Bandung to Bali XVII – Jakarta – 18 May 1973

The cabin door swings back.

Hot wet air, fumes of burnt rubber and the smell of oil, attack my nose and throat.

I can’t breathe.

The metal stairway pushes forward and clanks in place against the doorway.

Heat rushes up from the roasted tarmac, hits my face and pushes the last bit of air from my lungs.

Mum shifts Bart from hip to hip, adjusts her cardigan, checks for dropped toys and stray bags.

“My God, are you sure about this?” she mutters quietly to Dad.

But Dad is out and down the steps ahead of us all. “Hang on, wait there,” he cries over the deafening roar of engines.

He runs backwards, digs into his bag, “Just get the Kodak – get a picture of everyone.”

“Take your hand down Matt – right – smile every-one – here we go.”

Dad grins as he captures us in our first official photo in Indonesia.

My outfit, purchased on that chilly autumn day in Melbourne, goes from sensible to suffocating. I don’t have enough skin for any heat to get out.

My face and hands turn red & swell, sweat trickles down my back, the backs of my knees start to itch.

Arriving Jakarta 1973

BBVII – Arriving Jakarta 1973

A bus arrives and the last few people from the plane all compress into the hot square can on wheels. I wonder if there are any emergency oxygen masks.

The driver shows no signs of asphyxiating. He expertly pulls the lever which seals the door in one clean snap and, grim faced, disinterested in his last load of strangely dressed Australians, grinds and shifts gears on a near endless tour of the bleak cyclone perimeter fence.

We pass the aircraft hangars with planes half in and half out. More men are working out in the intolerable air, which blows in through the open windows, rasps at our throats and roasts our exposed skin.

“We could have walked this far faster”, Mum expires as she finally strips out of her cardigan, steadies herself as the bus jolts and stops, shifts Bart again from one arm and into the other.

Once inside the terminal we form a lazy line behind the other passengers.

A man in a clean, neatly pressed suit with brass buttons and badges looks blandly at us. “Passport?’ ‘Visa?’ he demands from Dad.

We shift about each other, angling for a fleeting pass of air from one of the fans behind the desk. The man scrutinises us. Mum holds Bart firmly and grips Johnny by his hand.

Other men in crispy dry uniforms, wander about behind us.

“Look Chas – guns,” says Matt, “Proper ones.”

“AK47s” says Tony.

Dad pulls the papers from his travel wallet stuffed with every document necessary to get seven people into Indonesia.

“Jesus” says Mum “What’s going on here – is there a problem?” Mum has started to say a lot of words we’re not allowed to use.

“I think it’s normal, nothing to worry about,” Dad leans heavily over the immigration desk, surprised he has to start speaking Indonesian so soon.

About 5 metres in front of us is a sign over a doorway ‘Selamat Datang di Jakarta’. The idea passes my mind we might not really be that welcome.

Dad speaks earnestly to the officer. “Satu, dua, tiga, empat, lima,” repeats the immigration officer and starts to smile and look at Dad with great respect. Soon Dad starts to speak in Indonesian in a rush of words and hand movements and they are the best of friends.

The officer stamps the passports with a great flourish and Dad straightens up, smiles at as all again. “Righto, off we go.”

We collect our bags from a long trolley that’s been dragged inside the door by two grease smeared workers. Dad leads us off to customs.

At a big table another man in another perfectly pressed uniform checks our bags.

“They’ll probably cut that pig up and check if you’re smuggling stuff.” says Matt.

“They will not,” I’m adamant but uneasy, “Like what?”

“Like drugs and guns” says Tony, “People are always smuggling stuff like that.”

“I’m not” I say. “Well it doesn’t matter – they’ll still rip it open to check.”

The pig gets through with the rest of us and we are in – we are actually really in Jakarta.

4 thoughts on “Bandung to Bali XVII – Jakarta – 18 May 1973

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