Jakarta, Indonesia

Jakarta National Monument
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We began our Indonesia trip in the country’s capital city – Jakarta! It was an easy port to enter, and we figured there would be lots to do and see in this city of 10 million people.

Unfortunately, we arrived during Ramadan so nearly everything was closed for the last week of the month-long holiday. Be advised, explorers. Know what holidays and events are happening that will get in the way of your travel plans! Ramadan happening made it nearly impossible for us to even find places to eat in Jakarta (besides 7eleven…).

We stayed at the Six Degrees Hostel in Cikini. It got great reviews on trip advisor and we mostly enjoyed our stay. They have a rooftop garden patio where we could see the cityscape and Ramadan fireworks.

The staff was helpful when our luggage was delayed, and they threw a barbeque one night since everyone had trouble finding restaurants that were open. The movie room, pool table, free wifi, and fridge full of inexpensive Bintang beers kept us entertained for our short stay in Jakarta.

Outside our hostel, we explored the surrounding city by foot and walked to the National Monument in Merdeka Square. We walked past Gambir Station into a huge crowd of street vendors frying chicken (and lord knows what else) through one tiny door in a massive iron gate, and into a huge garden of palm trees and flags with the torch monument in the middle of it all.

To say there were people everywhere doesn’t do the place justice – more like a writhing mass of photo-taking tourists, peddlers selling all sorts of goods laid out on blankets, men carting trays of iced beverages, women shooing children along, and us sweating our way through the crowd, mostly trying not to be tripped or tangled in kite string.

After our walk back to the hostel, we went across the street to a noodle hut set up on the sidewalk. We ordered mostly by guess, but ended up with tasty chicken and fried noodles that we ate with bottles of coke, while skinny kittens skittered around under the tables looking for scraps and motorcycles and cars and rickshaws sped past the bamboo walls onto other parts of the city.

We tried to visit museums and other restaurants, but everything was closed or hard to access. Taxis and rickshaws can get you around the city but transportation is one of Jakarta’s issues – the roads are normally severely congested, and it’s hard to navigate.

Even if more restaurants and places had been open, I think we still would have arrived at the same conclusion after spending three days there: Jakarta is not a nice city.

Equated to be the NYC of Indonesia, and one of the most densely populated cities in the world, Jakarta is overwhelming. The city’s Trip Advisor page sums it up quite nicely, “Chaotic, crowded, and cosmopolitan, Jakarta is a city of contrasts.” This word is key: contrasts.

I knew Jakarta was large, but before arriving I could not imagine the density of it, or the enormous range of wealth and poverty all crammed together. On the bus from the airport into the city we passed exorbitant hotels and the luxurious apartment complexes of Indonesia’s elite, but right next to them slums were built under highway overpasses and bed sheets were stretched into awnings for shade near a polluted canal. There is no separation between the contrasts of extreme wealth and appalling poverty. It’s all jammed together and stitched up with seams of unimaginably crowded roads.

When doing trip research, pages said that Jakarta can be quite a charming city if you can overlook the pollution. But the pollution is so present, from the sickening colors of the water than runs through the city, to the trash stirring in the streets amid the motorcycles and taxis, to the smells of burning garbage and open drains even in the ‘nice’ parts of the city, it’s nearly impossible to overlook.

Quite simply, Jakarta cannot handle the incredible number of people living in it. I have never before seen the strain of such overpopulation, and it made me fear for the future of the world as the human population continues to compound. The groundwater isn’t safe to drink from wells so Indonesia relies on bottled water, which turns right into garbage. Travel is eye opening, always, but I was surprised at what I learned about the world in Jakarta: basically that huge populations are totally unsustainable and are miserable and dehumanizing to be a part of.

So there’s this, which I think is relevant. “Traveling is one of the saddest pleasures of life,” Madame de Stael. I think this is true for a lot of reasons… we see beautiful places knowing we’re fated to never return again, there’s the goodbyes, the loneliness of leaving the known behind. But I think this quote also sings to the dirty and the raw and the tarnished things you see while traveling and can’t forget. It’s a pleasure to have seen so much more of the world, but now I know more of the ugliness and unhappiness of the festering wounds of the crowded world.Jakarta Skyline

Our eyes were quickly opened to the realities of this small but jam-packed country in its capital city, and we were glad to leave Jakarta after a few days. We actually cut our stay in the city a day short so we could move on! After Jakarta, we appreciated smaller cities and cleaner air for the rest of our Indonesia trip.

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