An Epic Wheel Through Jakarta
Our second day in Jakarta began as the muggy heat worked its way into our luxurious room at Jackson’s home. We had disabled the AC (AsiaWheeling likes it hot) and as my sweat glands engaged, so did my mind: we were in Indonesia, hosted by the illustrious Jackson, and we were about to begin the first full day of AsiaWheeling. The immensity of what lay ahead lit up my system and Scott and I sprung from bed to indulge in a little correspondence. Word from Maui Jim had come through, and our new sunglasses were to be waiting for us in Singapore. Thank goodness. Those will come in handy.
A beautiful breakfast had been laid out for us, and we dug into a scrumptious meal of Paraherbs, Corn flakes, milk and toast. Soon Jackson appeared as well, having awoken some time earlier and broken fast on his own. We took a moment to inspect the cycles and then we were off.
Jackson had prepared an aggressive itinerary for today’s wheel, and we were excited to begin. We mounted our Dahon Speed TRs and Jackson his Wim Cycle mountain bike and we were off. We quickly curled our way out of Jackson’s neighborhood and into the boiling throngs of Jakarta’s center.
I marveled for not the last time at what a welcome breed of chaos is to be found on these streets. It is true that the Jakarta traffic is thick, at times stiflingly so, but your fellow quanta of traffic are also quite understanding. I might even at times say curteous… but I’m prone to romanticism.
We whipped through the traffic as the sun beat down. Twice our Panama hats were whipped off in a sudden bits of steamy wind, or by the foul breath of a large city bus, burning a mixture of diesel and coconut oil. But each time we were able to recover them unharmed. As we pedaled on, we quickly became accustomed to the ways of the road, ringing our bells, ignoring lanes, and doing our best to signal our intent. Jackson was a fine bishop and took us through the financial district, north into the realm of government offices, and eventually through Chinatown to the old city.
In the old city we stopped for a refreshment at the Cafe Batavia. “Batavia” is the old Dutch name for Jakarta, and the cafe was definitely a throwback. The walls were almost completely covered with photographs of western movie and music stars from the 1940s and 50s. A jolly rendition of Don’t Sit under the Apple Tree. We sipped lemon tea and looked over the plan for the day. We had already accomplished a lot on the wheel, but there was still more to come.
We left the Cafe Batavia and took a quick stroll through the large courtyard outside. There were fellows positioned all around renting large Indonesian steel cycles. Each rental came complete with a bamboo pith helmet, which we could only assume passed for a head protection in these strange lands. They seemed to be quite popular among the local merry makers, who rented the cycles and the hats, and used them to pull long lazy figure-8′s through the open square. Across the square was a museum, and for 20 cents, we entered and perused imperial furniture and some decidedly unpleasant dungeons. This had been the old seat of power during colonial times, and has since fallen into a public disrepair. As we strolled through, we could hear an alarming popping noise from above, and at times little showers of plaster fell from the ceiling. We navigated around a number of Indonesian school groups in tapered jeans and a few more showers of crumbled plaster to get back to our cycles.
The next waypoint was the docks. Other than some outcries from the gatekeepers for “parking fees” we road encumbered into the fray. It was an old port, which was now catering almost exclusively to old wooden boats, which were being loaded via crane and human back with all manner of materials, from large rusting oil drums, to brand new motor scooters, still swaddled in plastic wrap.
As we rode, the workers waved and smiled, some tried to sell us no doubt deadly snacks and drinks, and others, worked to conduct traffic.
The deeper we got, the more we found ourselves joined by fork lifts and skid loaders, and even mopeds carrying frightening loads. But thanks to a little vigilance and some direction of traffic, we made our way out of the docks no worse for the wear.
By this time we were nigh on starving, so we retreated to a pleasant little chain restaurant which Jackson proclaimed to be his favorite chain in Jakarta. It was Indonesian Chinese food, and quite tasty.
We could not idle long, however, since we were already late for a meeting with the illustrious Denise Hartono, accounts receivable agent for NLG. She met us at her office, and presented us with some sports drinks. We diluted them half way with water and sipped them wile perusing the company products exhibit and discussing the water pump and diesel generator business in Indonesia. Fascinating stuff.
The next waypoint was a grubby electrical components market in a part of Jakarta called Glodok. We strolled through the market, poking our head into various shops and speculating as to the purpose of this sea of strange gnarled second-hand electromechanical devices. At one point, we stopped to photograph a man soldering circuit boards, and he offered to teach us his craft. We attempted to graciously take a rain check and soon we were wheeling again.
It was beginning to get dark and look like rain, so we stopped at an Italian cafe only briefly before returning home. The cafe had been started by an Italian who married an Indonesian woman. The place was quite interesting with Indonesia-fied gelato and a fellow singing Buddy Holly covers on a fractured guitar. His voice was amazing, and we tipped him well.
We joined some of Jackson’s family for dinner, which was incredible Indonesian fare, followed by a most intense and caloric dessert. The food is called Murtabak and we drove across the city to the purportedly finest stand producing it. The stand was clean as a whistle (save for the absence of flooring) and had laid out all the ingredients to show their quality: Kraft cheese, huge cans of butter, Ritz brand dutch sprinkles, and cooking oil.
After retreating to a rooftop lounge and ordering beverages, we laid into the sweet and heavy murtabak like condors on carrion. It was the kind of food I imagine ultramarathon runners or extreme long-distance cyclists require after a race. Luckily, it was just enough to quell the final remaining pangs of hunger that had hit after dinner. From there, some of the troops continued on into the night, but Scott and I were somewhat embarrassed to find ourselves in the clutches of some none-too-subtle jet lag, so we returned home for another very fitful night of rest.