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Well I’m in Jakarta now visiting with my friend, Don, whom I met in my climbing class. Don is a great guy to know in a country like Indonesia where probably 80% of its residents are below the poverty level and unemployment is high. Don’s mom has a very nice place just south of town and it’s like staying at some five-star resort with big rooms, A/C, swimming pool, and a beautiful garden. She’s got a lot of people working in her employ taking care of the house, cooking, cleaning, etc. This is one of the few down days that I have and I’m truly enjoying being spoiled in this manner. The only drawback is that every morning at 5 a.m. there is a mosque just behind their house that starts calling people to prayer over a loudspeaker. Since Don and his family are Catholic in a predominantly Muslim neighborhood, they tend to ignore it. It’s hard for me to ignore since my window faces the loudspeaker.Indonesia_sm99

Taken for a ride

While in Bangkok, I didn’t really worry about my safety. It was like being in a safer version of any big American city. But Indonesia is a different story. Aside from the political unrest and wars, there are other dangers. Right from the airport yesterday I got scammed by a couple of guys who claimed to have a taxi. My flight to Dempassar got delayed in Bangkok so I missed my connecting flight onward to Jakarta and Don thought I wasn’t coming. So when I finally did arrive 4 hours later, Don was already at home nearly 45km. away. It was 6 p.m. and during the middle of rush hour, so I couldn’t really blamed him for not wanting to drive to the airport again. So after calling him from the airport, a couple of guys who overheard my conversation, said they could take me there and they had a “Bluebird” taxi which Don recommended I take.

When we went out to their car, it was parked in the parking lot and not at the taxi stand and it was actually not a taxi at all, but just a private car. Two other guys hopped out of the car and I just about thought the minutes of my life were numbered. One of the guys who had taken my bag, had already tossed it in the trunk of the car, so there I was outnumbered and not knowing what their intentions were. The older guy told me he could get me to Don’s place for 150,000 rupiah including the tolls. (8,000 rupiah = $1) Hesitantly, I got in the back seat while the original two guys got in the front. My mind was racing with scenarios of these guys driving me to some dark alleyway and rolling me for the rest of my cash and belongings. But after about 15 minutes of driving on the highway, I figured they either had something else in mind or they really were going to drive me where I needed to go.

About halfway there, they said they needed gas so we stopped at a gas station. The driver said he had no more money and needed me to pay him now. Suddenly the price for the ride was 200,000R and so we argued about this. When it was apparent that they pretty much had me by the you-know-what, I conceded and gave them the 200,000 but said that they now had all my cash, showing them the remaining 12,000R in my hand.

Driving in Jakarta

Now the fun was really to begin. If you’ve ever had a wild ride in a Boston or New York cab or driven on the 405 in L.A. during rush hour, this ride makes any of that look tame. Driving in Jakarta is truly an experience and what really surprises me is that there aren’t more accidents. Don and I think that there aren’t many accidents because drivers here, despite the chaotic appearances, are much more aware of everything going on around them and more accommodating than American drivers. For that reason, traffic in even the worst of times, still moves along quickly.

Drivers disregard the lane markings on the narrow roads, often crossing right of center (they drive on the left-hand side) directly in front of oncoming traffic when passing other cars or motorcycles. It’s often up to the oncoming car to slow, stop or move over. Cars will park in the far left lane and three cars side-by-side will often squeeze together in two lanes, mirrors almost touching, to pass. Motorcycles weave in and out between cars all while doing 60-100 k/h. Drivers use their horn and flash their headlights more than they use their brakes. They must be very aggressive and pull out in front of oncoming traffic to make a right-hand turn. It looks like total chaos and I often wanted to just close my eyes but I didn’t want to miss the excitement. It’s almost like being in one of those video games where you drive a racecar.

Well, needless to say, I survived the taxi ride. I found out later that these two guys really were just trying to make money, but were operating an illegal taxi. When you figure that it ended up costing me $25 that really isn’t too bad. I pay more than that in Seattle to get to the airport. It did teach me to not be so trusting with pushy people in the airport.

I’m not in Seattle

Although I’m careful about where I eat, I’ve begun eating some really unique local foods. There are some very unusual fruits that if you can get it past your nose, it’s quite tasty. For breakfast, I had these little sweet glutinous rice cakes (much like mochi) stuffed with some kind of fruit and steamed in a leaf. Yummy. Tried some homemade ice cream last night and ate at a little dive of a Chinese restaurant. So far, I haven’t had any stomach problems. (I’m keeping my fingers crossed) Ironicly, in this large coffee growing country, where the islands have iconic names such as, Java and Sumatra, it’s nearly impossible to get a decent cup of brewed coffee. Most places only have instant. But even the instant coffee here is stronger that most brewed coffee in the U.S. Food and drink have quickly become the focus of many a day. So much to sample…so little time.

So now the plan is to go up to the mountains at noon today to visit a villa that Don’s mom also owns. They grow rice there so we’re also going to pick up a couple of bags of rice. I believe on Monday or Tuesday we’ll fly to Bali, stay a couple of days with some of Don’s friends, take the ferry back across to the island of Java, take a bus and then a train and visit several towns along the way where Don has friends and eventually end up back in Jakarta between Oct 15-18.

I’ll keep you posted when I have Internet access.


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