Amy on the Road is a travel fiction series following Amy, a young Aussie on her first forays into backpacking. Follow her misadventures from the beginning at www.annkaddley.com
I am not the most relaxed traveller, there I said it. I triple check my map and bug strangers to confirm what I researched weeks ago. Despite my somewhat paranoid approach to getting from A to B things sometimes still go awry. The train to Jakarta was one of those things and one of those examples of the tiny difference between cultures having a huge impact - which I had not yet come to expect. Back in Bali I had heard some of the other travelers joking about “yes sir” attitude of the Indonesians without really understanding what they were referring to. Boy was I about to find out.
I had left Bandung by train with a plan to stay in a hotel a little out of Jakarta - it seemed simple enough. Several hours later the lack of English signage and garbled loud speakers had me fully paranoid. The other passengers weren’t very forthcoming but I was pretty sure I knew I was in the right place. To make sure, I dragged my still hefty pack across the platform to the little guardhouse and addressed the uniformed policemen inside.
Showing them my map I made my fatal mistake
“Are we here?” I pointed to the station marked.
“Yes, yes” the authoritative looking guards agreed. Excellent, the hotel I had in mind was only a few hundred meters from the station.
“Which way is this road?” I asked. The guards exchanged looks.
“No, no, very far, you take bus” ummmm I looked at the map.
“We are here right?” they all nodded,
“See it’s very close, which way?”
“No, no, very far” this went on for more than half an hour with me getting increasingly frustrated, they could see the hotel was right by the station, what were they trying to do? Were they trying to get money from me?
After about the fortieth round of “But we are here right?” The man in charge sighed in annoyance, taking me by the arm he dragged me, pack and all to an idling angkot mini bus and spoke at length to the driver in Indonesian before giving me a curt nod and striding off.
The bus took off winding through back alleys, dropping laden locals at their doors with me terrified in the back, no idea where I was going (or how much it would cost). I tried talking to the driver but he simply looked at my map and nodded his agreement “Yes here” after more than an hour on the bus with my bones aching from the non-existent suspension and unpadded seats, I was ready to break into tears. The bus pulled suddenly to a halt and the driver hopped out, grabbing my pack and lifting it out, he dumped it unceremoniously on the ground pointing down an inner city street and before I could protest was gone in a plume of exhaust fumes.
Where was I? Looking round I saw a street sign Jalan Jaksar, wait a second, I fished through my daypack for my guide book Jalan Jaksar was the main tourist street in downtown Jakarta! Exhausted from my worry I didn’t spend time questioning, I just hoisted my heavy pack and trudged down the street, at least there should be accommodation around here. I slogged along looking at the thankfully English signs when a friendly English voice called out from one of the open tourist bars, “You looking for a cheap room?” Despite my now instinctual suspicion of offers of help I got into a discussion with a friendly English ex-pat named Mike who offered to show me a good hotel. I followed his wide back down the street and into a nice enough hostel hidden down an alley way, where my new friend cheerfully told me to have a shower and a rest and come met his mates at the bar on the main street latter.
The cold shower was bliss, the fact that my shampoo had once again exploded in my bag brought me to tears and I had a little pity party in the shower, angrily scrubbing out my toilet bag. Feeling like a whole new woman after a rest and some food and a good cry, I decided to head back to Jalan Jaksar and thank my savior. I met Mike and his friends, a group of rag tag ex-pats from all over the world, who seemed to delight in helping unfortunate tourists.
After recounting my day they all laughed and asked me to show them my map. Quickly determining that I hadn’t in fact been at the station I thought I’d been.
“What did you ask them?” said Mike.
“Are we here?” I replied, to which five older ex-pats laughed in open mirth.
“You have to be careful with the locals” Mike told me. “In their culture it is impolite to say a direct no, if you fraise something as a yes or no question you will always get a yes” I sat dumb founded,
“All that time, I was at a whole different station and the guards didn’t tell me because I asked are we here? Rather than where are we?”
“Pretty much” Mike confirmed, as the others continued to chuckle at the look on my face. Another guy, Peter brought me a drink, “never mind hun, he said you’re here now” and that seemed to be the consensus, these things just happen.
The next couple of days in Jakarta were great, I explored the national monument at Merdeka Square and Taman Mini Indonesia Indha and in the evening came back to Jalan Jaksar to meet with the ex-pat gang and a gaggle of other tourists they had adopted. My “Are we here” story was the butt of many jokes but we all hung out visiting various night spots and getting tips on the best things to see in the city. Despite my beginners mistake I was beginning to feel better again. The instant travel family, with its support and perfect understanding of other travellers situations, gave a feeling of comradery that I’d never felt back home.
I could see myself later in life sipping cocktails at some exotic location advising the enthusiastic young travellers on the finer points of cultural etiquette. From feeling alone in Bandung I now saw the community that existed even with transient backpackers. Every day seemed to develop me as a backpacker and a person and despite the very real moments of misery I’d experienced in my first month on the road I was beginning to see why this life appealed to so many, more I was beginning to feel like it was the thing that I’d been missing all this time.