46 - Bogor To Ja-KAR-ta! (West Java, Indonesia)
The lost road to Jakarta. Think you know traffic? Think again. The region surrounding Indo’s capital is next level… on the level after that. Communication is key. Clearly, I ‘d lost mine… Na-Nu, Na-Nu.
by Mr. Nos T. O’maniac
THE HIGHWAY TO JAKARTA IS PAVED with good intentions and strewn with the souls of better men. Also, total fucking chaos. I chose a more circuitous southern route from Borobudur to Jakarta thus leading me through West Java’s Bogor region. This area serves as a highland escape from the oppressive heat of Jakarta. Weekend migrants turn the roads into high-stakes gauntlets of survival. May the odds be ever in your favor. Not that’s it smooth sailing the rest of the week, just less insane by a degree or two. Still, avoid the weekends unless you’re a masochist. Or stupid. Or a stupid masochist.
Stupid? Check. Masochist? Check. I stopped in Bogor for a bite before heading north. It was Saturday afternoon. I didn’t realize it was Saturday afternoon until I did. After lunch, I decided to give it a “shits and giggles” shot. How bad could it be? Well, bad. Real bad.
Traffic is retarded thick. Retarded. How retarded? Real retarded. It’s so retarded authorities are forced into a half-assed “let’s take turns” solution. Traffic halts in one direction so the other can use both lanes. After a spell, it’s reversed. Waiting vehicles are relegated to the shoulder (sort of)…
…unless you’ve got yourself a two-wheeled free pass. The Phantom allowed me to bypass the gridlock, but not without skirting the boundary between prudence and foolhardiness… or dumb and stupid dumb. I drove for miles on the “wrong” side of the road as traffic came at me more or less head-on. Thread the needle. Avoid side-swiping parked cars on one edge, becoming a hood ornament on the other. And let us not forget the motorbikes coming from the opposite direction trying to occupy the same narrow channel. Tunnel vision and a causal sense of self-preservation were essential.
First, you have to find the road to Jakarta. Shouldn’t be that hard, right? It is the largest city in Indonesia. Where can ten million people hide? Duh, just follow the signs… or not. Thing is, toll roads are off limits for two-wheeled traffic. No motorbikes allowed. (I found my Indonesian unicorn: A genuine road regulation.) All signs point to toll roads. I circled Bogor twice in search of the poor man’s trail to Jakarta. Along the way, I paused to ask directions and would inevitably be directed to the toll road, hence the circles. Oddly, screaming “Mother Fucker!” into my helmet as I swirled the drain of sanity did little to assist my plight.
Finally, I worked out a brilliant two-word index finger pantomime sure to convey my message. I slowly enunciated “Tidak toll” with exaggerated pointing at the Phantom. Light bulbs lit, engines came online, and after a two-hour tour of Bogor’s outskirts, I received useful directions. Praise be.
Bogor to Jakarta. Insane in the goddamn membrane. Why not wear a blindfold and drive backward? Survival of the fittest. If you’re bigger, bully your way through. If you’re smaller, fill every conceivable niche of negative space. Pass on the right. Pass on the left. Drive on the shoulder. Drive on the sidewalk. Cars, buses, trucks, motorcycles, bicycles, and pedestrians stopping, starting, swerving, flashing lights, honking horns, playing peek-a-boo, and executing all manner of inconceivable shit hard to believe until you experience it firsthand.
Pedestrians glance in your direction, presume you’ve picked them up on radar, and then continue at a leisurely “strolling in the park on a Sunday afternoon” pace. Mind? Boggled. That’s assuming they bother to look at all. Their faith in the capacity of approaching drivers to see them and behave accordingly rivals fanatical adherents to any religion. Most refuse even a cursory glimpse when crossing a busy road. The duty is incumbent upon oncoming traffic (i.e. moi) to perceive and react appropriately… I’m crossing now. Don’t like it? Well then, go fuck yourself! Hit me. I dare you. Hit me, pussy! Hit me! Want sum? Get sum.
Pedestrian rules apply to vehicles as well. The duty is incumbent on those that follow to react to the situation ahead. Right of way goes to the leader. Straight lines. Straight lines are crucial. Maintain one or else. Or else what? Or else you’ll have a fellow motorist up your colon. There’s no way to tell what’s behind you. Yes, I had mirrors but even a quick peep was one less microsecond scanning the abyss for impending doom. So, drive in a straight line with no sudden movements and hope all those who follow toe the line. I had enough motorbikes figuratively up my arse to open a Honda dealership. At first, I sort of enjoyed the chaos. It was like playing a high stakes video game. The novelty wore off after about three hours, morphing to exhaustion and unbridled fear. Intense concentration on not dying can be taxing mentally. Who knew?
And yet, I saw no road rage. No street warfare. No volcanic fits of anger certain to erupt had the scene been set in America. At home, you’d have armed skirmishes a la Mad Max, dogs and cats living together in sin, and general highway anarchy. In Indonesia? Nothing, at least not on my watch. This speaks volumes about their gentle dispositions and acceptance of the immutable. Just the way it is, Skippy. A few weeks of that and I’d be naked in a bell tower covered in peanut butter and civet shit. Nobody seemed to care. Water off a duck’s asshole. Remarkable. Reassuring. Faith in humanity? Restored… a little.
I actually came upon an accident. One. Singular. After four months in Indo, that was my second. Frankly, it defied belief. You’d think there’d be blood running in the streets, corpses for speed bumps, and burned out wreckage in the gutters. I often passed evidence of crashes (broken glass, pieces of metal, etc.), but rarely saw the real deal. Either I was fortunate or they have mastered (to the extent possible) the art of organized mayhem. This time it was two motorbikes lying on the asphalt. No serious injuries, so I moved on. I would’ve stuck around to make sure but someone with a badge might’ve presumed my involvement. Never know where that might lead. Also, one might recall my passport was sequestered in a safe in Ubud. My legal status was solid, but I wasn’t sure the evidence would hold up in street court. Best to skedaddle.
Vehicles had brakes, drivers just weren’t fond of using them. Instead, it was one of three other options: Flash lights, honk horn, or accelerate. I was particularly keen on the last one. Signal lights were used so frequently, they became meaningless. Might as well drive around with your hazards on. Ditto for the horn. People honked so often for so many reasons the sound stopped registering. Ninety-eight percent of the time I had no clue.
Did they like my bike? My ass? Was I in the way? Perhaps, they were about to pass? Something wrong with my bike? Broccoli in my teeth? Was I so fucking cool they felt compelled to pay audio tribute? Playing “What the hell are they honking at?” became a treasured pastime. (When the sea was calm enough to focus on anything other than survival that is.) It was much the same for flashing headlights. No clue. None. I’m not sure they knew why they did it. I kept meaning to ask my Bali Mode friends to let me in on the secret but could never remember to do so. Mystery? Unsolved.
The verbal pandemonium surrounding my quest for the toll-less road to Jakarta was just the latest episode of “Gringo Makes Indo Speaky.” However, this leg of the journey stood out. Failures abounded. Reactions ran the gamut from deer-in-the-headlights to sheer panic. Questions like “What road is this?”, “Is this the road to (insert destination)?”, and “How long does it take to get there?” were answered, more often or not, with flat, befuddled expressions. Was it surprise at the goofball speaking Indonesia, my incredibly poor accent, or both? Dunno, but it often seemed like I’d just asked if it was permissible to glue my genitalia to their foreheads. I found myself repeating simple words/phrases for maximum impact placing my trust in context to fill the gaps. White dude on a bike, backpack strapped to the rear, motioning toward the horizon, so on an so forth…
Jalan ke Jakarta? (Is this the road to Jakarta?) Ja-kar-ta. JA-kar-ta. Ja-KAR-ta. Ja-kar-TA. Na-Nu Na-Nu?
One gentleman never even flinched. I’m talking wax sculpture. He stared and then stared some more. And then he stared again before moving on. I realized later I was technically in Jakarta at that point, but can a brother get a “Jakarta ini!” or the Indo version of “Go to hell white mutant! Screw you and the Phantom you rode in on.” It also wasn’t uncommon to enter an establishment, a restaurant for example, and be greeted with the facial equivalent of “What the fuck do we do now?!” In one instance, two young women registered alarm by retreating to the kitchen for reinforcements (i.e. their mother). I could almost hear the klaxon warning followed by “Code blue! Code blue! This is not a drill. I repeat, NOT A DRILL! Batten down the hatches! Shelter the virgins!”
Somehow, I made it to Jakarta, found my hotel of choice, and melted in the shower. Ten hours felt like four hundred. My ass was laminated panini, I could feel the onset of black lung, and I’d used up my adrenaline quota for the next year. But I was alive… Oh no, not I, I will survive. Oh, as long as I know how to love, I know I'll stay alive. I've got all my life to live. And I've got all my love to give and I'll survive. I will survive, hey, hey.