30.09.2015

AN ADVENTURE REACHING THE PACIFIC

AN ADVENTURE REACHING THE PACIFIC, Mustafa Göksal | 30.09.2015

Let me tell you about a country very far away. The country, once a Dutch colony, is made up of thousands of islands in the Pacific Ocean, has one of the highest exports in paper, is extremely rainy, has a fruit named “salak,” has an unbelievably high volume of motorcycles with traffic driving on the left, and is also the place with the highest Muslim population in the world… Yes, I am talking about Indonesia. 

Indonesia is a country of contrasts, with glorious skyscrapers displaying great wealth but significant poverty and homelessness also in evidence. The rich are very wealthy, while the poor are very poor. The main beneficiaries of the economy are the local Chinese population. The middle class began forming only relatively recently.

Our Indonesian adventure begins with the scheduled Turkish Airlines flight. After an 11-hour journey our plane lands in the capital, Jakarta.  Jakarta is located to the northwest of Java Island, which is one of the five big islands that form Indonesia. Besides being the capital, it is also the economic, political, and cultural center of the country. 

After going through the visa processes at the airport (entrance is 25 USD) we head to the bus waiting to take us to our hotel. The traffic in Jakarta is very dense. After seeing this we ask what the population is and learn that almost 16 million people live in the city (the total Indonesian population is close to 250 million). This dense traffic means many people use motorcycles. In fact, there are more motorcycles than cars. It seems Jakarta urgently needs motorcycle lanes. The public transportation vehicles are very old and unpractical. You will see people playing guitars on the buses. They hope to make some cash alongside their music! :) 

We reach our hotel in about an hour. We are staying at the Sofyan Hotel. It isn’t the best hotel in town; it has two floors, and seems somewhat local to me (whatever local means in this context).  When the 4-hour local time difference is added to the time spent on the road, our first day is almost entirely spent  traveling. Just as we are about to throw ourselves exhausted onto our beds, someone says, “come on, we are going to have dinner,” which actually seems a good idea.

They take us to an Arabic restaurant named Abunawas. The venue seems very authentic. We go to the oriental corner where the table is quickly prepared. We have Bukhara rice with a splendid freshly squeezed orange juice. We end our evening with some tea after dinner and return to our hotel to sleep.

When we wake up in the morning, we realize we have missed breakfast. However, our friends who woke up in time tell us that we didn’t miss much. They tell us that breakfast consisted of tasteless rice and other things which weren’t any better. The local cuisine didn't seem to be to our taste. I understand better what my friend meant when I first encounter Indonesian dishes myself. 

Jakarta's equatorial climate means it rains a lot. I get caught in the rain when I go out to take a tour of the area around the hotel. Fortunately, the rain showers are usually short. I get soaked in the rain only to find out that there isn’t actually much to see around the hotel before returning inside.

The people here speak a language called Bahasa. The fact that Indonesia is made up of ethnic elements like the Javanese, Sudanese, Madurese, Malays, Bugis, Achinese, and Sasaks is the reason for the many local languages that are spoken. Most of the people know Arabic, English, and Malay. We even find a guide who knows Turkish. :)

Our trip starts again with the arrival of our buses. Our first stop is an electronics market. We spend around 1.5 hours here with those who wish to shop. The prices (in dollars) aren’t all that cheap: around 20% cheaper compared to Turkey. I am surprised to see that the price of a Blackberry is the equivalent of around 250 TRY, and the price of an iPhone is 100 USD (I see these prices on billboards significantly bigger than the ones we have in Turkey). 

Because we didn’t have breakfast and only had a few biscuits for lunch, we head over to a pastry stand when our stomachs start growling, but are devastated when we find that only the Indonesian currency (rupiah) is the only way we can pay. :) After exchanging some money we decide to go to a fast food restaurant with familiar dishes instead of just having pastries. The chicken menu is 45,000 IDR (around 10 TRY) and the fries cost 27,000 IDR (6 TRY). The pleasure we get from eating these fries is priceless. :)

After spending the day shopping it is time to have dinner. We eat food similar to what we ate previously at the Arabic restaurant. I am introduced to the Salak fruit, which is unique to Indonesia. Its coat is like snakeskin; it isn’t very nice looking, and I would say its taste is no more than ok. We leave the restaurant to head over to Bandung, one of the centers of tourism.

After a 3-hour trip we reach Bandung, the third biggest city in Indonesia. Bandung has gone down in history as the place where the Bandung Conference took place. Newly independent Asian and African countries came together at this conference in April 1955 as a part of the “Non-Aligned Movement.” We are staying at the Savoy Homann, which is one of the oldest and most prestigious hotels in the city. Compared to the hotel in Jakarta, this place is like a palace. :)

When I go down for breakfast in the morning I see Indonesian dishes for the first time. The result is rather disappointing. :( Fortunately, they make eggs for me, and alongside fruit salad and K-Flakes I salvage the breakfast as best as I can. On a positive note, their cakes are close to our tastes. After breakfast we have a meeting before going out to hit the Bandung streets.

The Bandung streets and avenues are very colorful. Street fairs are set up in the streets with less traffic.

The Indonesian people are much more relaxed than us. Generally all of them are fairly dark skinned so if you have lighter skin you immediately become an attraction. Don't be surprised when people stop you and ask for photographs, as happened to me. 

Our first stop is a store called Toko which sells local figurines. I learn that the owner of the store is from Sumatra. Sumatra Island is a place that wishes to have independence. They have a more conservative nature but the owner of Toko really didn’t really look like she was that way. Maybe life in Bandung changed her. :)

After spending some time at Toko and buying souvenirs we continue our discovery of Bandung. The side streets are generally wide enough for one car to pass and the buildings are all interlinked. Wood engraving is a very important source of income in Indonesia and especially Bali. Wherever you go people show you wooden objects available to buy. The paintings and the human-like figurines named Rama are also very famous. Their local instruments are intriguing as well.

Wondering whether luxurious cafés are cheaper than the ones in Turkey, we enter one called Bragi Permai. The prices we find are very reasonable. Even though we ask for hot chocolate we get lattés, but we can't get upset due to the smiling faces of the Bandung people that welcome us everywhere. :) We watch the rain fall as we have our coffees. When the rain stops we go back out onto the streets.

The governor of Western Java is preparing a dinner for us at his mansion. Unfortunately, we don’t like the dishes and so don’t eat much, but the small concert before dinner is enough to make us happy. Like I said, the people of Indonesia are very relaxed. The governor doesn’t even have a single bodyguard. Comfortable in his traditional clothes, he salutes us, sits with us, and is generally very friendly and warm toward us.

On our way back to the hotel I see that there are homeless people in the parks and the lower parts of the buildings next to the road. Many poor people have to sleep in the streets. You truly realize the scale of the homeless problem in the city when at nighttime.

After our Bandung adventure, we head for Jakarta once again in order to begin our journey home. In our last day we have a long city tour in Jakarta. Jakarta is very developed. It has huge skyscrapers and monuments. The Istiqlal Mosque is one of the places that must be seen in Jakarta. The architecture of this mosque, which has capacity for 100,000 people, is very different to the architecture that we are used to. Steel was used rather than marble in its construction.

After the city tour we go to a shopping center to buy more souvenirs. The wooden engravings attract everyone’s interest here, though you can also buy other products of Indonesia. It is worth noting that VAT is never added to the prices. Whatever you buy, you must pay 10% VAT after. When the whole group is done with shopping we go to Jakarta airport. Remember that there is a 20 USD exit fee to leave Indonesia.

With the incredible pleasure of having seen a beautiful country, encountered a different culture, and spent time with the pleasant local people, we head back home.

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