Sunday, July 08, 2007

Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Tea

Finally, after two failed attempts, I made it onto Jakarta's not-so-mass and not-so-rapid transit system last weekend. Yes, at last I managed to catch the boatway in fully operational mode and went for a sail through the city centre, buoyed up by a flotsam of empty Coke cans and other non-biodegradable trash.

Initially I was fearful of another wasted trip to the mini quay that's been constructed at Dukuh Atas. There didn't seem to be a whole lot of activity there when I arrived at the magic hour of 4 p.m... My only company for the first 15 minutes were two old weather-beaten codgers, one of whom was repeatedly lowering a bucket on a rope into the murky waters below and extracting the brown liquid. God knows what he was planning to do with the stuff; I only pray that he wasn't going to bathe in water that was so dirty that even rats would turn their noses up at it. Perhaps he was a dermatologist, fallen on hard times but still conducting research into interesting new skin diseases.

Eventually though, the Kerapu III hoved into view and moored itself alongside the quay's metal steps. The boats being used in this new scheme were previously to be found ferrying tourists around Pulau Seribu (The Thousand Islands). Now however, they have been press-ganged by the city council into trawling through the urban sludge in a putative attempt to make Sutiyoso and co appear to be doing something constructive about the city's transportation woes for as little financial outlay is possible.

I hopped aboard and entered the enclosed cabin area which can hold about as many people as one of Jakarta's Metro Mini buses (although I didn't notice any buskers with guitars willing to swim out and chance their arm in mid sail). After taking a pew I noticed that every seat had a yellow inflatable life jacket underneath it and was given pause to reflect again upon the irony of the large percentage of people from this island nation who can't swim. There were also laminated airline style safety cards on display instructing hapless city sea dogs how to blow into the little whistles attached to the jackets and attract help before their legs dissolve in the noxious chemicals to of the Ciliwung.

After a couple of minutes we set sail and the Kerapu's two Yamaha outboards powered us under Jl. Sudirman towards the Karet terminus, and mere five minutes sail away. I pulled my camera out and started snapping away like crazy as it was a novel experience seeing city landmarks such as the BNI tower from a boat. At the delightful Karet quay (a post-industrial urban twilight zone, seemingly in the middle of nowhere) we admitted more passengers and started to head back eastwards.

The boat way is currently being hyped up by the city administration as an urban transport solution however the passengers seemed to consist entirely of parents giving their children a nice fun ride in a boat and journalists and TV crews interviewing and filming each other for their boatway news reports. There seemed to be a distinct lack of anyone actually traveling from A to B.. And so alas the boatway’s utilitarian aspirations seem doomed to failure and it instead seems destined to become a minor tourist attraction: kind of like Du.Fan. (Jakarta's amusement park) accompanied by an unpleasant smell of poo. The kids loved it though and burbled happily to their parents, "Is that a fish dad?"
"Er... kind of... I guess you could call it a brown trout son."

After stopping at Dukuh Atas again we steamed on to Halimun where we moored up again before turning around. I'd been led to believe that the boat way went all the way to Manggarai in the east of town but upon inquiring I was informed that this final section of the cruise hasn't been opened yet. So that was it, three stops over a jawdropping 2.7 km. Awesome.

For Rp.3000 you can't really argue though. If you are a poor family, the boat way represents a cheap alternative to a cruise through the Thousand Islands with the kids. If you are reporter on the other hand, the Kerapu cruise evokes a moody, bleak, post global warming vision of sailing through the wreckage of society’s collapsed infrastructure after sea levels have risen 10 m. If you are a commuter on the other hand, well, I wouldn't bother to be frank, you're probably better off sticking with buses and taxis. Back to the drawing board please Mr. F. Bowo.