this is more like it! On the beach in Koh Samui, Thailand,
five-day ordeal in Jakarta is mercifully over. At times, especially
in the middle of the night, when the mosquitoes, the heat and the
noise made it impossible to sleep, and our minds reviewed the horrible
scenes from the day before, we were certain we would be stuck in
this hell hole forever. And to think that we had spent Christmas
journal, aboard the Kerinci Ferry enroute to Sumatra, Indonesia
December 27th, 1986
June 1986, Chris Edwards and Elaine Weeks, the publishers of The
Walkerville Times, embarked on a one year, backpacking around-the
-world, honeymoon. During their journey, they visited 15 countries;
here is how they spent Christmas in 1986, haflway around the world
months into our unforgettable round-the-world backpacking honeymoon,
Chris and I found ourselves on another gruelling train trip. Getting
from A to B on a tight budget can be so debilitating- in the tropics
it is usually survival of the fittest. The ten-hour journey from
Jogjakarta to Jakarta on the over-populated island of Java was bearable
only because we had reserved seats in second class.
Shanties line a polluted canal near the port of Sunda Kelapa
were not looking forward to Jakarta, our next destination. It had
a reputation on the coconut telegraph (the budget traveller's gossip
and destination rumour mill) as the hell hole of Asia (a distinction
it shared with Dhaka, Bangladesh). But we had no choice - in order
to catch a boat to our next destination- Lake Toba on Sumatra, renowned
as a fantastic place for weary travellers to rest their bones (but
that adventure will not form part of this tale) we had to go to
decrepit train was packed; school kids were returning home from
the Holidays, and combined with the usual hoards of people going
somewhere in Indonesia- on this island called Java, which is only
twice the size of Vancouver Island, there were well over 100 million
souls! - many passengers stood or sat in the narrow aisles the entire
to everyone's misery was the tropical heat; it was like somebody
had dropped a gigantic wet tarp over our heads. Ancient fans whirring
lazily over our heads did little but shift the stifling air about.
The two of us were unable to stretch out our legs so there we were,
trapped in our hot and sticky seats like giant ants in maple syrup.
Well, at least we had seats.
usual, the locals stared at us. I had long ago understood what the
term "alien" really meant. Although our skin was no longer
pale, having been in the tropics for so many months, my light blonde
hair and Chris's blue eyes and beard caused people to gawk at us
like we were movie stars wherever we went. (Later in our journey,
while travelling through India on yet another interminable train
ride, I couldn't take the staring any longer and threw a scarf over
my head and face and sat like that for the rest of the journey.)
annoyance, that grew more irksome as time went by was the fact that
we had decided to restrict our liquids while on board; we did not
want to use the toilets (no doubt perfectly disgusting). Trying
to get past all the people wedged in the aisle would have been a
feat in itself.
stopping at the dozens of stations along the way, the train periodically
stopped for no apparent reason. Everybody just seemed to grin and
bear it, even though the fans were turned off during these increasingly
irritating intervals. Chris and I would morosely stare out the window
at yet another rice paddy shimmering under the sun's relentless
glare. "Why are we doing this again?" we'd ask each other.
sunset, we finally entered the outskirts of Jakarta. The two of
us congratulated ourselves on surviving yet another travel ordeal
and we reminded each other that the good places were usually the
hardest to get to. Soon we would be sitting in a beautiful lake
house house enjoying a banana cognac.
revery was broken when suddenly the train stopped dead in it tracks
with no station in sight. For no apparent reason. And stayed that
way for half an hour. With the fans turned off.
eyes seemed to glaze over as if to trick themselves into believing
this wasn't really happening. The waiting was like Chinese water
torture. And then finally, the train began rolling slowly forward.
15 long minutes later, we inched into the station.
We stumbled off the train, exhausted, dehydrated and nearly delirious.
Our Lonely Planet guidebook promised we would find cheap rooms and
food just across the street in Jolan Jaksa, the budget travellers'
accommodation ghetto of Jakarta. Of course we had to trudge for
a half hour before finding a vacancy. For 5000 RP ($5), we were
given a small room with a fan, a double bed and a table. It wasn't
the Ritz but the pickings were slim as all the hotels seemed filled
with travellers. What were they all doing in Jakarta at Christmas?
a fitful night and an early "wakeup call" - someone's
radio began blasting away at 6 am - we discovered - oh the irony
- that while we had been stuck on that bloody train during the final
half-hour delay, we had been just one street away from our hotel.
of the budget travellers' life is occupied spending downtime in
one location while trying to get to another more desirable one.
We were at the mercy of the boat schedule; all we had to do was
somehow survive the heat, the noise, the crowds and the filth (did
I mention heat?) before we were released from our purgatory on the
day after Christmas.
passed part of the time catching up on our card and letter writing.
Coming from big families, we'd written over 100 cards and twenty
letters at this point in our journey. Sometimes, it would be weeks
before we could post any so we were sure that our loved ones back
home got pretty worried. There wasn't any mail waiting for us here
- the next news we would receive from home would be in Singapore
about four weeks later.
Sights (and smells)
One morning, we woke early to do the local sights before it got
too hot. Jakarta was once known as Batavia, capital of the eastern
Dutch Empire. The Dutch arrived in 1596 when Cornelis de Houtman
landed at the harbour of Jakarta. Their trade blossomed and their
foothold in 'Jayakarta' grew stronger after the founding of the
VOC (Dutch East Indies Company).
Several years later, in 1619, Jayakarta was razed to the ground
by the Dutch under Jan Pieterszoon Coen. On its ashes, the Dutch
founded a new settlement, Batavia. The settlement became the Dutch
center of power for 350 years in this part of the world, until it
fell into the hands of the Japanese imperial forces in 1941.
At the ancient port of Sunda Kelapa- awash with magnificent
Makassar schooners- deckhands unload huge planks of hardwood
by walking up and down 8” wide planks.
the old Dutch port Sunda Kelapa remains a marvel. Hundreds of giant
wooden ships - Makassar schooners or, pininsi, line the wharf like
a scene out of a pirate movie. We didn't see any under sail but
we did witness the vessels being loaded and unloaded by hand. It
was incredible to see the deck hands carry huge planks of hardwood,
sacks of rice and other foodstuffs up and down 8" wide ramps
from the boats to the dock.
The canal near the port made our stomachs turn. All manner of human
and animal waste, garbage and general debris coated the surface.
rows of dilapidated shanties lined the water's edge along a smaller
canal. There was probably no hope in hell for anyone living here
to ever improve their lot in life. This was where they would be
born, live and die.
While walking along another fetid looking canal a day later, we
spotted three men up to their chins in the blackish brown, wretched
looking water. We eventually realized that they were not mad, they
were fishing! For what, we never discovered. Better not to know.
usual, we encountered many beggars in the streets. At least we didn't
see as many people sleeping outside as we had seen in Jogjakarta.
They shared the streets with the rats and giant cockroaches that
seemed ubiquitous in South East Asia.
Dinner - We Splurge
To make our $10,000 budget last the entire year, we generally ate
what the locals ate. "Western" food was pricier and we
actually preferred the various noodle and rice dishes that were
local fare. Besides being easier on the pocket book, they were usually
had been a while since we had tasted a cheeseburger and sometimes,
nothing else will do (not even turkey!) so for Christmas dinner,
we decided to splurge. We located a restaurant that not only prepared
amazing hamburgers but served up pretty mean chocolate shakes too.
may not have been a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, but we
felt almost festive as we ate our food with relish (and ketchup
and mustard!) especially since we knew that the next day, yes! -
we would finally be leaving!
back to the hotel with a friendly Aussie couple, we kept a wary
eye on the giant rats that seemed to trail us up the road. We joked
about how it was a real 'rat race' here!
Boat Ride - There is a God!
We had not been alone in our long wait for deliverance. Fellow travellers
shared our frustration and one in particular, Bob, an engaging lawyer
from California, told us he was scheduled to leave on the same boat.
But Bob had decided to celebrate Christmas by sharing his bottle
of Scotch with another traveller who had produced a bottle of cheap
Indonesian hooch. Needless to say, when we rapped on Bob's door
the next morning, we discovered him in no shape to go anywhere.
decided to remedy this by polishing off the Scotch. Witnessing his
hangover treatment, we thought we'd be smart to head off by ourselves.
We were so sick of waiting, we couldn't bear the thought of being
delayed by him and possibly missing our ticket out of here.
got to the port easily by bus, although finding the right boat proved
to be tricky. When we finally spotted our boat, we were drenched
by a tropical downpour as we ran up the gangplank. But we didn't
care - we were finally on that damn boat!
Next Destination: Lake Toba, Sumatra
had made it aboard and into our relatively luxurious accommodations
(at this point, anything looked good!) half an hour before sailing.
At ten minutes past the 1 pm departure time, the door to our cabin
burst open and Bob staggered in with a gash on his forehead, muddy
knees and a big drunken grin on his face. A couple of deckhands
had taken charge when he'd fallen flat on his face after climbing
out of the taxi at the port and they gently deposited him in the
two minutes later, we felt the boat move. After celebrating with
a big hug, Chris and I decided to go explore so that Bob, who was
snoring in one of the beds, could sleep it off for a while.
our boat passed the island of Krakatoa between Java and Sumatra,
site of the massive volcano eruption in 1883 that was felt around
the world, I had an overpowering sensation that I was dreaming.
Was I really here or would I wake up in that dingy hotel room in
Jakarta for yet another day in hell? Perish the thought!