My trip to Indonesia didn’t get off to the best of starts, as a huge storm kicked up on our approach to Jakarta, meaning we had to divert to Singapore. By that time, we were running low on fuel, and the pilots had already worked over their maximum hours, so we had to sit around on the plane for three hours while we waited for refuelling and new pilots to be found. By the time we finally made it to Jakarta, we’d been delayed by more than five hours, and what’s worse, I was arriving in a huge city, on my own, in a new continent, with no hotel booked, at half past eleven at night, which was a slightly scary prospect.
I relayed my fears to one of the ground staff – who just laughed at me: ‘Jakarta is a 24 hour city. You’ll be fine’. That perked me up a little, and on the bright side at least it meant my taxi journey into town only took an hour at that time of night (it can easily be double that in the rush hour). I soon found a (rather basic) hotel in the cheap area of town, and headed out for some food round the corner, where I met three equally tired travellers who’s just arrived late as well for similar reasons: Stu from England, and Mike & Joachim from Sweden. A couple of beers later, I hit the sack, knackered after such a long journey and excited to see the big city the next day, despite the warnings from my Lonely Planet that there really wasn’t much to see.
They weren’t wrong. The old, colonial bit of the city is distinctly unimpressive (the Dutch must really not have been all that bothered with the place – after all, Holland is full of beautiful cities, but the architecture in Jakarta was pretty functional at best). The biggest surprise was the lack of tourists – this is the capital city of the biggest country in South East Asia (and the fourth biggest in the world) – and we must have seen about twenty foreigners the whole time we were there. At the time I presumed it must just be that everyone else had read that the city was a bit dull and headed straight to Yogyakarta. So we decided to do the same.
With the bus terminals being way out of town (and the travel agents in town only selling tickets for expensive minibus journeys) we decided to take the night train down to Yogyakarta. Big mistake. The train stopped regularly throughout the night, and at every station a whole load of vendors jumped on, waking everyone up in their attempts to sell coffee, newspapers and nasi goreng. By the time we arrived (at 4.30am) we’d barely slept, and so ended up spending our first morning in the city asleep in the hostel.
Yogyakarta is a pleasant enough city, with some nice (but not stunning) historical sites, such as the Sultan’s palace and the ruined underground, circular mosque, but it certainly didn’t blow me away like many had in Latin America. Yet again though, there were barely any tourists in the city. With some of Indonesia’s most impressive sights nearby, I was beginning to realise that for some reason the country must have somehow slipped off most travellers’ map.