Getting to the city

Once completed our journey through the volcanoes, we wanted to get to Java as fast as possible. Java, with the exception of the spectacular east of the island, is where the majority of the population of the country lives, and in a country of 200 million people, that is not a minor thing. Java is badly overcrowded. In this aspect, Java reminded me very much of the Philippines where hardly 1 km would go by without people or settlements. Java also contains most of the country's industries; therefore traffic and pollution are extremely high. Finally, after 3 months and more than 4000km of cycling in rural and remote Indonesia, we had come to the big cities.

We arrived in Yogyakarta, in central Java, with not much time left to extend our visas;  we had only one day left before they expired. There, we stopped at the house of Sardi and Eve who were our new sponsors for the extension. The process was relatively simple but the authorities made us wait 3 days to finish up with the bureaucracy involved. Yogyakarta (also Jogjakarta) is considered to be the cultural capital of Indonesia, where artists and intellectuals study and live. If it weren't because people refer to it as a city, the feeling is rather being in a large village. It is unusually quiet and you just need to go outside the city centre to find yourselfamongst extensive rice fields and people wearing the traditional conical hats typical of the region. The city is flanked by the Merapi volcano famous for terrorizing the population every once in a while, killing people every few years. Yogya was the perfect place to recover after the tough volcanic endeavours we had just gone through, and to visit one of the most famous historical sites in Asia and the world: Borobudur

 Borobudur is the world's largest Buddhist temple. It's surrounded by green mountains and rice paddies.  It is only 45 km away from Yogya and is easy to go and get back to the city in the same day. Once I arrived there I realized my expectations were completely oversized. I do not know if the image I had in mind was it because of what I had read and heard before but, as my cousin Carla says, "After a good advertising, always comes the disappointment". I don't know either if it was because I had already been in such great places as Angkor, Machu Picchu, Bagan, Great Wall of China or Persepolis and after that, it is really very difficult to be impressed. It did not help that the day we went, the place was very crowded, especially with school visits. It didn't take me long to convince myself that they go to brutalize the monument rather than to genuinely appreciate its historic value. Despite its greatness, and its extensive corridors along five levels exquisitely carved in stone, I found myself mostly disappointed and above all bad tempered for having spent the outrageous sum of $20 to enter the site (4 days of budget in Indonesia for two people!). Before leaving, Yogya said goodbye with a tremor during the night, the stronger that I experienced so far;  furniture shook, the walls seemed to move and left us dizzy several minutes. After it happened we were grateful that it didn't get any worse

With the new visas ready we had officially 30 days left in Indonesia and we wanted to use as many of them to cross Sumatra. Therefore we decided not to waste time on congested roads and ugly cities and load the bikes on a bus and go quickly to Jakarta to get the Chinese visa. Few things are as annoying (and expensive) on a trip as to obtain visas. The amount of time that is lost is unbelievable, let alone dealing with the absurd requirements that some countries demand and one has to comply with. 

We arrived at Bekasi, 40 km on the outskirts of Jakarta at noon. We got out of the bus with hypothermia, after 16 hours to complete the 650 km, traveling in what it had to be the closest thing ever to a refrigerator on wheels. I never appreciated the tropical heat as much as when I got off the bus literally shivering that morning. It took us 5 hours of cycling (whenever possible)to complete the 40 km between Bekasi and Jakarta and from that very first day it became very clear to us why Jakarta is famous for its traffic. It is literally, hell on Earth, I can only compare it to the hell I had to go through entering Delhi or leaving Tehran. Those are at the top of my list, still I think Jakarta offers enough hassled to dispute the first place. The traffic is so bad that shapes people's habits. Many choose to stay at home on their days off and watch TV or spend the day in nearest shopping mall, since driving the car out of town might take 6 or 7 hrs for just 2 hours of amusement in a nice place. Neither the agility of the bicycle is a benefit here; you get stuck in the traffic jams without finding the slightest gap to get through. That being said, before getting here, I believed that we were going to find a horrifying city like Manila, but not taking the traffic into account, Jakarta although not a beautiful city so to speak, it's prettier than what I expected. Nevertheless, it didn't feel like being in Indonesia. After three months of cycling mainly in rural areas, staying in remote villages filled with wonderful traditional people, getting tothis huge megalopolishad a great impact on us. The CBD, with its cutting-edge architecture, glass skyscrapers, shopping malls, restaurants and sophisticated people, seemed completely alienated from the rest of the country. It is difficult to associate this Indonesia with the one we had previously encountered. Needless to say, it didn't come as a surprise, that is what the third world is like, a world I know more than well. The tycoons who profit from the misery of others and the destruction of the environment, live in Jakarta, mind you behind massive walls, high fences and of course a whole troop of private security. The wealthy people here are famous for buying in cash properties of millions of dollars in its luxurious neighbor, Singapore. Everyone knows that is "dirty"money, here and there, but nobody does anything, the money shuts all mouths and leave everyone happy by keeping silence.

By the railway tracks

It was right there, in the Jakarta of contrasts, that I had the wonderful chance of finally meeting with some of the best photographers of the country who I knew for a long time via Thanks to Sebastian, one of them, I had the great opportunity to photograph part of the other side of Jakarta, the side of poverty and overcrowding. Sebastian took me to an area where people live under cardboard boxes and tarps, located right on the edge, sometimes as little as a few centimeters away, from the train tracks. Had it not been for him, I would have never ever dared to go there on my own, since my life-long experience in the third world of Latin America, tells me that you simply don't go to these places, and even less when what hangs from my shoulder costs more than what a whole family can earn in an entire year of survival. However, once again, it never ceases to amaze me the differences between poverty in South America and Asia.  Unlike South America, poverty in Asia rarely ever relates to crime and violence. Next to the train tracks, we spent part of the afternoon with a family that lives there. We only found smiles, an enormous sense of humor and we were even treated with some coffee by people who have almost no material possessions of any kind. The slums of Jakarta are too crowded already, so the only choice left is the railway tracks, where thy have to be almost permanently alert to avoid getting caught by surprise by the trains that come and go day and night. Entire families, from grandparents to children get together and assemble tents made of tarps, wooden planks, iron poles. There, they sleep, eat and carry on with their social life in complete normality, almost always outdoors.

 Privacy is a luxury that is unavailable here, however, life goes on in pretty much complete normality.

The seem to be completely immune to the noise and thundering roar of the trains passing by

Daily tasks and chores do not change

You are always welcome at home.

There is always time for motherhood

And there's never ever shortage of good mood.

Having spent time here was one of those experiences that lead to reflect. IfI had had more time I would have come back several times there, to try to understand and learn more about their lives, the reasons why they decided to migrate to the big city and change a rural and quiet life for the overcrowding of the city. I still have many questions, especially as a South American, where poverty often degenerates into hatred, violence and crime. These are not new questions, they are questions that I have since the first time I set foot on Asia 14 years ago, and after living and traveling in the continent for nearly 8 years, I still cannot find the right answer. Our stay in Jakarta was very positive. Once the Chinese visa was ready, it was time to move on and begin the long crossing of Sumatra.