Monday, August 16, 2010

Wi' Jam In

And lo the Lord spake and he said, "I will send rain on the earth for 40 days and nights," and Noah did build an Ark for every creature in the world, including a big room for poo. Very important that. Well last Saturday afternoon it didn't actually rain for 40 days and 40 nights. In fact, it only rained heavily for about 40 minutes as far as I could tell. Unfortunately though the scenes around the busy roads of South Jakarta were truly awe-inspiring in their massively traffic jammed evocation of some futuristic biblical apocalypse.

Perhaps though it is to the ancient Greeks that I have to turn in order to evoke the full, majestic, cinematic, Charlton Heston sweep of my journey from the Blok M area to my house in Mampang. It's a journey of under 4km as the crow flies however, in an epic voyage that would have broken the spirit of Odysseus himself, I fired up my vintage vehicle at 4:30 PM and finally reached my commune at 10:30 PM, a nerve shredding six hours later.

Now I never take the old girl out for a spin on weekdays, unless it's already gone 10 PM and I cycle to work every day. Alas though, weekend supermarket runs leave me vulnerable to traffic foul ups and acts of God. Last Saturday's jam was so colossal however that I believe my six-hour jaunt home has broken the Indonesian allcomers record for the ratio of distance travelled to time spent on the road.

In fact, the last time that I drove back from the beach at Pelabuhan Ratu, some 150 km away, I managed the journey in just three hours. So, effectively, I could have driven to the south coast of Java in back in the time that it took me to get home last Saturday. Was this a bloodcurdling glimpse of Jakarta's future? Will it soon be like this even when it's not raining? It's a thought that should send shivers down the spine of any city resident.

Allow me though to recount a few salient highlights of this epic voyage to you. I feel the need to unburden myself you understand, to finally let the horror of it all go and move on with my life. I first hit trouble when I turned into Kemang. The flood water was only about 2 feet deep, however I decided not to risk it and made a U-turn, aiming to try another route. Foolishly though I hadn't counted on the swollen rivers that run through the Kemang area, bearing gifts of water from the hills of Bogor.

It took me about an hour to crawl down to Pejaten, including another failed attempt to cross over into Kemang, where I was again confronted with another knee-high water world. I eventually reached the big intersection at Pejaten where a policeman warned me that there was a big flood on the road I was planning to turn up. He then proceeded to wave me in the direction of said flood. I'll honestly never understand this country, not if I live to be 300.

Anyhow, after around 20 minutes of painfully slow crawling back north, me and my fellow traffic jam renegades ground to a total stop. There was indeed an impassable flood ahead, however a U-turn was also out of the question this time as the Busway dividers had us completely penned in. Engines began to switch off and I simply got out of the car and left it in the middle of the jam before heading off to a nearby Padang restaurant for a feed.

Relief finally arrived two hours later when some local lads removed a section of the Busway dividers, allowing me and my fellow ‘jamees’ to finally escape the confines of our three laned prison. Yes, my olive twig carrying dove had finally arrived but my ark wasn't out of the woods yet.

As everywhere to my immediate west had seemingly gone Venetian, I strategized that I could reach home by doubling back through the East via Pasar Minggu and Kalibata. Bad move. The ensuing two and a half hour crawl through endless sets of jammed traffic lights gave me the impression that I'd been cursed in a manner similar to Bill Murray in the movie 'Groundhog Day'.

In the film, Murray is forced to live the same day over and over again. Eventually, reaching his nadir of despair, he commits suicide over and over again in increasingly bizarre ways, only to wake up on the same morning in the same bed after each attempt at buying the harp farm.

I also felt that a time loop was returning me to the same set of lights on the same stretch of jammed road over and over and over again. If my journey had gone on much longer I would have also probably tried to kill myself a thousand times with whatever I could find at hand inside my metal hulled hell.

As the journey wore on I imagined myself forcing the screwdriver in my glove compartment through my eye socket into my cerebellum or drinking litres of radiator fluid, only to be continually reincarnated and returned to the same set of lights on the vision of Hades that was Pasar Minggu Raya.

I was indeed starting to lose the plot a little during the final half hour of my epic voyage. At one point I seriously considered ploughing a fried rice vendor and his trolley into the asphalt for blocking my passage through a set of lights. Eventually I reached home at 10:30 PM and only stopped shaking after I'd consumed about half a bottle of gin. Never again dear readers.