Yesterday I had my first experience with a serious macet (traffic jam) in Jakarta. Believe it or not, since my arrival I had never found myself stuck in traffic for long. This certainly has to do with the fact that I rarely go out during peak hours, but not only: this week for three nights in a row I went to eat in a far away neighborhood and passing the most trafficked streets, and it was as smooth and fast as drinking a glass of water. Yesterday, though, it was another story. I had gone to a morning coffee in an area quite far from where I live. I had to be back home by 3pm (maybe a trifle before) to start an important meeting of Expatclic. And when I say start, I literally mean to push the button to begin the video conference.
I left the coffee at one o’clock with a group of friends heading in the same direction as me. We quickly found ourselves stuck in traffic, but we were chatting and there were two good hours before my meeting, so I did not pay much attention to it. It was 2pm sharp when we arrived in a place where it was convenient for me to take a taxi, which I did. It did not take me long to understand that THE experience about which everybody talks in Jakarta was about to present itself: at 2:20 we had gained about 10 meters, and the long queue of vehicles did not show any sign of moving.
I was gripped by a sense of stress that almost killed me. I watched the minutes go by on the taxi clock, frantically looking for a solution to the problem. It was crystal clear that I would have never made it on time. It was a disaster.
Stuck on that taxi, I observed what was going on around me, deeply envying the motorbikes that quickly moved on the pavements and found their way to proceed. And then it suddenly struck me: the OJEK!!! The famous ojek is a taxi on a motorbike. The driver gives you a helmet, and takes you anywhere you want to.
I spotted an ojek point and screamed to the taxi driver to stop. I rushed down and anxiously told the guy that I needed an ojek, now and fast and quickly and now. I was so worried (it was 2:45 by then) that I did not even stop to think how out of place I must have looked: all dressed in black (the required dress code for the morning coffee), with a pearl necklace, and moving my arms up and down gesturing for a motorbike to stop. Luckily an ojek arrived quickly, and in a matter of seconds I was on the motorbike, helmet on my head, and patting my driver’s shoulder to make him go as fast as possible.
You have to know that we are strictly forbidden to use the ojeks, that are unanimously considered as the most dangerous means of transportation in Jakarta. So I had dutifully never taken one. And there I was, breathing the fumes of other motorbikes at the traffic light, watching the motorbikes besides me and exchanging smiles with the drivers, feeling the heat of the day (something you never experience on a taxi), and clinging on to the body of a poor old ojek driver (by the way, I obviously got the most cautious, careful and slow ojek in Jakarta).
When we arrived at my place, I was so grateful that I took out a bunch of bills and put it in his hands without even counting them. For the fraction of a moment I considered asking him to take a selfie with me to add it on the post I knew I would write, but I had to start the meeting. I sat down at the computer at 2:59. And having fallen a bit in love with Jakarta.