Monday, April 28, 2008

Jakarta, Indonesia

Cebu Airlines to the Philippines has two major problems; a website that cannot process credit cards and three customer service numbers that do not pick up, so we were forced to take an alternative action for the great visa run. From an internet cafe in Bangkok, Eline and I got a pair of tickets to Jakarta, Indonesia for later that day. We flew with only the address of the Thai Embassy written down; we landed at 1 AM greener than green in the unfamiliar city. A taxi took us to the backpacker quarter under a thick misty fog. We eventually found a cheap room from a quiet Muslim man.

We woke up in the small cell heralded as a guesthouse room and taxied to the embassy right before noon when they closed. My application was rejected due to a lack of exit ticket from Thailand. It was friday, and Indonesians are not so into the internet as to have cafes every ten feet, so we were screwed until at least monday.

We were in a strange city, without a map, without a Lonely Planet and hard up for a good time. Jakarta is a toxic waste dump combined with an open sewer, so we frantically needed information about a more habitable region of the island. A man who spoke broken Dutch told Eline about a place called Carita where there is a beach and swimming. A police officer helped us to the bus terminal, and three hours after being rejected from Thailand we had front row seats for a four hour bus ride to a destination we knew nothing about besides its name. Trust, it seems, can take you a long way.

Indonesia's privatized public transportation system is worth telling about. A team of three, driver, money collector, and "cowboy" combined with an old decrepit coach bus can make serious cash running main roads. A sign on the front of the bus demarcates the destination and as the driver thunders through villages, the "cowboy" hangs out the perpetually open door beckoning for customers. In the event of traffic or other slowdown, the "cowboy" jumps out of the bus, running along side to gather more people. On board, riders are not limited to paying patrons. Food and soda hockers clamber on along with guitarists trying to make a buck. It amounts to a rolling three ring circus.

Once we had this experience and found our way to Carita, we found a relaxed guesthouse haunted by the local lifeguards and Javanese surf bums. They invited us into their posse on account we help pay for our share of wine. One night we had a bonfire by the beach, the next night we kicked back in the expensive beach-side hotel that was empty of patrons on a sunday night. The non-existent guests did not mind if we used their swimming pool! Daytime found us reading by the water, swimming, surfing, and hiking into the mountains with our new Indonesian surfer friends. Today, as a send off, they cooked a traditional Javanese feast for 8 of us in a hut on a banana plantation, only condition being I paid for the fish and rice, totaling only $3; I can say it was worth it. The rice and fish were laid out on a line of large banana leafs with cucumber and tomato. We sat around this table and dined with our hands of the delicious barbecued fish and banana-leaf-steamed rice.

The friends were sorry to see us go, but we promised to return. As we left, another taxi full of Germans landed, and I am sure the whole process started over.

I am doctoring an old e-itinerary into a Chiang Mai to Yangon ticket that will hopefully pass inspection tomorrow in the Thai Embassy. We are also looking into where to go next in Indonesia! 7 more days to go.