Tuesday, December 19, 2017


October 8 -11, 2017

We arrived in Jakarta at midnight on October 7th and spent the night in a hotel close to the airport. The following morning we took a taxi into the heart of the city to stay several days with friends, Helen and Ken, who have lived in Jakarta for 27 years. Their attractive house is set in a tropical garden and has an inviting pool for escaping the heat and humidity

Greater Jakarta has a population of 30 million, resulting in tremendous traffic jams. Almost everyone owns a motorbike as this provides more mobility than a car and it's common to see families of four on one bike with the kids standing between the driver's legs or clinging on between mom and dad. Many passengers use one of the three motorbike-share companies operating in the city - Gojek, Grab and Uber - to ferry them to their destination. Judging by the brand on the helmets that both driver and passenger wear, Gojek, the local company, is the most popular

There are few sidewalks and those that exist are generally occupied by parked motorbikes so walking is not an option. Public transport is a mystery to all but locals. Ken and Helen, like most expatriates, have a car and driver.

On our second day, Ken took us to the hill city of Bogor, 60 km south of Jakarta, to see the Kebun Raya, Bogor's world-renowned botanical garden.

 From the terrace of the pavilion in the background above, there's a long view down towards the entrance.

Most visitors to the garden seemed to be locals, and this groomed part of the park was a clearly popular venue for weddings.

However, a short stroll from the manicured lawns and gardens leads you into a landscape of fantastic Tolkien-like trees and giant lily pads.

Many of the trees had exposed roots.

Unfortunately, few of these magnificent specimens were labeled
Kapok trees that were labelled reminded us of childhood pillows for which kapok was a common stuffing.

Tufts of the silky substance had fallen among the roots.

Attracted by a platform built around one palm, we went up for a closer look...

... and found it was a Coco de Mer (Lodoicea). A sign explained the reason for the platform.

Having a 30 Kg seedpod drop on your head would probably be fatal! Other trees in the vicinity had dangers too.

Before we left, we peered through the gates of Buitenzorg palace, now occupied by the current President, but once a retreat from the heat and humidity of Jakarta for the Dutch Governors of the former colony.

From 1812 to 1816, when the British took control of Batavia, Stamford Raffles lived there. His wife died there and is buried in the botanical garden that he is credited with initiating.

The following day we drove to Sunda Kelapa, the historic port serving the city which has since grown up around it. First stop was the docks where pinisi, the traditional wooden boats, still load cargo for Indonesia's 3,000 islands. Originally two-masted sailing vessels, they have mostly become motorized in the last 40 years.

A New York Times article describes them this way:

"For more than 100 years starting with the middle of the 19th century, these boats, designed and built by the Bugis, a seafaring people originating from the island of Sulawesi, were used to carry cargoes between Indonesia’s 17,000 islands. Following the seasonal monsoon wind patterns they would sail westward for six months before turning back to retrace their passage eastward over the rest of the year."

In former times the Bugis also had a reputation for fierceness and piracy. Our word "bogeyman" originates with them.

From the docks, we made our way to Taman Fatahillah Square, also known as Old Batavia where we had lunch in a lovely restaurant overlooking the colonial-era buildings that ringed the plaza.

In its heyday the restaurant catered to a high-society, gay crowd as the women's washroom decor still reflects.

After lunch we set off back to Jakarta, a journey that took us five hours, thanks to the biggest traffic jam we've ever experienced. Luckily for us, Ken is a wonderful companion and kept us entertained with anecdotes, information and general good conversation.

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