Thursday, 25 June 2009

Further Paranoia On A Bus To Krakatau

Well, Asia's not Disneyland...so you're bound to meet a few bad apples on the way around, aren't you? Having said that, there's bound to be a few bad apples at Disneyland, anyway; you're not telling me that amongst a few hundred grown men in giant furry animal suits playing with kids all day there aren't a few Gary Glitters in the barrel?

Anyway, I'd spent a couple of days in Jakarta. There's not a great deal to see. I went to the old Dutch walled city of Batavia in the North, and that was about it as far as sights go. The Rough Guide described the walk through the area, starting at the railway station it described as having "an impressive facade". Impressive if you live in a tenement slum in Glasgow, perhaps; it was hardly Frank Lloyd Wright.

The city is sprawling, with no discernable centre. It's generally considered a pretty crazy place, but after you've been to Manila, anywhere seems serene by comparison. I didn't feel threatened at all walking around, day or night. I'd settled in at a place called Hostel 35, just off Jalan Jaksa. I'd highly recommend it. Cheap, brand new and tastefully decorated; I've stayed in much worse for more money. There were a couple of ex-pats I met there, Nick and Iain, who filled me in on a few places to visit. Krakatau was top of the list. A bit of a trek, according to Nick, and the day I set off to see it, he suggested I hang around and go tomorrow, as I'd left it late. JJ is a pretty dull place to hang around though, so I decided to set off anyway. The bus station serving East Java was a good hour away, the shiny towers of the centre giving way to shanty towns and dirty roads.

On reaching the bus station, I was the only honky in town. I was directed to a row of buses, and picked the front one simply because it was likely to leave first. Not alwasy the case, but a fair bet. It was a complete shitheap, but not as bad as some in the Philippines: at least there was glass in the windows. We pulled away with only around 6 passengers and a couple of hawkers. It wasn't long before a couple of guys got on and made their way to where I was sat. One was asking the usual questions, but kept shifting seats, occassionally sitting so close to me that he wasn't far from being in my lap. Then he called someone and put me on the phone to him; this guy was touting his boat to go see Krakatau, the island volcano off the coast of East Java. I explained I wasn't in a rush to pick a boat just yet (I was hoping there'd be more Westerners I could join, it'd be cheaper). After this, the man was trying to take my picture, and then started playing with his phone. All this began to unnerve me a little...what the fuck did he want pictures of me for? His friend just looked at me and my bags now and again. Then the weird one was jabbering on the phone and looking over at me.

An hour out of Jakarta, and we approached a toll. The traffic slowed and, thankful the rear doors of the bus were open throughout the journey, I just grabbed my bags and jumped off, heading for the Police station the other side of the booths. A few passengers called me back, telling me we weren't there yet...but I'd had enough of this oddball's behavoiur.

The Police were understanding, and told me they didn't see many Westerners coming this way. They put me in a car to take a 5-minute ride to where the return buses to Jakarta passed. My nerves were jangling so much, I couldn't face getting another bus West. I jumped another bus, and the driver said he'd get me near Jakarta. Near? It turns out he had to drop me on a motorway junction where a few hundred people were getting on and off buses as the traffic roared by. It was bizarre. Not the safest practice around. As night began to fall, I eyed the area and decided a taxi would be a better idea than trying to find public transport. The driver I flagged down was pretty fluent in English, and I told him what had happened. "Better to take care when alone" he smiled.

Couldn't agree more, dear boy.

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