Jakarta, Java, Indonesia
We arrived in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, on February 26. This city long predates the coming of the Dutch in the early 17th century. They rebuilt it in Dutch style, made it the capital of the Dutch East Indies & named it Batavia. It became known to sailors as a place to avoid because disease was often rampant & there was a decent chance that if you landed here you might not live to leave. The Dutch were expelled by the Japanese in 1942 & after the war Indonesia became independent, with this city, renamed Jakarta (a variation of its original name of Jayakarta), as its capital. Today Jakarta is a (very) bustling city of more than 10 million, with lots of high rise concrete buildings and huge traffic problems (part of which stem from the lack of an effective public transit system). It is also hot (at least it was when we were there) & we found it the least pleasant location of our three stops in Indonesia.
We were greeted on the dock by the obligatory Indonesian dancers, these in costumes making the look like large puppets.
We spent a lot of time on the bus this day because of the heavy traffic. We had a police escort again, but it didn’t seem to do us as much good as the day before. Our first stop was Taman Mini Indonesia, a large park where the typical architecture of each of Indonesia’s provinces is reproduced. In the center is a lake with a miniature copy of the entire Indonesian archipelago inside it. If you have been to Disney World, the idea here is similar to the back part of Epcot Center, where there are several squares near each other reproducing the architecture if different countries. This was the brainchild of Madame Suharto, wife of Indonesia’s president for some 30 years, and was completed in 1975.
We visited two of the provincial sections. The first was Sumatra, the home province of our guide. Its architecture was colorful & fairly oriental looking, with thickly thatched roofs curving up to points on the ends. They had a lot of decoration of carved & brightly colored wood.
The second provincial section we visited was West Papua on the island of New Guinea. This was entirely different, demonstrating the ethnic diversity of this very large country. The buildings & artifacts here looked more African than Asian.
We drove back into town (a very long drive because the traffic was getting heavier) & visited the Museum Nasional. The original building dates from 1862, although there is a modern addition. This is a huge museum with a vast and eclectic collection of artifacts, from ancient stone sculptures to musical instruments to textiles to furniture to wayang puppets. There was no way to see it all in the small time available to us, and we had no time to read about the many artifacts we saw.
After lunch we stopped to look at, but not visit, the Presidential Palace & the Monas (National Monument). The marble monument is more than 400 feet tall with a golden flame on top that is covered with more than 75 pounds of pure gold. Irreverent locals sometimes call it “Sukarno’s final erection.” There was a very large police presence on the monument grounds, leading us to wonder if it is considered a terrorist target.
Our penultimate visit was to Taman Fatahillah, a square that was the center of old Dutch Batavia. Several buildings here were built by the Dutch and now house museums. In this area of town we drove along several canals. We were told that the Dutch built the canals, inspired by those in Amsterdam. The largest building in the square is the old Batavia town hall, built in 1627, which holds a museum today. There were a lot of active people in this area, including some guys who appeared to be levitated in the air (it wasn’t apparent how they do this).
It turned out our only visit here would be to the Wayang Museum, in a 1912 building to the right of the city hall in the photo above. It was pretty interesting, containing a very large collection of puppets, most from Indonesia but some from elsewhere. There apparently are performances here as well, but not while we were there. This is just a small sample.
Finally, we went to Sunda Kelapa, the old port of Jakarta. Actually, this port has been in operation for centuries, before there was a real city here at all. Too small for modern ships (like Amsterdam), this port is home to the Phinisi schooners, the only commercial fleet of sailing ships still in operation. Built on the island of Sulawesi, these schooners are still loaded & unloaded on this dock by hand & with winches.
We drove back to the pier through pretty bad traffic, including lots of motor bikes, but the traffic really wasn’t as bad as advertised. Maybe this was just a good day. The folks with green jackets sell rides, I guess it’s a lot like Uber. And this is a good place to put the rest of the flowers we saw today. In particular, there were a lot of flowering trees around town, often lining the roads or canals.
We sailed away shortly after sundown, heading for four relaxing days at sea to unwind & rest up from three long (but very interesting) days of shore excursions in Indonesia.