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open mind, empty stomach

travel, food, and fun

Indonesia’s capital was unlike any other place I’d been in the country. For starters, it actually resembled a proper city, most notably when it comes to transportation. Like any other major city, traffic is a huge problem, but it’s still possible to get around Jakarta very affordably in a reasonable amount of time. There are bus only lanes that connect most of the major points in the city that are free from the shackles of rush hour traffic. The bus costs just 3500 IDR ($0.35) one way! Taxis are pricy, but bajaj and ojek are very cheap and convenient.

My CouchSurfing experience in Jakarta was definitely a first. I received an invitation to Surf at a guy from Singapore’s place and accepted. It wasn’t until after I arrived that I found out that my host was gay and had a big bed in his small studio for us to share. I’m a pretty open and tolerant guy and went with it. Herman was a gentleman and the sleeping situation was not an issue. He does dress rather….festive…and we received a lot of attention when he would show me around. Indonesia is a Muslim country and although Jakarta is a large city, it still has a somewhat conservative culture.

It was not a situation I would have sought out, but I’m glad I experienced it. Herman was a great host and, although he was extremely busy with work, still found time to show me around the city. We visited the National Monument at night, where I had some durian ice cream. He also showed me Jalan Jaksa, a bar street whose patrons are ex-pats, travelers, and locals looking to meet foreign friends. Herman likes to have a get loose on the weekend, but, unfortunately, I was only there Monday to Wednesday and didn’t get to experience club Stadium.

Herman isn’t as food driven as I am and, not being a local, wasn’t too aware of food from the area. He took me for some nasi padang, an assault of a couple dozen dishes, which is actually Sumatran. It was quite tasty and my favorites were rendang and calf brain. I had some really good chicken sate and mie ayam, noodles with chicken offal and water spinach. The best thing I had in Jakarta was chicken foot soup. Tragically, I got food poisoning on my last night in town. We went to an Indonesian place not far from Herman’s place and I ended up getting sick for the first time this trip. It wouldn’t have been so bad if I wasn’t flying to Singapore – to eat – the next morning.

While Herman was working, I decided to skip the touristy stuff and get lost in the outskirts of town. It was eye opening. Jakarta has big buildings, sports cars and every other form of first world opulence, but the outskirts were a different story. I spent hours weaving my way through winding alleyways of the shantytowns on the city’s northern limits. The sights, sounds, and smells were those of abject poverty. I feel incredibly awkward taking pictures in those situations and didn’t take my camera out. Other than of a couple kids asking for money, the people were really friendly and welcoming. They did look very confused as to what I was doing there; I could tell they don’t get many foreign visitors. It’s never fun to see people with so little, but I always appreciate the opportunity to gain the perspective one only can by visiting such a place. I returned to the city center and they went about their business as usual.

Jakarta was quite a place for me. There were a range of situations that put me out of my comfort zone – in very different ways – and I’m grateful to have experienced them. The city is huge and possibilities are endless. It was nice coming to Jakarta after spending some time in the rest of Indonesia to see the contrast between the nation and its capital city.

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