Jakarta Bound is a travelogue about life in one of the largest and most densely populated cities in South East Asia.
Before going back to my room I stopped at the reception to confirm that my driver was booked for the following day’s sightseeing tour to Borobodur and the Dieng plateau. Santi wasn’t there, but she had left a note for me to say that the driver was coming to collect me at eight in the morning, which meant I had to probably be up before seven to get ready and have breakfast. It had already been a long day so I needed an early night if I was going to be up that early, but I needed dinner first. I was going to eat in the hotel restaurant, but despite its Javanese charm and tranquillity it was totally empty. If I was going to eat alone I at least wanted the cultural, social osmosis of dining amongst some other people. Although it was Sunday night the district seemed like a youthful kind of place. It couldn’t be too hard to find a café serving some nasi goreng, beer or even a burger, I thought. I even had enough time to have a hot, relaxing soak in the bath before leaving; perfect.
The pavements around Yogyakarta weren’t that much better than the pavements in Jakarta; stone slabs and rocks roughly slapped together with cement and concrete. The roads crookedly clashed with the ad hoc pathways and kerbs, forcing any attempt at strolling into a stumbling negotiation of trip hazards. I walked around the block to find something resembling a vibrant hubbub of Saturday evening eating and drinking, but there wasn’t much more than random, small groups of people lazily passing time in small, grimy looking cafes that looked like they were closing for the night. I walked for over half an hour, but despite the ceaseless traffic and the screeching, ripsaw noise of mopeds, the town was totally dead. Nevertheless, I was still hungry.
It was after eleven by this time and the only places that seemed to be still serving food were the grimy, little tarpauline covered warungs on the main road. Their charcoal burners seemed to go on into the night, serving fish, chicken satay, goat, beef, rice and noodles. So, feeling a little weak and weary, I took a seat at one of the wooden trestle tables in one of these warungs. As I sat down on the dirty little plastic stool, I stared at the grimy, laminated menu and tried to decipher what it said. But all my energy left me. I rested my elbows on the plastic tablecloth hopelessly staring at the words on the card as the man approached. He smiled at me, clicked and clacked something in Indonesian, to which I could only reply, ‘No Bahasa’. I was too tired to try and attempt any kind of paralinguistic communication other than pointing. So I pointed at the food he had cooking on his fire. ‘Ayam?’ I asked. He nodded and smiled, I nodded and smiled; he then said something that I assumed meant drink and I nodded again and said ‘Fanta’. He scribbled on his pad and came back five minutes later with half a dozen hot, little, chicken skewers with satay sauce and a plate of steaming white rice. The Fanta followed.
It didn’t take long for me to finish my food. I’m not a huge fan of satay sauce, but when I’m hungry my palate doesn’t discriminate and I thoroughly enjoyed my late night street dinner.
It was almost midnight as I made my way back to the hotel. As I negotiated the pavement in the dark, I saw a man asleep in a baja. These things don’t look too comfortable to ride in as a customer, but this poor guy – barefoot, his legs dangling over the side of this tiny three-wheeled, motorised contraption, with his arms crossed across his chest – was sleeping like an overgrown babe in the arms of his crooked, shabby, little taxi. Nothing but the sky between him and the gods; I felt for him. I really did. I felt for him and I felt blessed to be spending the night under a roof in a bed that felt like the palm of Buddah’s hand. Waking up to the sound of trickling water and a buffet breakfast. I should really be more grateful for what I’ve got and stop complaining, I thought. I then turned the corner and realised I was about another ten minutes away from the hotel. Shit. Why had I walked so bloody far?