You know the traffic’s bad when people can make their living selling cigarettes and snacks through stationary car windows.
Sitting in an airport taxi in traffic that looks as though it stretches from the past way into the future, I can hardly see a thing. It’s only 5.30pm, far too early for sunset but the pollution hangs so heavy and low I can’t even make out the skyline. Jakarta has a definite Mega City One, dystopic metropolis of the future thing going on.
The motorways aren’t just for cars and buses and traffic here is less a straight line, more of a swarm. Anything with wheels and an engine can take part, mothers on scooters clutching a bundle of baby to their chest, little brothers with arms wrapped around big brothers on powerful motorbikes and determined drivers of little metal box rickshaws with terrified passengers in the back. It’s dark now but I can see whole communities of people living under the overpass, small children playing by the side of the motorway, barefoot. To be honest, it looks like hell.
One bike weaves between the slowly moving cars and buses with three people crammed onto the seat. The one on the back is barely clinging on and has nowhere to put his feet so he just hangs there with his legs spread, shoeless, his bare feet skimming across the floor. Reflecting the light from the headlights behind, the skin around his ankles looks translucent and I can see the blue-tinged creep of veins on the inside. The frailty of it makes me feel quite sick.
Jakarta isn’t exactly tourist friendly, we didn’t expect much and we weren’t disappointed. You can’t get anywhere in Jakarta unless it’s in a taxi and even then the traffic is so bad it takes all day. We decided to use our few days there as rest and relaxation time (I was exhausted after extreme sight-seeing in George Town) and booked into a five-star hotel. Well, five-star is pretty misleading, perhaps it was five-star once and treasures this early status like an average high-school student proudly displaying first-place trophies from primary school.
For all of its garish grandeur it was seemingly built knowing it would freefall immediately into disrepair. There appear to be around 5 staff members per 1 guest just standing around in these ridiculous uniforms, waistcoats and fez-hats in orange, trousers and shirts in blue.
The restaurant did a good impression of five star service with a two star menu, I couldn’t get a manicure at the spa because all of the nail polishes were dry and the tiles were lifting from the floor of the rooftop infinity pool that looked out onto an infinity of smog-shrounded concrete buildings.
Sometimes it was funny, like a farce. We were acting out being hotel guests and they were acting out being staff, offering us room service, maid service, taxi service, laundry service, shoe shine service (I own trainers and flip flops). But sometimes it felt a little disturbing, being in this huge place, built and equipped to cater to hundreds of people and being more or less alone.
We spent more time than is recommended in the crisp white comfort of the mountainous bed and the days bled into each other as we planned our next destination between bouts of room service and bad TV. Jakarta was not for me.