Monday, October 20, 2008

Let There Be Light

Well shiver me timbers! I recently had the opportunity to return to the high seas and once again steamed manfully out of Sunda Kelapa one salty Sunday morning. I'm getting a bit ahead of myself however. First things first. I had to traverse Jakarta by road in order to reach the city's deep and diabolically diseased briny.

The early Sunday morning Jakarta ambience is something I usually miss for reasons which are no doubt identical to your own lack of enthusiasm for the 7 a.m. that follows hard on the heels of a good rocking Saturday night. The city is at its daylight hours freshest on Sunday mornings though and as I drove uptown one could almost believe that one lived in a metropolis in which some semblance of order and restraint prevailed.

My taxi headed up through the quiet streets of south and central Jakarta on its way to the sea. Interestingly, someone had been tampering with the 'Tarif Bawah' (low fare) stickers on the back window of my cab. By discarding the 'B' in 'Bawah' and rearranging the remaining letters, some cheeky swine had made my taxi say 'Tarif Waah!'. Thankfully I don’t think it was the driver himself as his meter was ticking over at quite a sedate speed.

When we reached Jalan Thamrin we hit (not literally) the Sunday sporting types who, utterly lacking in exertion, cycle and jog down the centre of the road at about 1 km per hour. These people are clearly not in it for the exercise and I believe their sole motivation is to make the party animals that spill out of Kota's clubs and discos after pulling an all nighter feel even more exhausted and ill than they do already.

As I continued my cab journey I chanced upon the most delicious site up near Monas. Some of you may have read in the paper in recent months about Jakarta's new roller-skating police division. I had been initially skeptical about this, believing the story to be a hoax. Most of the policeman that I see on the streets seem a touch too portly to be attempting such a kamikaze feat.

There they were though, large as life, weaving in and out of the joggers and cyclists on their hot wheels like members of Village People. Weaving in and out of cars and motorcycles though may prove to be a more difficult undertaking.

After reaching the lovely Marina Batavia and setting sail with the good Captain Hans, it was time to put skating cops behind us and enjoy the turgid delights of Jakarta Bay once more. This time we were heading out to one of the nearest of the Thousand Islands, Pulau Damar Besar, alternatively known as Pulau Edam due to the fact that Jakarta's Dutch governor had a mansion here over a century ago.

The seas we encountered on our outward journey were, alas, disgustingly full of trash. At various points on the 15 km long trip a flotsam of instant noodle and detergent packets guided us towards the mounds of rubbish that piled up around the Pulau Edam jetty itself. It was all very depressing and one has to venture a lot further afield, deep into the Thousand Island chain in fact, before things become cleaner.

Despite the rubbish around the jetty, the island does have some fascinating points of interest. Most spectacularly, there's an old steel Dutch lighthouse, still in operation, which dates back to 1879. Myself and my fellow passengers were feeling game and so we scaled the spiral staircase up through the 12 levels to the round balcony that rings the top of the Lighthouse, just below the light itself. The view of the tiny island and the sea below from here was truly spectacular, if a little scary for those of a vertiginous disposition.

Also on Edam Island lies the ruins of the Dutch governor's mansion which can be found in the middle of the island's small wood. We trekked off to find it and were taken by the moody grandeur of the remaining roofless walls set against the dim light of the forest interior. The ghosts of the past seemed to be circling around us.

Jakarta's very own Mr. Moustache, Governor Bowo, should perhaps consider reviving this tradition and rebuilding a pad for himself and all of his little Bowos out here. A local TV station could start a new reality show called Governor's Island. They could assemble a small population on the island of, say, 20 Jakarta taxi drivers. It would then be the governor's task to provide them all with amenities and housing before they died. He would have to succeed in this task before we let him back loose on a capital city of 15 million people. If I approach SCTV with this idea they'll bite my bloody hand off I'm telling you. I wanna see that boy digging a latrine...