Travel in this city has not become any easier, I discovered today. You’d think after nine weeks and a lot of in and around town on the bike would make me something of an expert. I thought I was getting better at this, becoming more relaxed about things and not being lost so often. I thought that, until this morning.

My new friend Diana had invited me to lunch at her house. She lives a rather short distance from Radio Dalam, as the eagle flies. See at the top where the street reads Jalan Radio Dalam Rayah? That’s where I live. Diana’s house is marked with the A, at the bottom. Note two things, as you look at this map. 1. It’s not very far between my house and the destination. And 2. The route appears to be relatively straight.


Here are the directions I was sent via email:

My location is Bukit Pratama, Jalan Haji Sijan, Lebak Bulus Raya.  If you cycle from Radio Dalam, you are likely going to pass Jalan Metro Pondok Indah.  Then keep going straight until a major big junction by the toll road with Carrefour Lebak Bulus hypermart on the righthand side.  You will then pass the Pasar Jumat bus terminal on the left handside.  Keep going straight and turn left at the traffic light to Jalan Lebak Bulus Raya.  After 300 meter or so, there is BATAN complex on the left, my complex is just on the opposite, via a small road called Jalan Haji Sijan.

I gave myself an entire hour to find Diana’s street. Speeding into Saturday morning traffic on a bike is risky business, because there are so many cars and trucks and ojeks out there, and my legs feel very exposed. On the other hand, people are very accepting and kind of my wanting to share the road. And, I move fast.

My first moment of confusion was a few blocks past PIM, on Jalan Metro Pondok Indah. You see, her instructions don’t mention Iskandar, but that’s the main street (and it carries on for some distance farther than the map indicates), which then turns into Metro Pondok Indah, because every main street here seems to need multiple names. And it appears to be a very straight road, yet is anything but. I had to stop three times to ask directions, because I’d come to a traffic circle, or I was forced to turn either left or right: straight was not an option.


At an intersection where Pondok Indah headed into a smaller subdivision, I looked around for the Carrefour junction, but couldn’t see it. She had said to look for a “major big junction by the toll road” and I could see the toll road on my map, but I couldn’t see it here. Begging directions from an ojek driver, I discovered that I had to actually TURN right to have Carrefour on my right. And I was doing it into very heavy traffic. *sigh* It was a good thing I had thought to ask directions at this intersection. I could easily have ridden through and been entirely lost.

I then needed to turn right again in order to have the hypermart on my left. I was now travelling in the middle of four lanes of dense, dirty, aggressive traffic. You can see how I might be unnerved at the very straight lines on the google map. Google has either never been to Indonesia and are lying through their teeth, or they’re working from something from the last century. And my friend has a mental block about how to get to her house.

So, here is the scene just past the bus terminal. I don’t see any traffic lights, which I should according to my friend’s directions.


It looked like I was about to head onto a major highway, and there were two lanes heading to Jalan Lebak Bulus Raya, but in different directions. I needed to figure out which lane to be in. Asking someone, I discovered I needed to be in the OTHER one. See the enormous transport? He’s heading into the lane I wanted, on the other side of the street. *sigh* 


I AM WATER! I yelled. And then, rather like all the Indonesians who have befriended me here, I smiled serenely. I was determined to do this and on my own terms, but I was doing it with a tranquility that did not come standard with this package.

Waiting politely at the side of the road, I was greeted endlessly by drivers who liked that I was brave enough to be out there on a bike. Eventually, after the transports had all passed into the lane I wanted and there was a break in the madness, I skittered across two lanes of traffic, into mine.


Once there, we travelled up a bit of a hill and into an intersection, where there indeed was a traffic light. Now, I needed only turn left and travel about 300 meters. Or so I thought.


Turning left, I cycled for about eight minutes. Along the side of the road were two food stands, where I stopped to ask directions. I was sure I’d gone too far. They didn’t understand my accent. Heading back, I asked directions of four people. One said I was close and to go about 200 metres. Another said 400. Back at the intersection, two people argued over where the street was. Why didn’t I call my friend, one screamed at me, over the traffic noise. I wanted to throttle someone (mostly me, for having ridden the bike rather than take a taxi–still, I had to admit that the two and a half hours I’d spent travelling to batik stores the day before had rattled me too much)

Riding back down the road, I found the first sidestreet and ducked into it. There was a street sign (it reads Jalan Diesel, if you look closely) but the direction in which it points (along Lebak Bulus Raya, rather than down Jalan Diesel) was confusing me. So, I couldn’t be certain I was near my friend’s house, and it was now 11:30.


Calling my friend from here was easier, since I’d left the traffic behind. She described a gate across from a green fence. I could see a green fence across the road. She said it was only about 300 metres from the traffic light, but I felt pretty certain I’d already ridden more than twice that to this spot. She would come in the car and escort me to her home.

As it turns out, her home was much farther down the road, across from the street vendors of whom I’d inquired earlier.

So, what have I learned from this? That you can’t expect any map to give an honest representation of these Jakarta streets. Further, that people who travel here are oblivious to the twists and turns, to the multiple lanes and the very poor road conditions. And that I now have both the reserves and the inner resolve to do this. Because, I *am* water, dammit.