Jakarta, the Big Durian. It is as smelly as it is ripe with teaming amounts of traffic, people, and development. President Barak Obama made a stop in Indonesia and remarked at how the city had changed.

“Jakarta — now, Jakarta looked very different in those days.  The city was filled with buildings that were no more than a few stories tall.  This was back in 1967, ‘68 — most of you weren’t born yet.  (Laughter.)  The Hotel Indonesia was one of the few high rises, and there was just one big department store called Sarinah.  That was it.  (Applause.)  Betchaks and bemos, that’s how you got around.  They outnumbered automobiles in those days.  And you didn’t have all the big highways that you have today.  Most of them gave way to unpaved roads and the kampongs.

This is not the Jakarta I have come to know over the last 6 months. The Jakarta I know takes me 45 minutes to go 4.4km (2.7 miles) in bumper to bumper traffic for work. It’s part of the reason I’m happy to announce that we’ve left the city! We’re quieter people. Still, we embraced the fruity endeavors of Indonesia’s capital in search for work, but eventually what worked for us was to move out to Bandung. Phew! We’re both glad that chapter is over for living, yet we still have a lot of content and things to share here on Puzzled Pilgrim. One of those things we got to enjoy in Jakarta was Car Free Sunday.

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Every Sunday starting at 6am, long stretches of pavement are closed off to private vehicles from streets that stretch from central Jakarta down to south Jakarta. Thousands upon thousands of people take advantage of the freedom to walk, jog, bike, walk dogs, or just enjoy the outside in general. Only public buses fly through the streets which is great to get to different sections of the roads. Although the sweaty masses inside the bus make for a very smelly ride.

It is really great to see so many active people. A daily transit ride inside the city provides little exercise. Despite the current mayor’s efforts to revitalize public parks, it’s often just too hot to do any routine activity outside. Most people work in order to pay for an indoor gym, or perhaps make their way to the sports center and stadium in Gelora Bung Karno to walk around the track or use the fields for sports activities.

Going out on Car Free Sunday looks a bit like stepping inside an ant colony. That is, if an ant colony was outdoors and they all got together one day just to stretch their legs. The streets are teaming with people in numbers you can’t see congregated in any other fashion. The side streets come alive with food vendors and street salesmen. In Indonesia, it is very typical to find people camped out on the streets selling bootleg DVDS (there are no other kinds really sold even inside stores), face masks, freshly made doughy snacks with melted chocolate jimmies inside. The crème de la crème of the experience however revolves around the iconic central Jakarta Fountain on Jalan Sudirman (Jalan means street).

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The city has faced problems in the past with this event attracting vendors, corporate sponsored events, and noisy productions that detract from the area. Luckily, these events have been reduced and the only noisy sound you’ll hear is the roar of thousands of people enjoying the outdoors. There are also tons of cosplayers who come out to make a few dollars and show off their costumes. My favorite was a man in white linen, bound with rope and a small knot at the top of his head where the linen was tied. I was puzzled as to his strange look and behavior, as people were making great effort to avoid him. His face was painted white, and the eyes had large black paint enclosing his eyes. He stayed motionless until someone came close, reaching out and startling any who came too close. “What is that?” I asked my husband as we watched from above on a pedestrian overpass. “It’s an Indonesian ghost. Muslims are buried in white linen wrapped up just like that.” I wish I had taken a picture. Soon a group of young boys passed by, and the group shoved one of their own closer and closer to the stoic figure. Screeches and laughter emitted from the group as the victim was close enough to be touched, and the ghost made a trying attempt to scare him. The group eventually stopped pushing him, their task to get him in proximity fulfilled, and the boy ran straight down the road to avoid the ghost at all costs. I laughed.

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We continued walking passing musicians, bikers, roller skaters, and more. Some were fit in exercise gear and a mission to move. Most people were simply strolling out on their legs. If ever you are visiting a Jakarta on a Sunday, I highly recommend you come out to take a stroll. Given it’s not raining of course! It’s some of the best people watching the city has to offer. You can see some really diverse groups of people, and even perhaps some students rallying to promote events and causes collecting money as well as awareness. It really helped me identify with the city I was calling home at the time.

Here are some more pictures from Car Free Sunday, instagram posts from November from many different users. A great look at all the different kinds of people, groups, and activities.

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