Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Day Off in Jakarta

On Saturday I had a day to myself so I did a little research and headed off by taxi to the Maritime Museum. First I should comment that Jakarta hasn’t really invested heavily in tourist sites so you have to take what you can find. My first clue was when the taxi driver first asked for directions from the hotel staff and then stopped again when we were close to get further directions. The areas we passed through from the hotel to the museum had declined from relatively modern, to old but nicely looked after, to derelict. The driver’s last request for directions had the comical result of the person pointing across the road at a long white building and saying in Indonesia “That’s it!”

I was a little nervous at the location and wasn’t sure what I should do when a very nice man, Catur (as in "chatter" - a good name for a tour guide), introduced himself in English, he asked where I was from, and told me he would take me on a tour. We walked through the Maritime Museum (it needs a lot of work) and he gave me the full history of Jakarta: Dutch rule, British influence, independence, Japanese occupation, etc. One of the main themes was foreigners profiteering from the natural wealth of Indonesia at the expense of the native population.

From the Maritime Museum Catur took me through some narrow back alleys full of small shops selling everything you can imagine.

We ended up down on the banks of the old harbor where the traditional wooden schooners that still carry goods to the other islands are all tied up. A boat tour in a boat resembling a dugout canoe into the harbor was offered but I gracefully declined.

We then backtracked to the museum where I thought my tour was over when Catur asked me if I liked motorcycles. When I replied “Yes” a helmet was quickly produced and we were off on a riding tour of the old city, including Chinatown.

Lots of small streets away from the main traffic and into parts of Jakarta most visitors wouldn’t get to see. Riding as a passenger on a motorcycle in Jakarta was an adventure all on its own. Along the way Catur stopped at a Chinese temple and was a little disappointed that I didn’t take more photos. I didn’t have the heart to tell him of our years in Beijing.

The tour ended up at another museum that occupies the old City Hall. It also needs more investment to bring it up to be a true tourist destination. It was good nonetheless. The main features Catur pointed out was the place where executions were performed (beheadings), the dungeon where the prisoners were kept prior to execution, the balcony where the Governor stood to watch to executions, and the sword used in the beheadings … Oh, and the stairs that someone had to climb to ring the bell announcing the executions. Have you got the main theme of the museum tour!!
This photo was taken from the balcony looking down at the place of execution.

I bade farewell to Catur and thanked him for an enjoyable couple of hours. He insisted in hailing a good taxi for me (blue taxis are good as are white ones – avoid the others) and instructing the driver where I needed to go. I have his number if anyone needs a guide.

I guess, thinking back, there was a certain element of risk involved in joining up with a complete stranger in a very poor part of Jakarta but my faith in basic human nature prevailed and it was a great way to pass a part of the day.

I'm now back in Banda Aceh for two days before starting my homeward trek through Jakarta - Singapore - Hong Kong - Chicago - Appleton. Home Sunday!!!

No comments:

Post a Comment