We got to the bustling megalopolis of Jakarta the day before. As many backpackers do, we found a place to sleep in the tourist retreat street of Jalan Jaksa and drank cold beers until the late hours of the night.
Today was not an early rising day. We slowly woke up and made our way to breakfast at around noon time. Little did we know what a strange and entertaining day it is going to be.
Iza and Tomek got up earlier and went sightseeing, so Weronika and I ate our late breakfast with Ola and Paddy. We enjoyed our delicious food, which was full of flavor, much unlike a lot of the food in Malaysia was. The TV was showing the anti-government corruption demonstrations which occasionally erupted in violence. This was happening not too far away in the city center.
In the afternoon we headed out to the Monument Nasional, or Sukarno’s Final Erection, as it is affectionately dubbed. The park around this immense monument was swarming with the police and the military was also staked out, just in case there was trouble. On the street nearby a peaceful procession of mostly young people marched down the avenue, yelling slogans, waving banners, and singing. As we left the park surrounding the monument the demonstration pretty much broke up and everyone huddled around the food cart vendors which staked out here. It was a great opportunity to talk to people and find out a thing or two about today’s events (anti corruption demonstration), take some picture of the people (and them taking pictures of and with us), eat some food (cow tongue sate skewers), and find out about interesting things to do in the city (night market where all sorts of strange foods get served up).
Jakarta has already made a few impressions on us. It is a very busy city. People are constantly walking, talking, selling all osrt of consumables and durables, or asking white tourists “were ar yu from?”, which is apparently the acceptable way of starting a conversation with a total stranger walking besides you on the street, and often enough, after a one word answer of “Polandia”, is the entirety of the conversation. However, the thing that makes the biggest impression on you is the road traffic. Cars, busses, trucks, motorbikes, and orange three wheeled bejajes compete ferociously for the three or four lanes, cutting, weaving, veering, honking, swerving, often mere inches from one another. Sometimes things happen abruptly, but most often the vehicles move fluidly past each other with improbably clearance. It is a sight to behold.
And so, one short and crazy bejaj ride later we were back in our enclave of Jalan Jaksa, insulated from the loudness of the city. We met up with Tomek and Iza as well as Lee and Kelly, a couple from Jersey (not new, but rather the channel island) and headed out to the night market to see what creepy crawlies were being served for dinner.
The taxi dropped us off in front of a vendor with a cage full of live cobras. There was no starting slowly in this night market. No deep fried sheep testicles to ease you into the culinary jungle, or snails on a stick to get you to loosen up the taste buds. None of that. Just a cage of live slithering cobras, a sharp clever, and a chopping block. And so we went for it. Armed only with a slight buzz from the beer we drank earlier, we watched as the snake was beheaded, drained of blood, skinned, gutted, filleted, chopped, and impaled on sate sticks for grilling. As the meat cooked, we slurped down the cup of the cobra blood, which was flavored with some of the previously vital organs, now finelly minced and floating in the cup. The verdict: not bad at all. And this is everyone’s opinion, not just mine, which I understand often can be skewed when it comes to eating strange things. Once the meat finished grilling (there was not much at all) the skewers were covered in a tasty peanut dip and covered in chocolate syrup.
We continued down the night market and sampled some more normal fare. Nothing could top the start and so we finished off the supper with omelets and seafood. And off to the club we went…
Jakarta is said to have some of the best clubs in Southeast Asia. The only problem was that almost all of our clothes were pleasantly being washed. I had no long pants and no suitable shoes. I even squeezed into Ola’s jeans to look more presentable for the club, but it turned out not to be a pretty sight. And so in dirty shorts, the only polo shirt in the bag, and flip flops I went. Lee was dressed similarly, while Tomek and Paddy somehow conjured up jeans for the occasion. The girls looked fabulous as usual, so there were no worries about them not being able to get into the club. We arrived at the club and went to the fourth floor where the dancing was. Unfortunately, Lee, Kelly, and I were not allowed in, on account of the flip flops. A few seconds of disappointment quickly turned to suspicion as we were told to follow a besuited man into an elevator. Back on the first floor, we arrived at the shoe rental counter, where we were matched with a suitable pair of cloth loafers for rent. With proper footwear, it was no longer a problem to get into the club.
The club did not have many guests in it. That is not to say there were not many people. As we walked in we passed about a dozen heavyset women in gray suits. Behind them, pretty Asian girls in skimpy skirts frolicked around. The “industry” is not hiding behind any veils here. It is quite overt, and organized to boost. However, since we found out that the party does not get started until about 1am, and it was only 10pm, and the drinks were relatively pricey in the bar, we decided to run out for a beer and come back later. So we found ourselves sitting on the side of a stinky canal drinking beers until club hour came around.
When we returned to the club the place was already hopping. The music was good and we were having a great time dancing. The crowd consisted mostly of guys bobbing along to the beat. Then, the stage lit up and four skimpily dressed girls came out and started dancing unremarkably. It was tough to tell from the distance, but they couldn’t have all been above 18. As they continued to dance and strip down to their panties, the mostly male crowd gave up all pretenses of trying to dance. The dancing did not resume until the girls disappeared.
We danced for a while longer. When we were leaving the club, I considered foregoing the $5 deposit and keeping the rented shoes as a keepsake. However, I had no need for such fancy footwear on the trip and there is no reason to unnecessarily weigh down the backpack, so I went back and retrieved my trusty flip flops.