The busride on the public, non-airconditioned bus to Bandung, Indonesia’s third city in the west of Java, didn’t go very smoothly. We left Yogya around 9 am, and during midday, we passed a small village with signs for Benteng (fort) Van Der Wijck, one of the Dutch legacies in the area. One of my fellow passengers told me that the road we were now traveling on had been built by the Dutch, including the nearby railway lines and the many bridges we drove over.
Then, during the hottest moment of the day, we got stuck in an enormous traffic jam, on a tiny road in the middle of nowhere. Some vendors, from the sparse houses we passed, were running outside, selling water, food, or coconut milk. People in groups stood watching this busy traffic that was whizzing past at 1 km/hr, while it was getting hotter and hotter inside the bus. As my clothes were now drenched in sweat, I was a tiny bit relieved to see that my fellow Indonesian passengers were also having lots of trouble staying cool. After almost two hours, we finally cleared the traffic jam, but not before I had witnessed (and smelled) the beginning signs of a burned-out clutch, and I said to myself that I wouldn’t be putting any money on this bus reaching its destination. I didn’t realise how foreseeing this thought was, as after about fifteen minutes, the bus actually broke down, and the driver parked it in front of a house in the middle of nowhere, letting all the 50 passengers off. There was nothing we could do but wait, while some passengers were arguing with the driver, and the person selling the tickets was trying to halt other buses, to no avail.
After five hours, during which some passengers had been able to get onto other (already full) buses, I got on a mini-van that had been called in from a nearby town, together with 16 other passengers and luggage seemingly for 100 people. We left the rest of the passengers behind, as the chauffeur quickly drove off into the dark night, heading for the town of Tasik, where I would need to change onto a night bus to Bandung. As we went over winding mountain roads, people around me started throwing up, but I was too tired to care much about that, and we reached Tasik by midnight. I had a very late dinner, before continuing my journey to Bandung, during which I fell asleep.
It was around 2:30 am when the bus conductor woke me up, and I got out into the cool night, onto the deserted ring road around Bandung. I boarded an angkot, or kind of fixed-route taxi, which took me on a one hour ride into the city center, during which we passed many busy markets, where lots of people were selling and buying fruit, vegetables, meat and fish. Feeling dirty, exhausted, and a little ill because of a cold that I had caught underway, I got off in the city center and started to look for a hotel. That proved to be difficult, as most were booked solid because of the Idul Fitri holiday. It was light by the time I had found one, in that dreamy, half-awake state that, in retrospection, makes you wonder if it all really happened.
From what I heard, Bandung is a pleasant and relaxed university-city, quite cool as it is higher up than most other big cities. Unfortunately, the rain season had announced itself with unprecedented strength, flooding parts of Bandung. Combined with feeling ill from my cold, I decided to take it easy, and therefor didn’t get to see a lot of the city. One day, there was an uncharachteristically strong police presence in the city, but dressed in the unusual green, old army fatigues. I went up to some officers, who explained to me that they were “cleaning up” the city. Naturally, I asked if that involved some large action to apprehend lots of, say, pickpockets, but instead the officers made a gesture as if sweeping with a broom. They meant literally cleaning up the city and removing the rubbish (and good luck at that, boys).
At one of Bandung’s train stations, I bought a train ticket for Jakarta. They have three different classes of train travel here: the ekonomi class, which usually departs from different stations on seperate, slower trains, and then bisnis and the more luxurious eksekutif classes. A relaxed, three hour ride in the bisnis class of the Parahyangan train brought me from Bandung to Jakarta. More gorgeous landscapes underway, Java has some beautiful scenery with its green hills and valleys.
Jakarta, once named Batavia by the Dutch, is Indonesia’s capital, a huge, busy, polluted city that never sleeps, hated by most and loved by some. I’ve spent some time walking huge distances in a tiny part of the city center, gazing at the almost socialist-style (and mostly tasteless) monuments and buildings. As I was walking one evening, a slight drizzle started, which soon changed into heavy rain, and then into a tropical rainstorm, lightning illuminating everyone and everything in a fraction of a second. It was almost immediately followed by the sound of thunder, resonating off the adjacent buildings, a little like the crashing of waves but then amplified a thousand times. The bolts of lightning would follow eachother every five seconds or so, sometimes succeeding the previous one so quickly, that the roaring sounds of thunder would merge into one, big thunderous explosion. The glass in the windows would shake, car alarms went off, while the enormous downpour of rain continued. People huddled together to find shelter at bus stops or under extended roofs of buildings, while the streets were being turned into rivers. This violent display lasted for about one hour, after which the lightning and thunder stopped as suddenly as they had started, and the rains changed back into a drizzle, then to stop completely, an hour or two after they had started.
Born on the countryside, I have always been fascinated by big cities, and more about my explorations of Jakarta will follow.