Thursday, March 03, 2011

Monkey Gone to Heaven

This week, I attempted to escape the gravitational pull of Jakarta's population singularity by road. If you've ever attempted such a Homeric feat yourself, you'll know that it requires the patience of Job. The desperation currently being engendered by Jakarta's internal combustion engine purgatory is currently leading to a correspondingly desperate slew of ideas aimed at alleviating the problem. We are talking ideas so half baked that if they were potatoes, you’d be checking the warranty on your microwave.

Firstly, I've been keeping an eye on the progress of the new elevated road flyover, that will run south for nine kilometers from Blok M. Huge pile drivers and excavators have now turned Jl. Antasari into a post-industrial no man's land, however the exact progress of this new flyover remains hidden behind tasteful hoardings depicting green forests and jungle vistas. This is somewhat ironic, as this long stretch of semi-suburbia has now been almost completely denuded of trees in order to make way for the new gasoline guzzling funfair ride.

Previously, Jl. Antasari may have been perpetually jammed, but at least it had a few leafy boughs for frustrated taxi drivers to gaze upon and drift off into bucolic reveries about their home villages over, as they crawled along at an average speed of 0.1 km/h. This area is now alas seemingly destined to be yet another alienating sea of concrete. Will it be less jammed though? Well that’s debatable. For a start, the flyover is not going to increase the overall amount of public transportation, as being suspended six metres above the road would surely make disembarking from buses a problem. Mind you, this being Indonesia, I would fully expect some dollar-a-day chancer to install a series of rope ladders at 100 meter intervals along the flyover and charge bus passengers Rp.500 a time in order to drop down onto the traffic below.

Even more fun awaits Busway users however. Governor Fauzi recently had a brainwave as he was shampooing his still bristlingly handsome moustache in the shower, and has decided that he may reverse the direction of the city’s Busway lanes, creating a TransJakarta contraflow system that he claims will, "discourage" other motorists from cheekily slipping into said lanes.

Let's hope that every single car driver is indeed discouraged, as I have visions of some poor young lady absentmindedly sliding her Honda Jazz into one of the new contraflow lanes, before slamming into a gas powered behemoth at a combined relative velocity of 100 km/h. Still, should the Jazz disgorge its contents and the young lady in question be slammed head first through two windshields before coming to rest on the bus driver’s steering wheel, then at least the quickest route to medical attention would be to simply remain on the bus until it passed the nearest hospital.

But I digress. My own drive down to the charming stretch of coast at Pelabuhan Ratu was its own hell on wheels. After leaving the luxurious, tarmac covered expanses of the Jakarta toll road at Ciawi, one is instantly funnelled into a potholed, minivan choked bottleneck and onto a road surface apparently consisting of squashed tofu and rice. Still, at least there was an unbroken line of minimarts stretching into the distance to help me out on my West Javanese odyssey. People are currently complaining of minimart overkill, but when you're crawling along at 50 meters per hour, they can be a godsend. In fact, it’s somewhat ironic, given the orthodox Mohammedan fervor currently whipping certain elements in Java into a frenzy, that there's never been a larger amount of tasty refrigerated beer available on the average West Javanese high street.

My journey to the beach eventually took six hours (it's possible to do it in three). Still, I managed to use the lost three hours productively by reminiscing about comedy shows and music with my companion for the journey, the inestimable Mr. Dan. Multitasking, as I believe it's called in the parlance of our times.

The following morning, I joined around 40 other hikers and we embarked on a 20 km long jaunt down the coast. Along the way we encountered deserted virgin beaches and beautiful thick jungle. It was hard to believe that I was on the same Malthusian vision of island life as I had been the previous evening.

Walking down through a jungle filled headland towards a timelessly unspoiled stretch of sand, I drifted off into a hallucination of one million years of life on Java compressed into several minutes. I imagined a semi-evolved simian following me down onto the beach after descending from the headland trees. He would gradually straighten up on his two legs as we headed towards the sand and would then wade into the sea. Finding himself able to swim, he would then return to dry land, now fully hairless, having ascended several thousand years up the phylogenetic scale during his dip. He would then walk to the nearest road and find a Toyota parked there. After jumping all over it in confusion like a ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ primate dancing around a monolith, he'd have a eureka moment, open the door, stick the key in the ignition and zoom off down the street to the nearest minimart. Which I believe is where we came in…