We arrived at Borobudur bus terminal ready to take a bus to the Dieng Plateau, to find a distinct lack of buses and a few random touts and hawkers telling us (truthfully for once!) that there were no buses to Dieng that day. Unfortunately, the day we were due to take three public buses was also the day that there were bus strikes across the whole of Indonesia to protest about the increase in fuel prices. (NB: The Indonesian government has been spending 20% of the national budget subsidising petrol prices to help economic growth. This is clearly unsustainable and as such the new president has reduced the subsidy in order to invest in the country’s infrastructure, housing and healthcare. Although many Indonesians understand the reasons behind the fuel price increase, this has had a knock on effect across the country including price increases of many goods and services such as transport and groceries). After trying a number of options for transport and lots of haggling we finally conceded that we needed to hire a car and driver to take us to Dieng.
The Dieng Plateau is a scenic mountain region, full of volcanic activity and steep hillsides covered in farming terraces for potatoes and vegetables. The mountain air was refreshingly cool after the heat and humidity of the Javanese cities. We spent a couple of days there, walking around the volcanic crater lakes and bubbling mud pools, intermingled with ancient Hindu Temples and perfumed with the distinct scent of egg from the sulphur!
From Dieng, we travelled to the city of Purwokerto, a city which is definitely off the main tourist trail. We had dinner that night in this lady’s warung. We don’t think she’d ever had Westerners eat there before and she was so happy that she took a photo of us that she said she was going to put on the wall!
From Purwokerto we took a 5 hour train to Jakarta. We were surprised that even in such a big city, we still attracted a lot of attention. As we walked through Mederka Park from the train station, a group of 25 Indonesian tourists having their picture taken, gave us a round of applause after we said ‘Halo’ as we walked past!
We spent 3 days in Jakarta exploring the city and the highlight was a tour we did to see the ‘real Jakarta’ and to meet some of the poorest people who live in the city. We met with a guide at Plaza Indonesia- the ridiculously pricey mall in the centre of Jakarta. This was like a giant version of ‘The Village’ section of Westfield shopping centre in Shepherd’s Bush, full of high end brands such as Chanel, Cartier and Louis Vuitton. From there we visited the Grand Mosque (which has space for 200,000 Muslims to pray at once) and the Kota (the old Dutch Colonial area of the city).
In the afternoon we went to see the ‘hidden Jakarta’ that most tourists never see. The first people we visited were living illegally in small ramshackle houses right next to the railway line. Trains went past every 5 minutes, only a meter away from their front doors and children were wandering over the railway tracks. Whilst the people were living illegally, there were strong contradictions, as the government was also supplying them with electricity and water. The families were very welcoming and we were able to converse with them using our basic Bahasa Indonesia and with the help of our guide. Behind the community was a river full of sewage and rubbish and with numerous rats scuttling around. (Spot the rats below!) One thing that really surprised us was that these illegal areas were actually very central in the city and not just on the outskirts as we had expected.
We took local transport between the communities, including tuk tuks, becaks, boats and bicycle taxis. We visited a community by the river where we took a boat trip to the harbour with some local children. The boat was very rickety and broke down part way through the trip. With the children constantly clambering around the boat, we were worried on numerous occasions that we were going to fall in. As you can imagine, this wasn’t a river that you would want to swim in (although some of the locals did!) At the river village we also visited some of the family’s homes and sat in one lady’s house accompanied by about 20 local children, all crammed into the tiny room. Everyone was very happy, smiling and welcoming and it was interesting to find out more about them and their jobs.
Our final destination was by far the most humbling. We visited 20 families who live under a bridge. Whole families live in tiny makeshift rooms under the bridge, which are just a couple of meters square. Others have made rooms and live in the supports underneath the bridge. Many pay rent to the other people who moved under the bridge before them. This was a world away from the opulent shopping mall where we had started our tour that morning. The government is slowly helping some families to move into better housing but many people are simply not counted by the government. They have no ID cards and therefore the government doesn’t recognise that they exist (even though one of the ladies we met there works for the government sweeping the streets). The government records show the population of Jakarta as 9 million and NGOs have said that the figure is over 14 million. The foundation run by our guides estimates that it is actually closer to 20 million. We felt very privileged that day to have been born in the UK and to have had a good standard of housing and education.
From Jakarta we flew to Sumatra, our last Island in Indonesia…