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Sunday 5 May 2013
Jakarta, Indonesia

It's a good job we're friends

Ailsa and I were flying separately to Jakarta so we said goodbye to our lovely Crowne Plaza suite and set off for our respective terminals.  I had enough time for a Hendricks Gin and tonic sample in duty free and a bite to eat before catching my Jetstar flight.  Ailsa's flight was an hour later with Singapore Airlines, but luckliy landed at the same terminal in Jakarta.  As we began our final descent onto the runway, the thrusters suddenly kicked back in and we took off again.  According to the pilot, there was still 'traffic on the runway', so we had to circle around and try again.  I'm glad someone was watching carefully!

Indonesia operate a Visa-On-Arrival system.  When I reached immigration, I saw two options: a cash desk and a visa desk, but no indication as to which should come first and an equal number of people seemed to be moving between the desks in each direction.  As the cash desk had the shortest queue, I decided to try that one first and put on my best 'I'm a foreigner with no clue what I'm doing, so please be nice to me if I am getting this wrong' smile.  Happily, I got it right, passing over $25 US for a receipt before joining the visa queue.  

I've been carefully preserving the empty pages in my passport on this trip, asking each immigration counter if they could please fill up the used pages to keep the empty ones free for future visa stickers, in a bid to avoid having to purchase a new passport for the second half of my trip.  So far it has gone well and I have managed to get 14 stamps on just three pages.  The Indonesian Visa is a half-page sticker and it was stuck neatly onto a used page without me even asking.  How very considerate of them!  

My next job was to find a Bureau de Change or cash machine before leaving the peace and quiet of the arrivals hall.  Indonesian Rupiah are counted in thousands, so I had the very surreal experience of taking out 1,500,000 - yes ONE AND A HALF MILLION - Rupiah out of a cash machine! Kind of disappointing to realise it's actually only around £100.  Counting the zeroes took some getting used to.  I paid for a bottle of water with a 100,000 Rp note and was surprised to receive 98,000 Rp in change.  The water was only 2,000 not 20,000 - no wonder the woman didn't look impressed at having to find that much change.  Rather unhelpfully, the numbers on the notes are not separated by commas, so 100000 and 10000 look similar at a glance, so we found ourselves refering to the colours of the notes instead of the denominations (Monopoly money, anyone?).

I met Ailsa as she came through the Arrivals gate and we booked a taxi to our hotel, about an hour's drive into Jakarta.  The traffic was crazy from the outset.  Cars travel close enough to reach out and touch the neighbouring vehicles, while overtaking, undertaking and generally sneaking past any which way they can.  There were quite a few flinching moments, before we decided to simply look at the scenery instead of the road! Amazingly, despite the chaos, it all seemed to work effectively and we made it safely off the expressway and into the smaller city streets.  Here, the driving style continued, but with the addition of motorbikes, bicycles, carts and pedestrian traffic into the mix.  

We arrived at the Paragon hotel intact and entered a blissfully air-conditioned lobby to be greeted by our Intrepid guide, Sukio.  He introduced himself and gave us each a booklet full of details about our trip and the places we would be visiting. Such a difference from Burma!  Sukio comes from Pangandaran in Central Java, mid 40's (though I guessed a lot younger initially) with long curly hair and a beaming white smile.  His English wasn't perfect so we both had a moment of 'oh no, not again' but he had a very open, friendly manner and we warmed to him very quickly.  He was able to answer our questions easily and knew his job well, so any issues were resolved quickly and explanations offered for things we didn't understand.

It was getting on for lunchtime, so we ventured out to find a nearby shopping centre with a food court.  We stopped on one corner trying to find a street sign when a young Indonesian guy asked if we needed help.  He confirmed where we were and was headed the same way as us.  He was very friendly and keen to practice his English for a few minutes while we walked.  Dwi was a freelance photographer and had been on his way back from covering a local convention for the newspaper. When we reached the shopping centre, he guided us down to the food court and even helped us order what we wanted, so we invited him to join us.  An unexpected, but very pleasant meeting and the first of many friendly Indonesians that we would meet on this trip. 

Back at the hotel, we decided to treat ourselves to massages at the hotel spa, but discovered it was closed.  However, the concierge made a quick phonecall and within 15 minutes two Indonesian ladies arrived in our room.  We had a 60 minute massage each, culminating in an excellent head and neck massage, for which we had to sit up facing each other.  It's a good job Ailsa and I have known each other so long as discretion didn't seem to feature in this section of the massage!

Relaxed and refreshed, we ventured downstairs for the Intrepid welcome meeting.  There are 8 in the group this time, which is a nice sized group to travel with.  Chris and Lynda, an English couple our age, came from Reading, just half an hour from Ailsa.  The rest of the group were solo travellers: Aimee, an American who had just come from New Zealand; Klaas, a very tall Dutchman; Walter, a big Swiss German whose English wasn't great, but he seemed to understand enough to get by; and Jim, a 73-year old Canadian (Scottish/English ex-pat) who had the biggest zest for life in anyone I've ever met.  He quickly became a great favourite in the group for his charming manner, great sense of humour and enthusiasm to travel and try just about anything.  Sukio took us through the whole itinerary in detail so we felt well informed and confident - again, such a contrast from our Burma trip in January where we left the welcome meeting feeling quite uncertain about what we had in store.

Our first group dinner was at a German-owned restaurant with bland international fare on the menu, which seems to have become standard for the first-night meals on Intredid trips now.  Luckily most of the group were in agreement that we wanted more local food so things should improve as we go along.

Tomorrow we set off for Bandung by train.  Let the adventure begin!




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