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Crossing the equator – the Jakarta to Batam moment

While the electrical experience in Jakarta was fascinating and relatively complex,

the hybrid smog from motor exhaust and cigarettes was heavy going.

We were very much part of the traffic; part of the problem; part of the toxicity. Since arriving in Dili and travelling west by land and sea to Jakarta, we’ve found that hitch hiking is impossible. There are taxi drivers on every street eager to pick up as soon as there’s the smallest intimation that a lift is required. It took about two hours in a cab from the railway station to drive about 20kms, grinding through one continuous traffic jam to where we’d booked a room for a few nights in an apartment building called the Casablanca East Tower.

A $30 a night room with this view.

Since we left Vincent in Surabaya, he being the final thread of relationship woven for us by Yanti way back in Dili, we are socially anchorless in Jakarta. We went in search of connection.

We explored back streets,

and street food warungs,

and were thankful for the delicious gastronomic arts of this city.

We loved the simplicity,

and flavours, and it was here Patrick fell in love with gado gado – an Indonesian salad served with a peanut sauce dressing.

We beheld richness in the poorer suburbs,

and a green emptiness in the bourgeoise ones.

Afternoon storms became a pattern while we were in Jakarta, and we got caught out in one.

Coming across a truck selling sweet potato, our cold climate farming bodies dreamt up crop trials for this coming summer. If tuber vegetables can replace cereals at home, we are another step closer to unshackling from monocultures. While this may sound eco-ideological, it was actually our love of sweet potato for breakfast at Ego and Yanti’s where this desire grew.

We came across a man repairing shoes on the street. Patrick handed his over, and we walked on for a while,

exploring streets inhabited by the transported abundance of Java’s rural productivity,

and stopping here and there to savour the goodly fare.

Between deluges the cobbler had glued, re-stiched and polished Patrick’s shoes. His handiwork cost a mere $3.50.

We were happy to spend a few nights in Jakarta getting high,

and getting down low,

and discovering communities growing food together,

such as Green Farm.

We were happiest in this city either playing music as a family, trying new foods or exploring productive gardens.

However, try as we did with the locals,

we really just consumed food, returned it to leaky, decrepit plumbing systems, and absorbed volumes of pollution. We also got fairly pissed off, at one point.

We booked a boat to the island of Batam, just south of Singapore, and had to stay another night in Jakarta before it set off late the following night. So we took another room in an apartment building. At 9am, dressed and ready to explore the neighbourhood, we caught a lift to the ground floor, only to find we couldn’t get out. We went back up the elevator to a number of floors to try to get help and understand what was going on. One man we met told us people are locked in the building until 10am. WTF! Incredulous, we descended to the basement, budged open a door, and after stumbling around in the dark entered an apocalyptic passageway,

which led to an underground carpark that had no lighting. After a little orientation we came across a bolt of natural sunlight descending into this creepy underworld, indicating a road out. As we entered daylight and approached the security guards lingering at the laneway behind the building – thinking they were going to chastise us for leaving before 10am – Patrick started penning this message on the translation app:

It read: “You cannot incarcerate people in a building against their will, it is an abuse of human rights.” But the guards looked unfazed as we drew up next to them, so we walked on, away from that strange moment into the mayhem of street life, where we practiced the art of crossing busy roads,

by doing what the locals do – walk out in front of the traffic, gesturing to motorists to slow down or stop. We crossed many roads during the morning looking for an op-shop to buy Woody a t-shirt. He’s a fast growing boy, especially in the tropics.

The roads are anarchical here; they hold their own flow and logic,

and while there are few footpaths and everyone seems to drive anywhere they can, including against the traffic, it is not entirely impossible to be a pedestrian.

On our last afternoon in Indonesia’s capital we reflected on the city and its future in an energy descent reality.

There’s a makeshift spirit here and an absence of safetyism that will likely aid residents, and while the examples of retrosuburban farming we saw in the wealthier parts of Jakarta may well keep producer knowledges alive, the infrastructure collapse that is already advanced in this metropolis, could undermine any such resilience.

In our final hours in Jakarta we played music, and slept and swam,

before joining the traffic, again, to the port, to board this boat, the KM Kelud.

We’d wanted economy tickets for both the affordability and sociability but they’d sold out, so we paid for lodgings in bunk rooms.

$70 per bunk for a 40 hour voyage, and all meals included.

We found we were again the only caucasian travellers on the boat sans one young couple, perhaps Dutch, who had no thirst to converse and held a permanent look of worry in their faces. Without any phone signal, our translation app was rendered useless so we defaulted to body language with fellow passengers, were invited many times to make selfie, and practiced what little Indonesian we’ve gathered.

After several weeks of travelling west, we are now heading north again.

On the way to the port the taxi driver warned us about our belongings both at the port and on the boat. We have heeded such advice along the way, and used the lockers provided on the boat, however, neither in Jakarta nor on this boat have we felt unsafe.

We spent July 6 at sea on Indonesian waters, crossing the equator. July 6 is an important day for both Indonesians and West Papuans, as it marks the anniversary of the Biak massacre of possibly hundreds of West Papuans by the Indonesian army, 26 years ago (as Alison Bevege reports). A US mining giant, Freeport, and the Indonesian government make considerable wealth from their joint colonial project in West Papua.

There is no getting away from it, colonisation is insidious. It is in this boat. It is in the food on this boat. It is the fuel powering this boat. Industrial civilisation is nothing more than extravagant displays of colonialism rebranded as global development. While the machine of Empire sets out to conquer and destroy, perhaps all we have as a meaningful antidote is connection, even at 3am when this photo was taken. (From left Jernih, Meg, Shanty and Wenti).

Around 2.30am as we approached Batam our fellow bunk bedders’ phones came to life. It had been an enjoyable 36 hours without signal, but all that changed in the early hours. Phone addiction is next level in Indonesia. It was a media frenzy and we just went along for the ride.

The blurriness of us compared to Jernih and her husband speaks not only of device foreshortening but also of how tired our lil family felt in this moment.

Both nights on the boat our sleep was disturbed with multiple comings and goings of people, as well as their pre-downloaded media, which was played at full volume throughout the night.

We had perhaps vague, even romantic notions of an island oasis before arriving in Batam,

only to find a fully industrial port city,

where the empire had long since come, and dumped its shit.

There were remnants of ecological culture on the street. The indigenous mob here has been reduced to just 5 remaining Orang Darat people.

A culture replaced by a civilisation that has little regard for life.

These practical baskets made us laugh thinking about the local council back home, neatly ticking their sustainability boxes, rolling out ever more coloured plastic bins to the streets to organise (and hide) the various wastes of we residents.

Once again, the pollution was overwhelming in this city, whether it be cigarette smoke, burning plastic waste,

or motor fumes, which sat as an unpleasant smog above this produce market.

Motor bikes and scooters bellowed fumes across all the lovely food tables. The antioxidant medicine of chilli almost negated by the immune wrecking smog.

We bought salak, banana and longans,

and we booked another $30 room for two nights. Patrick slept for two days as he is struggling most with the pollution, while Meg went on little exploratory journeys into the city with Woody, and researched the next leg.

A big part of this trip is to put ourselves in situations where we are out of our comfort zones, to have our Magpie and Blue Wren feathers ruffled, and our Blackwood branches shaken. We are here to learn, to be jimmied open. There are things we keep learning over and over about ourselves. That we are creatures of place, creatures of a sacred Mother Country. This trip is not open ended, and although we are travelling slowly in industrial terms, we are moving quite swiftly towards India. Where we can, we are trying to stay put in one place so we have time and spaciousness to explore where we are, from the inside out. We love markets, hot food warungs, and produce stores, and understanding how other people do food.

The lesson we keep learning over and over is that we are not city people. The hustle and bustle overwhelms us and again and again we gravitate to the backstreets. The side alleys, the quieter moments. Gardens and green spaces, where our lungs and souls can breathe. We are grateful to the cities for enabling our transit, but we don’t understand what they are for and why people choose to live in such places. But that’s of course a long civilisational story, which is different for each of us.

So, here we are. Open and willing to learn, feeling the estrangement while trying to see the beauty of every moment.