Our first port of call on Seabourn Odyssey was Jakarta. I’ve only briefly visited the city previously and had no time to tour so I’d only seen one of their high-end shopping malls.
We researched the tours available through the ship and while all were appealing, each had elements of interest. In the end, my travel companion discovered an available guide through Tours By Locals that had great reviews. For $150 USD, we could do a traditional city tour that could be customized for up to five hours of touring time. The price included two persons touring with both a guide and driver. Additional passengers could join for a nominal per-person charge.
We started our day with a pick up at the port at 8 am. Ira met us dockside and her warm personality was a clue to the easy pace our day would take. Her driver had a comfortable air conditioned vehicle and moved knowledgably through the crowded streets as we left the port of Tanjung Priok.
Our first stop was the Old Harbour (Sunda Kelapa). This 400 year old port was the original trading entry to Jakarta on the spice route. We had the opportunity to see the teak ships that still operate on the Java Sea as fishing boats and for passenger transport. I found it quite interesting that many take to the sometimes rough waters of the area as they are a far cry from today’s vessels.
Our next destination was the old city of Jakarta. At the center is Fatahilla Square which was just awakening for the day.
We encountered a large group of lively kindergarteners on a school outing who were enjoying the morning.
I was enchanted by the colorful bicycles available for rent. Each had a matching colorful hat available as well. Ira told us that many young couples come to the square to ride bicycles as it’s considered a romantic activity.
Tucked into a corner of the square, we visited Museum Wayang, better known as the puppet museum. Here we learned about the history of puppetry in Indonesia, where puppet theatre of various types is a rich part of the cultural heritage. My favorites were the shadow puppets, intricately cut thin puppets that dance as large shadows as part of elaborate productions.
When we left the museum, we made our first special request – a stop to withdraw money and pick up local snacks. I narrowly averted a travel crisis when I accidentally left my ATM card in the machine after my transaction. Fortunately the machine did not retain it and the gentleman behind me returned it to me. (This would be yet another incident in me nearly losing – or actually losing – my card this year. I’ve got to figure out how to prevent that!)
Ira took us to an Indonesian grocery market where a bakery and another sundry vendor were set up in the lobby. We picked up a variety of baked items including chicken turnovers, sweet coconut candy, and a fluffy rice flour cake. We then visited the other vendor who had shelves of large glass jars containing all sorts of savory and sweet snacks. My favorites were candied carrots (which looked like sugared saffron threads) and small thin pastry pockets that contained a dried fish paste. We also both picked up spicy crisp rice cakes.
Our next stop was a quick visit to the Jakarta Tower, a landmark across from the Presidential Palace. It was mid-morning but the promenade near the tower was already busy. A protest was taking place over rising fuel prices so police were out with riot gear ready in case the crowd became unruly.
We next headed for a brief visit to the Menteng 01 Primary School where Barack Hussein Obama II attended school from 1969 to 1971. The school is considered one of the premier elite international schools and had overflowing trophy cases with all of their student awards. The neighborhood near the school is considered to be a posh one as the area is home to many international embassies and ex pats.
Our final touring stop was the Istiqlal Grand Mosque. Thanks to great advice on mosque etiquette from my friend Elena at Muslim Travel Girl, I felt well-prepared for this visit. The modern architectural style was a contrast to much older mosques I’ve visited in Europe and helped me further my own understanding of Islamic worship.
One interesting feature I observed on their open square were the lined off prayer spaces, each uniform in size and properly aligned to face Mecca.
We also observed many women taking part in a school offering additional studies into Islam.
I loved that we were there during one of five if the daily “call to prayer” soundings from the mosque. I think the Islamic call to prayer is one of the most beautiful sounds and it was a favorite part of my time on Java, but extra special to hear inside the mosque compound.
The mosque was the last stop on our tour but we still had some additional time before heading to the ship. Ira needed to depart as she was due at the university where she is finishing her PhD. Our driver took us to a local 7-11 near the port so we could take advantage of the free wifi and seating areas that 7-11s in Jakarta offer. We were seated with several locals who used the hour to practice their English speaking with us.
I greatly enjoyed my day in Jakarta – it was nice to get away from the mass bus tours and experience a slice of local life while also visiting some of the key sights. It was also nice to have a relaxing day as the upcoming days would bring visits to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites and more strenuous touring activities. Tours By Locals was a great way to customize a small tour of an unfamiliar city.
You can follow all my posts from this Indonesian adventure aboard Seabourn Odyssey on this master page I have created!