Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Late Night Paranoia In Jakarta

Arriving in Jakarta at 1am was like stepping back in time. The terminal exudes an air of the late 70s, both in the decor and the laconic attitude of the Immigration staff who loll around the desks disinterestedly smoking while stamping your passport. I'd passed the disinfection area, where paper-suited staff like extras from 28 Days Later had sprayed us with anti-Swine Flu chemicals. Actually, it was probably watered-down bleach. I was prepared for a bit of trouble; I'd managed to change my remaining Filipino Pesos into US Dollars, a necessity as the exchanges in Manila didn't do Indonesian currency. So I had $20, and knew the immigration fee was $25. But I should have been able to get some cash from the machines beyond Immigration and return to pay, right? Wrong.

Thanks, again, to some spotty herberts in the banking cards snubbed my requests for cash. One of the airline staff had accompanied me to the ATMs, and watched as I tried all three of my cards in 8 machines.

First refusals, and I started to sweat. Beep beep beep. Another card returned without the pleasantly familiar sound of the counter stacking up notes for me.

"Bastard...oh, for fuck's sake..." Beep beep beep. "You shithouse." Beep beep beep. "Come on, come on, come ON" Pause. Yes? Beep beep beep. "Oh, you c..." The last, and worst, expletive died on my lips as an elderly Muslim woman edged past, eyeing me disapprovingly. I proffered a weak smile which wasn't returned.

"Problems?" asked my escort.

"Yes, mate. Big ones." I sighed, shaking my head.

I told him about the banks freezing my accounts, and that they suspected a fraudster was using my card every time I entered a new country. This, despite me giving them notice of my travel plans. Nationwide were my best bet, but the phones were not open for another 15 hours. We went back to Immigration, where I explained I'd have to wait until the banks opened in order to get access to my cash. What a nightmare.

Rizal, the escort, offered a solution. He'd lend me money if I left collateral, such as a camera or a phone, with him. I couldn't thank him enough. He gave me enough for dinner, taxi and lodgings...and we arranged to meet the next day. What a relief. I wandered out to the taxi rank; by now it was past 2am, and a scrummage of drivers formed around me. Rizal directed me to one of them, and we set off.

The guy's English wasn't too good, and after a while the effort of struggling with conversation was too much. The car was silent as we peeled off the main highway. I noticed the signs for Jakarta were pointing straight ahead on the road we'd just left. "Where are we going?" I asked the driver. "Yes sir, is OK" he replied. This was to be the only response I'd get from him for the next 5 minutes. I asked why he wasn't going to Jakarta. Why the signs said one way and he'd taken me another. Alarm bells were ringing now, as he jabbered on the phone and sent texts to Persons Unknown. Was this going to be where I finally got robbed? The road got worse, and the area looked pretty dodgy. I was mentally calculating: could I jump out at a set of lights, keeping my valuables in the smaller bag and abandoning the rucksack in the boot? Would we pass a police car? I reckoned I could handle this taxi driver, but would there be accomplices? Paranoia can easily get out of control on the road alone. It pays to have a little, it keeps you safe. Trust your instincts and avoid any places or people you don't feel 100% about. But I was one step away from an adrenaline-fuelled Fight Or Flight situation now. I demanded he take me to Jakarta and asked why he'd taken me off the route, but to no avail. "Yes, OK..."

He sped down a dark side street, and I inhaled deeply a couple of times. Keep cool, and prepare yourself for any eventualities. Just as I was ready for anything, we pulled onto another better-lit road...and the Jakarta skyline appeared. Two streets later, and we were on Jalan Jaksa...Indonesia's Kho San Road. I felt a right berk, and mentally made a note not to arrive in any more big cities in the dead of night. "Yes, OK" the driver smiled. He got out to ask a local the location of my hotel. I overpayed and apologised for being so jumpy. He must have thought I was a lunatic...he was just avoiding the toll booths on the highways.

Must have been the easiest tip he'd ever received from a madman.


pat said...

Hi warren I am enjoying your blog. I had the same problems with atm's too. Some white collar worker in the UK suspecting fraud, caused Elayne and I all sorts of trouble. Roll on Lima ;-)

pat said...

It's Jon and not Pat, from our meeting in The Philippines.