Taking any mode of transportation available, residents of Jakarta have begun streaming out of the capital in what could best be described as an orderly crush.
Maya Puspitasari, who was heading to her hometown of Bengkulu with her cousins, took the quickest option of flying, but she found herself stuck in toll-road gridlock on the way to the airport on Friday — at 5 a.m.
The jam’s cause was a long line of cars entering the airport complex. Once inside Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, Maya said the domestic terminal was unusually packed with people heading out of town. But even with the crowd, she said the mudik experience this year was more comfortable than previously.
“Fortunately, this year they provided more benches outside the departure gate,” she said. “Last year, I had to stand while I was waiting for my friends to show up.”
By 6 a.m., thousands of would-be passengers hauling heavy luggage had packed the check-in counters. “I can’t even move my trolley,” one woman told the Jakarta Globe. “It is still early in the morning but there are people everywhere.”
The waiting rooms at the boarding gates were also crowded, with many people forced to stand while waiting for their flight. Some were even sitting on the floor.
There were also more passengers than usual carrying cartons of donuts — a time-honored treat for passengers to take from Jakarta to their hometowns.
The Globe observed hundreds of people carrying the ubiquitous boxes. “I bought eight dozen donuts,” said Dyah, a college student. “There are no famous donut chains in my hometown.”
Those seeking an option cheaper than flying but without the hassle of traffic jams took the train, traditionally one of the more popular approaches to mudik.
Faozan Latief, who paid Rp 150,000 ($18) for a one-way ticket to his hometown of Tegal in Central Java, said the train was the best choice, assuming one could get a ticket.
“It’s the fastest way to get to Tegal,” he said. “It only takes six hours, but if you drove it’d take an additional two or three hours.”
The only hitch, he said, was getting tickets, which during this time of year tend to be scarce and expensive.
“I’d have preferred to take the executive train, but unfortunately tickets sold out quickly,” Faozan said. “It was either the business or economy class, because I wasn’t going to go by bus and get stuck in the heavy traffic.”
Armadita, a Yogyakarta native, agreed that mudik was best experienced by rail, having previously tried to make the trip by car and plane.
“I like trains the most because they’re more comfortable and affordable. Flying is faster, but on the train you enjoy the trip more because you can sightsee along the way,” she told the Globe.
However, she said she still expected state-owned railway operator Kereta Api Indonesia to improve the level of service for passengers.
“The seats are often damaged and not that comfortable, and the floors are often dirty,” Armadita said. “You also get panhandlers and hawkers on the economy and business-class trains.”
She also called on the government to better plan for mudik by cracking down on the practice of ticket scalping, which she blamed for exorbitant prices during the holiday period.
For Cameron Bates, a Web editor at the Globe, the trip to his wife’s hometown of Pringsewu district in Lampung was a combination of driving and taking a ferry. The latter involved a marathon 10-hour wait for a ferry at Merak Port in Banten.
“I spent 16 hours nonstop in the car from Jakarta to Pringsewu and only used half a tank of gas,” he said after arriving on Friday afternoon.
He said there were thousands of cars waiting to board the ferries, which were arriving at 45-minute intervals. Despite the sheer number of travelers, he said the whole process was “surprisingly orderly,” thanks to the efforts of the port workers.
Once at Lampung’s Bakauheni Port, however, the Trans-Sumatra Highway to Pringsewu was heavily pot-holed and the normally hour-long trip stretched to three hours.
“It looks like they’ve purposely dug up the road. I’ve never seen anything like it in 10 years of driving to Lampung,” Bates said. “It seems like they’re purposely preventing people from arriving.”
He added that a friend who had left Jakarta a day earlier on the same route had managed to beat the rush.
Cheap, but Risky
Motorcycles are by far the most popular form of travel for mudik.
Rahma Yunita, a kindergarten teacher in East Jakarta, told the Globe it took her and her husband six and a half hours by motorbike to reach their hometown of Garut, West Java, last year.
“It costs less than taking the executive bus,” she said, adding that bus tickets cost Rp 85,000 per person. “We only spend about Rp 50,000 on fuel and we can overtake the cars whenever there’s a traffic jam.”
She added that she was aware motorcyclists accounted for the majority of casualties every year during mudik, but she stressed they took all necessary precautions for a safe trip.
“We got lots of sleep earlier because we can’t afford to be sleepy on the road,” Rahma said. “We also keep what we’re bringing to a bare minimum because when you’re riding a motorcycle, you don’t want to take any risks.”