Driving in Jakarta is an infuriating business. There are traffic rules and regulations of course, but like most laws in Indonesia, they are made to be broken. Bus drivers think nothing of creating congestion by waiting for passengers anywhere they like, and road signs are routinely ignored.
Junctions can be particularly hazardous: drivers often run a red light. To compound the madness, there is no lane discipline, and drivers do just about anything they can to steal a precious few yards.
Some Indonesians even decide that the roads should not be used just for transportation purposes: they set up roadside stalls and kiosks selling just about anything from fried rice and gado gado to pirated compact discs and medicines such as Viagra.
The result of course is traffic chaos; especially during the morning and evening rush hours, when the traffic grinds along at an infuriatingly slow pace. Many employees in Jakarta’s central business district are emotionally drained just getting to the office; even before they have begun to get down to their work.
Thank God then for the good old motorcycle. Although not for the faint-hearted, motorcycles are a great way to negotiate Jakarta’s jam-packed roads. You can weave in and out of the traffic, take shortcuts by making use of the many alleys too narrow for cars (jalan tikus), and even, when the traffic gets really bad, simply ride on the “pavement”.
But there are disadvantages of course.
Motorcycles, after all, offer little protection in the event of an accident. And besides that, it’s also not much fun if you get stuck behind a city bus or bajaj, many of which are in no fit state to be on the roads anymore, belching out huge plumes of filthy black smoke behind them.
And then there’s the rain.
Not that it rains that often, but only the most crazy would continue riding a motorcycle in a Jakarta downpour. Despite the obvious discomfort, the roads quickly turn to rivers, making it impossible to spot dangerous potholes that are often found on Jakarta’s roads.
Best then to find somewhere to wait until the rain stops. Fortunately, as I found out last Friday, this is not too difficult as there are many overpasses and elevated roads in the city.
As I waited for the rain to stop, a motley crew of people soon gathered. One old guy with a colorful umbrella had seized the opportunity to do some business; some street kids begged for change; and a trendy young couple on a Vespa made use of the downpour to get to know each other just that little bit better.
Soon the rain had stopped, and I was on my way again.
Well, whatever they say about Jakarta, it’s not that bad. And it’s even better seen from a motorcycle…