Today has been about the journey, not just the destination. It’s been an introduction to a promise: a promise of tall tales that delight this superstitious nation; a promise of cultural enlightenment in a country whose population has been squashed and molded together like modeling clay to create a unique sculpture of ethnicity; a promise of breathtaking scenery with trains rolling over iron girder bridges spanning paddy fields tended by farmers in rolled up trousers.
Like most travellers we didn’t stay long in Jakarta. In fact we flowed straight through it, as fast as the blocked arteries of the country’s heart would take us. This gave us plenty of time to see the sprawling conurbations and the pure density that creates the capital. Fine colonial villas still stand proudly on hillsides, elevated above the throng of shanties below. While your status can not protect you from the noise and bustle of this society, money can apparently buy some privileges, which were in evidence as we saw a police motorbike slice through the thronging traffic to lead the way for a well-off businessmen.
The countryside was a breath of fresh air, or would have been if it hadn’t have been so humid. Undulating, with volcanic mountains bordering the horizon, the greenery was stunning. Hamlets, with red tile pitch roofs, nestled beneath bananas trees and in-between paddy fields. Unassuming mosques peeked above the skyline. And every now and then a golf course or a colonial mansion could be seen as the trees parted.
Bandung hits your senses in the same way as Jakarta, with more than seven million people living in the area. It’s rather down trodden and its former glory as a contender as the nation’s capital, as supported by the Dutch before the Second World War, is crumbling. Street life is always interesting though, and just ambling around you see rickshaw drivers having a chat while waiting for their next fare; teems of scooters racing from junctions; a mother and baby sleeping on the pavement; and hawkers cooking Nasi Goreng from mobile kitchens on bikes. A Western family stands out here, but people are friendly, offering a smile or a welcoming word. Tilda, with her blond ringlets, has found the attention invading her personal space and people want to touch her golden mane, but it’s all meant to be a compliment.
Bandung is a great springboard to see the surrounding volcanoes; so another adventure awaits us tomorrow.
Accommodation: Art Deco style Savoy Homann Bidakara Hotel established in 1871. Interesting colonial décor, with original features. Best of a slim selection of decent hotels; clean but still a little tired.