It was way past midnight when I stepped outside the Soekarno Hatta International Airport in Jakarta. The brick hallways were understandably deserted at this hour, save for a few families waiting for their loved ones, the airport security and a handful of taxi touts.
Many of the latter approached me and I could only wish I shared these cab drivers’ eagerness and determination. Despite the delayed flight from Manila, I still managed to smile and politely refuse each overpriced offer.
Bahasa Indonesia 101
“I’ll take the bus to Gambir. It is cheaper,” I said to one who stuck by me as I sat on an empty staircase.
“But there’s no more bus,” he replied. He could speak only a few English words but I understood when he told me that his final offer is 130,000 IDR and the toll is also on him. He sounded sincere and looked like he just wanted to pick any passenger as he makes his way back to the city.
I begged off since his final offer was still way beyond my budget.
“Where are you from?” he asked.
“I am from the Philippines,” I said.
“Oh, Philippines!” he beamed.
I then asked him if he could teach me how to count in Bahasa Indonesia. He probably had nothing else to do that morning that’s why he agreed to translate a few numbers for me. Although it’s not enough to start a smart conversation with a local but his handy translation would really help me pay the right amount of rupiahs in the next few days.
As I looked at his list, it struck me that Bahasa Indonesia, or the counting part at least, has similarities with our official language back home.
We had to cut short our Indonesian 101 though after I saw two other fellow Filipino backpackers walking towards the Damri bus stop. I caught up with them and learned that they are also bound for the Gambir Central Station. They added that they are headed for a tea plantation somewhere in Bandung. I would have wanted to join them but I said that I’m already set for Yogyakarta.
We decided it’s best that we take a cab in getting out of the airport since it’s almost 5 AM. The first bus out of the airport might take us longer to arrive at Gambir and we might run out of train tickets by then.
Since I could now share the ride with 2 more persons this time, I looked for my new friend/language instructor/cab driver. Unfortunately, he’s nowhere in sight. We then flagged the first metered Bluebird taxi that came our way.
Four hours at the Gambir Station
My new friends and I parted ways after we purchased tickets to our respective destinations. I got a seat on an Eksekutif class train for Yogyakarta which leaves Gambir at 9:05 AM. There’s supposed to be an earlier train but the counter staff explained that all seats on that were full already. This meant that I have to endure four more hours of restlessness at this railway station.
Well, I did not mind the long wait again. I even walked around the station to look for breakfast options. At the ground floor were Starbucks, KFC, Bugis Kopitiam and a handful of eateries that offered traditional Indonesian fare. It was still 5:00 AM that’s why I was not really in the mood for a heavy sandwich or even a hearty bakso komplit. All I wanted was a strong coffee to perk me up and something to fill my stomach with.
My feet dragged me to the upper level where I saw a stall that served freshly baked rotis. I bought one to pair with my piping hot americano. The roti was delicious by the way with its coffee-flavored crust, fluffy center and buttery filling.
These kept me company and also drove away thoughts of a long shower and my worn-out mattress back at home. Halfway through my cup of joe, I began to second guess myself if I could pull off this solo travel in a foreign land. Did I bring enough money for this trip? What if I get lost at Bali? Will all this uncertainty be worth it in the end?
I chose not to find the answers because I was too tired to think that morning. It’s also no use to harbor such negativity on Day 1. I still had 7 more days in Indonesia and I’d like to be both surprised and disappointed, exhausted and energized, and learn and unlearn from this very beautiful country.
The sun was already up when I returned to the main hall. Gambir was now more alive, buzzing with locals eager to catch their train rides. I found an empty bench and just watched the day unfold. A dozen or so housewives passed by with their designer bags in tow. Beside me was an elderly couple reading the day’s news.
When it was already OK to enter the upper platform, I got too excited and hurriedly walked towards Line 3 only to find that our train has not yet arrived. I asked from the helpful locals if I was on the right side of the track. They looked at my ticket and assured me that I was and I also did not miss the 9:05.
From where I was standing, I could see the golden flames of the Monas (Monumen Nasional), a 132 m marble monument built in 1961 to commemorate the country’s independence from Dutch rule.
Aside from the Gambir station and the airport, this tower was my only glimpse of Jakarta, which is something I now regret looking back. Between the four groggy, sleepy hours at Gambir and walking around Merdeka Square, I’ll probably be better off with the latter.
Our train finally arrived and promptly left after all the passengers have already boarded. Yogyakarta is still 850 kms away and it will definitely be an interesting 8-hour journey ahead.