Dirty Ol' Jakarta

Trip Start Feb 06, 2005
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Trip End Jul 2005


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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Getting to Jakarta was a bit of a blur. I spent the two days from Singporna travelling and managed to cover most forms of transport, from taxis and buses, to scooters, boats and planes. No helicopter ride though. That was the one thing missing. I'll have to do something about that next trip.
Anyway, after a refreshing 2 hours sleep I bade the twins farewell and jumped on a bus across the rest of Sabah. My arrival in Tawau was surprising to the locals, but after they got over the shock of a white person rocking up, their commercial skills returned and they moved me to the ferry to Indonesia in a whirlwind of snacks, trinkets, pressure and haste. The impression that I had 2 hours clear to get some food and relax before the ferry left was short-lived. The Malaysian immigration officer looked at me: "where's your Indonesian visa?"
"I don't need one", I replied, "I get one on arrival".
He looked at me and I lost my nerve. I managed to convince him to let me back into Malaysia and raced to the consulate to check. Instead of answering my question, the besieged consular official grabbed my passport and demanded money. I sighed, and prepared to wait, ready at any moment to grab my passport, jump in a taxi and race to the ferry.
An hour and a half later I had a stamp in my passport and I headed back to the wharf, desperately looking at my watch. Missed it, bugger. I looked around... was it still possible to get across? "Oh yes", came the reply, "there's one every hour".
There are lessons to be learned about travelling in Asia from all of this. 1) Don't stress or rush, there's no point 2) Don't trust anyone except yourself- turned out I could've gotten a visa on arrival after all.
The difference between Indonesia and Malaysia is striking. The first thing that hits you is the crush. There're a lot of people in Indo, and they all seem to want to be in the same place at once. The second is the way everyone stares at you. There are not a lot of tourists who cross the border here. The third is the lack of English speakers. Unlike Malaysia, English isn't taught in school, so everyone wants to try their English out on you, and each one knows only about 5 seemingly random words. I was lucky enough on the ferry to meet the one man in north-eastern Kalimantan (the Indonesian two-thirds of Borneo) who spoke enough English to teach me a few more words in Bahasa. Yet again the generous spirit of the Malay and native Borneo peoples was proved when he walked me through customs and took me to his brother's hotel. That way I ended up not paying a bribe to get into the country and sleeping in the cleanest place in Nunukan. I can't remember the name of it, but don't worry, it's highly unlikely that you will ever feel the need to go through Nunukan. I doubt any other westerner ever has. Funnily enough, the Bahasa I learned on the ferry proved enough to get me through the rest of Indo.
Early in the morning my host got me on the boat to Tarakan, and my spirits began to lift. My plan was to race down the coast and then fly from the capital of Kalimantan to Bali as quickly as possible. It was sad to not get to explore any more, but I was definitely feeling the need for a tan to flaunt when I got home. When I got to Tarakan though I discovered that public transport here is of the hit-and-miss variety. I was assured that the next ferry down the coast would arrive sometime in the next week. Bus isn't an option- there aren't any roads. The train covering the circumfrence of Borneo won't be built for another 3 years. Hmmm... I resigned myself to exploring another small town for a few days and, remembering my lessons from Tawau, relaxed. To cover all options I wandered to the airport and asked about flights to the capital, Balikpapan.
Turned out the only one was leaving in half an hour and it was just stopping over before going to Jakarta. Here comes lesson 3) Smile and chat. I was told that unfortunately the flight was full, and that all the flight for a week were booked out. Oh well, I thought, and chatted with a few people in the airport. Surprising amounts of conversation can be achieved with minimal knowledge of a language. The most important thing is the smile. Within fifteen minutes I had a ticket in my hand and watched my luggage get fast-tracked onto the plane. Nice.
Jakarta was a bit of a shock- like Delhi with friendly people. The hostels were shite and the only other tourists in the backpacker area were a dozen middle aged men hanging out with young Javanese girls. It's also the only time I've ever actually heard woman say "I love you long time" outside of Full Metal Jacket. Urgh...
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