Something that Jakarta would never be accused of or praised for is its love and respect for the environment; you get that feeling every time you walk past a body of water that resembles a junkyard or an oil slick. You can usually smell it ahead; a mixture of sewage and rotten food rises into your nostrils as a swarm of mosquitoes descends upon your face. Some days the only trees you see are the giant photos on printed banners covering up roadwork. I was reading an article about malls in Jakarta in which one mall claimed to be eco-friendly because it had 2 plants…which turned out to be plastic. But you just can’t give up hope that it doesn’t exist, especially when your kids call this city home. So on the weekends you go searching so you can say to your kids, “See kids, real trees do exist” and “See that green stuff there? That’s called grass, it’s soft to walk on” as they scream and run away as though you have asked them to walk on lava.
So we ventured off outside of the usual 2 kilometre radius to descend upon “Ecopark” nestled in amongst the fun parks of Ancol. When you google “things to do in Jakarta with kids” most likely the recommendation will send you to the inside of one of the many malls where you will have to listen to tinny music and be haunted by freaky cartoon characters and tubs of plastic balls for weeks to come. It was time to get outside. It’s always a risk to take such a journey, even on a Sunday, but during Ramadhan the risk of an abundance of weddings blocking up roadways was not likely. Sometimes the thought of going further than 2 kilometers in Jakarta is kind of like contemplating the same kind of energy of driving from Melbourne to Sydney (that’s 800kms on a clear highway); should I or shouldn’t I? What else could I achieve within the 2km radius rather than leaving? These moments of realisation of how small your world has become can work to shake you out of the malaise and slap yourself in the face with a resounding, “This is so f-ing depressing, get me out of here”.
Arriving at such a late hour, also known as 9am, is not something recommended by Indonesians. It was already too panas and most of those inside the park looked like they had done their exercise and were ready to go before the sun started to turn their skin a darker shade. But for us, what a surprise! There were trees, there was a body of water, paddle boats, pedal cars and electric boats – c’mon, could it get any better? There were roadside stalls set up with a variety of betawi treats and sticky coconut rice and some weird jelly treat for the kids with chocolate sprinkles; we didn’t know where to begin. That was until we spied golf carts for hire – hello world, here we come. And we were off at 5 kms an hour laughing our butts off at the absurdity.
Our first lap around the venue we sighted a few mini-worlds inside the village; light shows and a strange komodo statue carrying an umbrella – best not to try and work out the meaning sometimes I guess – and as I tooted my horn and tried to overtake a pedal car in the shape of a volkswagon beetle and pink laden nannies grabbing at the wrists of small children missing our calls of “permisi, permisi, coming through” we came upon an animal park and thought we better check it out.
I am always caught between wanting my child to know that animals actually do exist while living in this city but not wanting her to see the horrible conditions that they exist in if they are unlucky enough to have been born or brought to this mad city which barely looks after its human inhabitants. Dogs in small cages, orangutans in smaller cages, birds boiling in little plastic bags for sale on the side of the road, elephants banging their heads on their small enclosures at the zoo – we have seen it all. The only animals that roam free are flea ridden, mangy mottled-fur-falling-off cats, three legged abandoned dogs and strangely the most healthy looking animals are the rats that race amongst the open garbage bins spewing out onto the street. So we drew our breath in, decided to risk it and pay the hefty entrance fee of 50,000 rupiah each (quite a lot more than the 3,500 rupiah to get into Ragunan) and hoped for the best.
Most of this part seemed under construction but the conditions didn’t seem too bad. They had a small petting section where ancient turtles existed within reaching (and kicking) distance of small children, miniature horses and donkeys baring their giant teeth at us hoping for a carrot, and a range of colourful, exotic birds sitting quietly on their perches waiting to be carried around. Tash and I looked at each other not daring to think too much about why they sit there so patiently without flying around; what kind of manipulation or torture has been used to tame these beautiful creatures. Blinkers up, change the subject. There was an amusing birds show where these beautiful birds flew over your head performing tricks. Trained animals. Blinkers up, change the subject. We just tried to focus on the well-maintained grounds the design up the venue which felt like you were on an episode of Survivor.
Our final stop, and another entrance ticket, was into the learning farm which housed a large, plastic playground – always a smart way to lure the kids in. And lured in we were indeed with the obligatory farmer’s hats perched on our heads, ducking and weaving under the hot sun to try and admire the gardens and see some vegetables growing, a random woman playing with a drone, rabbits and snakes and frogs in cages. Sometimes it is too hot to enjoy nature. Everyone else seemed to know that except us. Even the small market in the venue closed at 11am. We were pushing this nature thing too far.
I don’t know if you would really consider it an Ecopark, though it was as green as it gets in the city. It certainly felt fresh and outdoor-sy, the animals were only mildly tortured, the rubbish was hidden away. There was corn growing in a field. You don’t see that every day here. We were able to kid ourselves if only for a short morning, that everything was going to be ok. And as my little daughter tripped over a tree root and face planted a muddy puddle for the first time in her life, I hugged her and said, “This is nature my dear, isn’t it fabulous?”.