45 minutes later with very sore feet and back, exactly 2 minutes from the hotel, but without any idea of how exactly I am to get to it and no desire to keep walking. Now I started out with the idea that after my long flight I'd be glad to do the walk so I kept saying no to the billion taxi motorcycles, taxi cabs, and rickshaws that kept offering to drive me to my destination, but in the end I gave up. I stopped by the next group of cabbies I encountered, made sure they understood where I needed to go and how to get there and negotiated a price. Not too bad considering it took 5 people to sort that out since I don't speak the local language. A scary, but short ride on the back of a very flimsy motorcycle finally got me to my destination and after sending out some messages home to prove that I'd survived this far and a quick shower, I finally passed out.

If this seems a bit too wordy or like it has too many details you'd rather I'd skipped, I'd like to refer you to my sisters and their battle cry of "You better write down all the things!" Seriously though, I'll try to make these a bit more interesting going forward :)