Week 1 in Indonesia

Ok… so this whole travel-blogging thing hasn’t gone massively well! The original excuse of “I’m jetlagged” and “I’m so tired from learning how to teach!” have officially worn out. But today my heart is back in my throat and it seems as good a time as any to make a start! I’m leaving Jakarta for a week to explore central Java and Jogjakarta. My Christmas present to myself is watching the sunrise from a volcanic crater and learning to surf. I can’t quite believe that this is my life! I’m going on my own so I am slightly overwhelmed by the sensation of breaching the unknown. I felt exactly the same in the long drive to the airport in England. I held my mother’s hand the entire way and I felt like a child. I think in some respects I am; I’m growing an immature part of me. I’m still wet behind the ears when it comes to lone-travelling!

So, here is a blog I started at the end of my first week in Jakarta. I will write a separate one about my trip to Singapore and other Indonesian escapades when I get back in the New Year… No, really, I will. Promise.

Gates and Terminals (aka the 21 hour trip via Abu Dhabi)

After a tearful goodbye at the airport, I got sucked into the surreal domain of terminals and gates. Time drifts when you’re waiting for a call to a gate and hurtles forward when you decide to mollify your boredom by having a root around in the shops. You find yourself justifying paying £1.50 for a chocolate bar when it would usually cost you 60p. You accept that this is just the way things are – the airport has a culture all of its own.

I landed in Abu Dhabi with 5 hours to spare before my next flight. I had just discovered that those odd-looking neck cushions are made for people bigger than me and virtually useless for mid-flight naps. Having got up at 4am, I’m almost ashamed to say I simply hunted down a sleeping pod and tried to sleep. They’re basically a leather seat that reclines and then a hood rolls over the top of you. They are not soundproof and the air vents let in light, so if you’re a light sleeper, I would avoid them!

Despite my sleep haze, the incredible architecture of the place made a deep and lasting impression. Everywhere was white, clean and bright, filled with concentric patterns. In one of the terminals, a gigantic pillar rose from the floor below to form a beautiful fluted ceiling, decorated with a million tiny tiles.

That’s about it for my experience of Abu Ahabi. An Indonesian chap adopted myself and a Belgian traveller at the gate, sharing with us a huge list of foods we should try and giving us various things to snack on. My first taste of how friendly Indonesian people can be!

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The Grand Entrance

I’m not sure what I imagined when I read “33 degrees and 67% humidity” on Google. I think the likely answer is “nothing at all”. I didn’t imagine; they were just numbers on a screen. Getting off the air conditioned plane, I walked into a literal wall of heat. I thought it was the overhead fans, but as I climbed into my pick up car from my school, it became very clear that the cloying heat was not going to go away. My contact casually chirped “actually, we’re in a bit of a cold snap at the moment” and I immediately regretted bringing even my lightweight jeans.

Days 2-4

The next few days passed in a blur made particularly surreal by my lack of inability to stay awake for more than 8 hours at a time. My room in Matraman had no windows and as a result, my circadian rhythm took a jolly holiday. I learned within my first 24 hours that most people lived off of street food in our neighbourhood and that it was entirely safe and normal.  It’s only been a week and one of the vendors already knows what I’m most likely to order from his cart – nasi goreng. Here that means egg-fried rice with chilli, fresh cucumber and mildly pickled carrots and onions. What you get as “nasi goreng” varies across the archipelago and across the world. The price for a big bowl is a stunning Rp.9000 (45p). A wing of fried chicken (free range and of superior quality to anything I’ve had in the UK), is just Rp.5000 (28p). Everything comes with chilli sauce, even if the dish has chilli in it!

I lived in a part of Matraman for a week which several people have described as the place to be if you want to see “real Jakarta”. This means, living right opposite an open sewer and having broken glass as intruder deterrent. The building is shared with a family who run a laundry service. No-one was home when I arrived. I made the mistake of trying to open a glass partition door in the kitchen which actually led into the laundrette’s part of the house. It was locked, thankfully, saving me a huge amount of embarrassment. It took me days to stop flinching when I thought I could hear strangers in the house. Noise permeates constantly. Double-glazing isn’t needed here and I never realised just how good it was at keeping sound out!

I think the first thing I noticed about Jakarta was… Indonesia has one of the greatest wealth disparities in Asia and it is something you see on a daily basis. I think its important to stress that whilst you are surrounded by dirt and the overhanging smell of waste, it doesn’t strike you as anything like the Save The Children adverts. I have no doubt that is unhygienic and it is a little shocking, but the people all along the road always seem to be in a good mood. There’s a cultural difference in attitude to waste. As far as I can tell, no one comes to pick up the rubbish; it just gets slowly devoured by the stray cats, rats and cockroaches. The recycling system here exists on a personal level; people will pay you for your empty bottles and cardboard but the government has no hand in it. A woman came onto our porch one day and just helped herself to our trash. That was shocking.

//end unfinished first week blog post.