How often do you sit and contemplate about where you are going and what is the purpose of it all? There is a wise Indonesian proverb that goes: “Hanya Tuhan dan sopir Bajaj yang tahu kemana arah dan tujuannya,” using Google it directly translates to “Only God and Bajaj driver who knows where the direction and purpose.”
Living in Jakarta you cannot help but notice the Bajaj’s or Tuk-Tuk’s, as they are famed in India, the country they are imported from. Mostly bright orange with tacky stickers, or the so-called environmentally friendlier gas fueled blue colored ones, are little noisy smoke-belching three wheel transporters that take passengers on short trips around residential areas at a bargained fare – though it may feel it is your life you may end up paying with while in one of them!
EASY to get around?
Recently I got asked if it is “easy” to get around in Jakarta. It made me realize that there is no straight forward “yes” or “no” reply to this question, it entails an epic tale of chaotic proportion involving a speculated population of 10 to 20 million people trying to get somewhere every day, for whatever purpose by any means possible, via congested narrow streets, toll roads, multi-lane fly overs and notorious one ways filled with pot-and manholes. And after three years in The Big Durian I have traveled by many means, and sometimes without any specific destination in mind, but the sheer decadent desire to get taken for a ride.
The Blue Bird Group.
Most expats or “bule” do travel in the lap of luxury with having their own car and driver, but the first vital travel trip to foreign visitors of the city is to ONLY use Blue Bird taxis, or the same company’s high-end Silver Bird option, when you want to get to and from the airport or around Jakarta. With plenty of these clearly marked blue Toyota or black Mercedes-Benz sedans in circulation, it does make travelling relatively easy and safe. The deterrent of being “kidnapped” or taken on a long joyride in other taxi operators is used to endorse loyalty to this reliable company’s service. However I have never had the misfortune to experience the latter, I have had the odd joyride in a Blue Bird…
The oddity of the Blue Bird odyssey is how I can telephonically order a Blue Bird taxi to collect me at my place of residence and they find it on time by themselves, but when I want to get back home the next taxi I get into has no idea where I live, never even heard the street name! And in this day of technological advancement many a Blue Bird taxi driver has stopped, left me alone in the car, and “asked” for directions from people in the street while the meter keeps running. I did start to suspect that perhaps my lack of being fluent in Indonesian and my friendly gullible manner has made me vulnerable to these types of advances, so the survival instinct kicked in. As soon as I got in a taxi, I leaned forward and photographed the taxi driver’s ID Card and Taxi Number on the dashboard with my cellular phone and then firmly yet friendly stated my destination, worked like a bomb every time. The Blue Bird Group follows up all complaints, you can even tweet your concerns, plus it is also very handy to know your taxi’s number in case you leave any valuables behind inside the taxi. In my experience they have always returned it. Once it was returned by the driver before I even noticed I had forgotten it!
After taming the Blue Bird I felt the need for infidelity and used the Express Taxi Group and now also take occasional rides in WHITE Toyota sedans. Much to my surprise there was no thrill of a joyride with Express. Slightly cheaper I have been impressed that the service compares very well. One evening I got in an Express and was pleasantly entertained by a grammatical and phonetically perfected English speaking driver. Taking me on a short cut or “jalan tikus”, I still somehow managed to prolong the journey in order to chit-chat, and learned that he had worked on an oil rig in the United States of America before returning to the Republic of Indonesia. As a matter of interest I asked why he does not drive a Silver Bird, as being fluent in English is a requirement to be a Silver Bird driver. He explained to me that with Express he is the owner of his own taxi and only has to pay the company a minimal fee to be linked to them, making him a business man or entrepreneur rather than just a taxi driver.
Trans Jakarta Bus Way.
As for public transport most people look in horror at the Trans Jakarta Bus Way Service. The bus way has its own designated lane and route with a growing number of stops. I on the other hand saw an opportunity to mentally map out Jakarta by taking a cheap Rp 3 500 trip ALL around the city using Trans Jakarta. I got in the bus one day and sat right in front on the steps, next to the driver, and admired the city from this front seat BIG window elevated street view. This option however is no longer available to me as they have reserved the front seats of the bus for female passengers only, a sign that they are committed to providing a service that keeps the public’s needs in mind. The air-conditioned bus way can be very crowded at peak times, but in the day between 10am and 3pm, it is a pleasure to use as you can actually get a comfortable seat. Not many foreigners use the bus way making you feel like you having more of an authentic local workforce-class lifestyle experience.
BUT it does not get any more horrific than the haphazard Metro Mini bus service. I would not advice the faint of heart to take a trip on one of these busses, but then again I did it, as I am a bit of a dare devil and could not resist the adrenaline rush. First of all this bus stops anywhere and never comes to a full stop, which means you end jumping on and off a moving vehicle. There is always a driver and his sidekick hanging halfway out the bus calling passengers and collecting the Rp 2 000 fee. On one of my daring trips this wing-man had a brick in his hand, as we started driving in heavy traffic up a hill I realized why. Every time the bus had to stop, due to the gridlock, the wingman jumped out and placed the brick behind the bus’ back wheel to prevent it from rolling backwards into the car behind us; as the brakes where obviously not functioning at an optimal standard level. What made the trip on this free range roller-coaster even more colorful, was the street musician that jump on with a guitar and start making music, and then promptly went around collecting change for his solo performance afterwards, before jumping off the bus again. You really feel like you’re roughing it and that you are lost in a strange world after a trip in one of these busses, with no air conditioning and HARD often upholstered less seats – prepare for a very bumpy junkyard pimped ride.
Then there are also smaller “Angkot” or “Mikrolet” mini vans that run on short routes through the smaller streets. Very convenient if one happens to run past your house, and you need to make it to civilization, or to the main road to wave a Blue Bird. The initial shock and novelty wears off fast, and in no time you get recognized, picked up and dropped off for a very small amount of money. The seat in front next to the driver is the best one in this vehicle, or else you might end up being squashed in like a sardine in the seat less back section of the van!
An “ojek” is another way for the more adventurous and culturally inaugurated traveler to get somewhere FAST. Basically you end up, luckily with a helmet, as a passenger on a scooter being whisk around, as if you’re on Harry Potter’s Nimbus 2000, through the traffic, at times almost on the sidewalk and never in a proper lane, to where you need to be or what you fear might be your final destination, whichever comes first! It is always a sigh of relieve to get off, pay the driver and think “never again.” Until the next time you are in a race against time. This service is not to be sneered at, they have become much respected and you can even book an “ojek” online at www.go-jek.com
Taking the train.
I have even travelled by train to the Monas from Stadium Station in Kota , but found this was a bit of a balancing act having to stand the entire journey in a crowded coach. Completely lost in translation it was also hard to follow and know where to get off. My fellow passengers were very helpful and I wasn’t pick-pocketed as cautioned by friends when I announced that I would give a train a try. I would however strongly recommend an overnight FIRST CLASS trip to Yogyakarta from Jakarta using the train (I have done that prior to this inner city commute). Very comfortable with refreshments and flatbed seats makes the time fly while you sleep and wake up in a different city several hours later ready and rested.
How about driving yourself or walking??
Walking or driving yourself is not advisable, but once again tried and tested. I have driven both a scooter and automatic car in Jakarta and found myself almost in a Trans driving in the same direction as so many other people. With hardly any road rage incidents, as long as you going along with the traffic like a sheep, it makes sense, but to turn around or change direction… Out of the blue a random pedestrian or uniformed guard (whoever has the whistle) will appear like a fairy and blow his whistle and stop oncoming traffic for you. Politely tip this traffic controller; it’s not a Good Samaritan’s deed but a service after all! As for walking doing it anywhere else besides in a mall is inhumane. There are hardly any sidewalks and the humidity will leave you sweating and dripping like an old radiator, if you do not get instant lung failure from the traffic fumes! Long walks in Jakarta are best to have indoors without clearing your mind, but stimulating your senses and opening up your wallet with all the food and branded clothing shops inside the many malls.
Ready. Steady. Go!
Keeping in mind that scooters and motorbikes, with up to four passengers on each, swarm like angry bees on the streets and ruined remains of the sidewalks then ADD the Busses, Mini Vans, Taxis, Trucks, Bajaj’s and Private Cars to the equation – your head should be buzzing at the thought but the reality is even worse: Although toll roads are “bee” and bus free, they are also gridlocked regularly. The possibility of getting around Jakarta “easy” seems highly unlikely. A fellow South African once commented, after I collected him from the airport, that Jakarta’s traffic made Cairo’s traffic look like Kindergarten… Rumors have it that Jakarta might get a MRT (like in Singapore) and that Bajaj’s might get banned, but until then be assured that the moment you know your way around it gets “easy” or “easier”. Unless if it is raining or Friday. On those occasions do not attempt to leave your house, or if you at the office, rather work overtime. And always, always travel with an emptied bladder!
You may wonder how on earth it could possibly be “easy”. The answer lies in that proverb. No matter where you find yourself in life or where you think, or would like to go, it will become “easy” the moment you learn to let go and just go with the flow and take it “easy” for a change. Whether you in your Private Car with a driver or a Bus, or find yourself on an “ojek”, the direction and purpose of your journey at the end of the day is only known by God… or the Bajaj driver.