Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Indonesia: Arrival in Jakarta

The Indonesia portion of my journey started off with an adventure.  I had noticed on my plane that I was nearly the only International person on it.  This was slightly unnerving for me, but I figured it was due to the late hour of the flight or something along that vein.  What I didn't realize was that Indonesia was in the middle of its rainy season and Jakarta, the city for which I was headed was flooded.  In fact, I didn't realize that until much later, the flood, obviously, being the first to catch my attention.

After landing and obtaining my Visa-on-arrival (wonderful things), I headed out, looking for the taxi service that was reported to be the only reputable one in the city.  I barreled past the drivers who were out of their cars and waiting in the luggage claim area (never, ever go with those guys; it'd be cheaper to connect your wallet to a vacuum.), and found where the other taxis were waiting.  The next obstacle were the drivers who were waiting on the sidewalk.  Generally, these are no better than the luggage claim area guys, but sometimes you get a good seed there.  Thankfully, I  had the good sense (and the blaring TripAdvisor warnings) to continue looking for BlueBird Taxi.  I breathed a sigh of relief when I found the correct taxi service.  It was the only one with a line, so I felt much better about it all.

It took me about half an hour to wait out the line, and never once did I waver in my resolution to take a BlueBird taxi.  When I finally got to the front of the line, I showed the driver the name of my hotel, and everything took a downward turn.  He got very disgruntled, even getting out of the taxi to consult with the attendant.  Assuming he didn't know where it was, I began to get frustrated.  I am notorious for picking bad hotels from the Internet, so I assumed I'd chosen yet another hole-in-the-wall place that only looked like it was find-able from a map.  Finally, after a couple of phone calls, we were on our way.

"There's a lot of water, so I'll need to take the highway," the driver said.  I agreed.  I'd looked at the map, the highway passes straight by the waterfront, leading to the center of Jakarta, where I had booked my hotel.  I also had learned from my trip in Thailand that this probably meant there would be a toll.  I was okay with these things, and I told him so.

Just as we were about to get off the highway, the driver pulled off, into the median, and said to me, "There's a lot of water, we probably can't go there."

Now, I was confused, and, once again, a bit nervous.  We went back and forth on it, until I realized what he meant.  There had been a flood.

"Can you just try to get to my hotel?"  I asked.  "I have reservations."

The man hesitantly agreed, asking the men at the toll-booth for the status of the neighborhood past the exit.  They assured him that it would be okay, and we plowed on through the puddles.  Unfortunately, those puddles began to get deeper and deeper, until I could feel the water vibrating against the floor of the car under my feet.  The taxi stopped.

"I'm really sorry, missus, but we cannot go this way.  There is too much water."  I secretly breathed a sigh of relief.  I didn't like us driving through the water.  But then, as quickly as the relief came, it left; I had no idea where to go.  Then, my driver turned to look me dead in the face.

"Missus, are you a Christian?"

My heart leapt to my throat.  All of my friends' warnings about Indonesia being a Muslim country didn't seem so trivial anymore.  I looked around outside the car.  The houses looked to be little better than those of a slum in the 1am gloom.  Everywhere, there was some amount of water.  I had nowhere to go.

I took a breath.

"Yes.  I am."

The man started speaking very fast.  "Good.  I am a Christian, too, and, in the name of Jesus Christ, I promise I will get you safely to a hotel."

I'm ashamed to say, I wasn't convinced.  "A nice hotel?"  I asked him.

"Yes, missus.  A nice hotel."

"Okay.  Let's go."

We pulled away, and I felt my deposit stay behind in the deep puddles of the neighborhood.  I had already had one instance of booking for the wrong dates and being charged for the room when I didn't show up.  Now, it was going to happen again.  I sighed and resigned myself to it.  There was nothing I could do about it at that point.

The first hotel we came to was a name I recognized; I had researched it in my hotel booking process and seriously considered staying there.  I paid the driver, thanked him, and ran inside, but he followed.  After a short conversation with the concierge, he informed me that there were no rooms available.  Later, that made sense to me: All the people displaced by the flood would have to go somewhere.  But, in that moment, all I could think about was how very much I wanted to sleep.

I got back in the taxi, envisioning a long night of hotel hopping and paying and repaying the driver.  Within, five minutes, however, he was pulling up a long driveway.  One look at its towers and circular driveway told me that I was going to need to switch hotels the next day.  There was no way I could afford that place.  Nonetheless, dear old Benjamin was going to take one for the team (the team that connected my eyeballs and my cognition), and make new friends with the people that ran the hotel.

When I walked in, I was greeted by a bell boy, who took my bag from my hand and my backpack off my back and led me up the escalators, where I came face to face with two large arrangements of Oriental Lilies, one of my favorite flowers.  In that moment I said to myself, You know what?  This is vacation; let's live a little.  After all, I did just get paid.  I decided to stay in the Hotel Santika Jakarta for the duration of my time in the city.  Much to my wallet's surprise, it only turned out to be ~$130/night for the exclusive suite I was given (they were pretty booked up, too), which included a breakfast buffet, complimentary mini-bar, and evening snack bar (which I turned into a dinner buffet).  Considering that that's roughly what I would pay for a night at a Wingate Hotel in the States, I gladly agreed that it was worthy my money.  Thus began a series of events that led me to several unexpectedly luxurious hotels.  For now, I'll leave you with pictures of the Hotel Santika:


Breakfast buffet area

My room and incredibly soft bed

Exclusive lounge where I ate my dinners

Truly, though, the pictures don't do this place justice.  It was an amazing hotel, with excellent amenities, and a wonderful masseuse.  This was the perfect answer to the stress that came with my unfortunate timing in landing.

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