Arriving in Jakarta I had only one preconception: traffic. Lots of it.
And the city delivered. As my driver weaved in and out of rows and rows of cars and motorbikes – so many motorbikes – I looked out the car window at the darkening, rainy sky and marvelled at how one city could hold so many two-wheeled vehicles.
I’d been told to expect traffic and long, slow trips. A 10-kilometre car ride could take up to an hour – or more.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the security. As the car pulled up to my hotel we slowed and four armed men directed the driver to stop behind a barred gate. We were isolated as one of the men drew another gate behind us. One man ran a mirror around the perimeter of the car, checking underneath for bombs, I presumed, while the other men opened up the bonnet, checking the engine, opened up the driver’s door, opened up my door with a cheery “selamat malam” (good evening). They looked through the car, then, satisfied, they opened up the front gate and waved us through.
My driver had caught my interested and surprised look in the mirror and reassuringly said “Security – it is everywhere here.”
Stepping out of the car at the entrance to the hotel, I was confronted with more: my suitcase was put through a metal detector, my handbag rifled through, and a handheld metal detector device run over my body. Two men with enormous guns looked on, while two big rottweilers lazed, uninterested, on the ground beside them.
My bag was carefully handed back to me and I was on my way to reception. All very efficient, everyone very polite and smiling.
Heading in to the office for work the next day, the routine was the same. Car checked, bag checked, through metal detectors. And then back at the hotel, through the same process.
I’ve been to many countries but had never experienced security like this. I remember stepping off a plane in Bangkok – the first time my boyfriend and I travelled overseas – and being super polite to the men wandering around the immigration and baggage areas, huge black guns tucked under their arms. In East Timor, guns were a common sight as Australian troops patrolled the roads in small groups. Crossing borders between countries in Central America usually means several armed soldiers. And in South Africa, there was a constant reminder about security and safety.
I shouldn’t have been surprised – security has been stepped up significantly in Indonesia in recent years after several bombings in Jakarta and Bali that have tragically killed hundreds of people.
But I had never even worried about such things while I was getting ready to go to Indonesia. Sure, I’d thought about things like pick pockets and avoiding traffic accidents (probably the number one hazard in Asia in my mind!), but terrorism and security had not even crossed my thoughts. I was very aware of the attacks in Indonesia but I was certainly not put off visiting the country. I’ve never been one to be turned off a country because of the perceived dangers there. Of course, I will do everything I can to keep myself safe and avoid unsafe situations.
If anything, when I arrived in Jakarta I felt very safe and secure, confident in the rigorous security procedures I had to go through each and every time I entered the hotel or office.
Have you ever decided NOT to go somewhere because you thought it was unsafe? Or been somewhere where you felt completely safe?