Our host in Jakarta, Fitria, had sent a car for us to the airport. The driver had a note saying "I'm sorry I don't speak English". Our Indonesian adventure with English had begun. We managed to fit all the luggage and ourselves into 1 Xylo sized vehicle. We even tried to make conversation with the driver but pretty much most of it was left unsaid or unheard. Jakarta greeted us with its wonderful infrastructure, well planned high speed roads, reasonably high skyscrapers on each side. For all these wonderful roads there are an awful lot of big open drains pretty much all over the city and it has a pretty strong stench. The infrastructure left one of our friends suitably impressed and it received some lofty appreciation with regard to its development which sounded funny enough for us to hound him with this topic for the next 2 days.
The first near miss fiasco happen as soon as we reached our AirBnb in Jatinegara. As we began to unpack, I realized that my passport was missing. Something had to go wrong right. I was even looking forward to getting extradited ;). This resulted in the most stressful 5 minutes of the trip when pretty much everyone was serious and frantically looking for it. I ran out to trace the path from the vehicle to the house as I had checked the passport when I got into the vehicle. Thankfully the driver was still around and in the backseat my passport was resting without a worry in the world. Such relief. Maybe it was good in a way considering that this underlined the importance of keeping the passport safe. The control freak in me though wouldn't give me a moment's peace about this till I was back in India. One of the guys began packing his passport in 4 covers as an aftereffect of this.
The Transjakarta bus facility is very efficient and impressive. Multiple parallel and perpendicular routes run all over the city like a grid. A single bus keeps going up and down over one line of the grid. If you want to go to a place on another bus route, then you changes buses at a junction and get there. The buses also have a a designated lane on the road, so they are faster and don't block traffic, when they stop, at the same time. BMTC could use this idea but then we don't have space to have a separate lane for buses. The bus stops also look futuristic. They have equal number of doors as the buses and are also at the same level as the bus doors. So when a bus stops and the door opens, the bus stop exit and the bus door are neatly aligned and you just have to walk in. Transjakarta turned out to be the best way to travel in Jakarta. With some more time, we would have loved to try the train system too.
The stop closest to our AirBnb was Pasar Enjo or Ps.Enjo, as the Indonesians called it, and was around 5 minutes by walk. There we met an over friendly stop/booth in-charge guy who over obligingly swiped us in, gave us a high five and directions to change buses at Kampung Melayu and then alight at Mangaa Dua stop. We were a bit confused by how we got no ticket or receipt for the journey and he convincingly told us this is how it works. With no choice but to believe him, we boarded the bus to Mangaa Dua.
Mangaa Dua is a haven for people looking for imitation goods according to the internet. It also says pretty much everything can be found at surprisingly cheap prices. Bit of an over exaggeration really. Decent goods, decent prices. The money changer here had a completely different set of rules. 12800 only for new 100 USD notes. 12700 for old notes. He guy then starts being Sherlock Holmes and starts finding any markings, stamps, folds on the notes. Sure enough, he finds one or the other thing on each note and then reduces the price to 12700. We bargain hard, win some, lose some but don't get 12800 for any note.
Mangaa Dua has a few malls. Mangaa Dua square, ITC Mangaa Dua, WTC Mangaa Dua etc. Mangaa Dua square at least has the appearance of a mall we are used to in Bangalore. But ITC Mangaa Dua and WTC Mangaa Dua fit more into the National Market, Burma Bazaar mould. We headed to Bakmi GM restaurant for lunch. "Vegetarian. Only vegetables. No fish, no meat, no beef, no chicken, no egg". This became the default order for most guys in the group for the rest of the trip. Mine was more straightforward. My first Indonesian meal: Nasi Goreng with Smoked Chicken. Tasted like fried rice but the rice was harder and a bit bland for our masala craving taste buds. That description would hold for most of the food we had. The weather was hot and humid and it rained post noon everywhere we went for the next 10 days.
ITC Mangaa Dua: The sight in this so called mall was unparalleled. It was kind of like a street market where pretty much everything has been laid out like for haraaj/auction, except all this is happening inside a mall. At 6 pm, suddenly the whole place started shutting down under police vigil and then certain other professionals made their way in. Gave us an idea what this place would turn into at night. We decided to get out of there soon.
The thing with bargaining in Indonesia is that you can ask for a ridiculously low price and yet it sounds pretty reasonable. In our group, we had an expert at this while another one who was the NGO-based moral police fighting for good prices for the vendors. I had set myself a base price of 20. The Indonesians leave out the last 3 0s while quoting figures. So 20 is 20,000 Rupiah(INR.100) for any article and our moral police guy was annoyed pretty frequently by how I could quote such a low price. Another joke added to the never ending list of jokes on this guy. He soon ran out of patience and there were more jokes on that.
On our way back, we were trying to decide whether to go to Taman Mini or MONAS the next day. Thankfully we met Luki, one of the few guys who spoke English and we could have a conversation with, in the bus and he guided us. MONAS had its attractions but we finally chose Taman Mini. In hindsight, maybe it should have been MONAS. He even advised us to have more street food than go to restaurants but the street food didn't look all that hygienic and we had too many vegetarians so we couldn't be sure how vegetarian the food would be.
Our AirBnb host, Fitria, was a bubbly, chatty person who's full of life. She showed us some pictures of her sister's wedding with her dressed in traditional wear and spoke about the local corporator being Chinese and people not trusting him even though some good work was happening. Once we were ready, she took us to the to the bus stop on the other side, Pedati Prumpung. Jatinegara is a quiet little suburb with small shops run out of houses. The houses were small and the open drains were running close by. Some houses were just cardboard boxes but still had TV inside. No bungalows were seen anywhere in this area. Not too different from a smaller village in India. We noticed and pointed out that there were absolutely no stray dogs but there were quite a few cats around.
As we tried to board the bus here, we got to know how well we'd be conned the previous day. To board Transjakarta buses, you need to buy a card onto which money is loaded. You then swipe the card at the gate and go through. Similar to how it works on the Bangalore Metro. But then we didn't have a card in spite of having traveled by Transjakarta the previous day. So the over friendly guy from Pasar Enjo stop had taken the money and swiped us through with his card. Basically, he had pocketed the money. Sigh. Such bakras we were made. At least the BMTC bus conductors pocket only small change. So we ended up buying a new card and loading some money on it.
Taman Mini, a miniature city which has life size models and museums depicting different provinces of Indonesia. Seeing the cultural heritage of Indonesia with its close links to the Indian culture and seeing different adaptations of Ramayan/Mahabharat was memorable. We happened to visit on a day which was some kind of anniversary and so a carnival was on with lots of kids dressed in traditional Indonesian attire. We roamed around for the rest of the day listening to some musicians performing.
One particular guy was singing in a very soulful voice and we just stopped to listen to him. He notices us and gestures to the crowd and suddenly starts singing "Kal ho na ho!". Near perfect. He asks us to sing along and we did. We then chat up with him and he tells us he has absolutely no connection with India and just happened to hear this song somewhere and like it, so he learnt it. Bravo. We now refer to him as the "Indonesian Sonu Nigam". We tried out some tribal attire and danced around a bit.
Taman Mini also has a small bird park. We ran into some kids who were just chilling with their pets. The only difference being pets were snakes and lizards. Some of the guys had the courage to touch these and let them run all over their body. My fear of snakes wouldn't let me go anywhere near them and I was more than happy taking pictures instead.
During dinner, we needed some salt and waiter didn't get what we were asking for. What followed was 5 minutes of vivid descriptions of what Salt is. 1. Saaaaalt. 2. You know sea water? Sea water? 3. White powder (not realizing there are other popular white powders available). Garam is the Indonesian word for salt. Thank you Google translate. The waiter was amused as well. "Oh! Garam!".