Reclaimed Wood Diaries: Adventures In Sourcing Part I - the Indonesian prison teak

This story begins with a tip we received about a unique source of reclaimed wood: Reclaimed Teak timbers sourced from a dismantled Indonesian prison.  The prison had been built maybe as much as a century earlier, so we knew it was likely to be amazing old-growth wood. We decided to investigate.

I met up with my contact in Jakarta, who would be helping translate and navigating to the location of the wood. We had to drive across town to pick up the his local contact.  If you’ve ever been to Jakarta you know that a simple trip across town is never simple. After zipping in and out of the swarming motor-bikes, dodging a sea of pedestrians, and navigating through uncontrolled intersections we arrived at a plaza in the heart of the city.  After a quick circle around the block we locate our contact, who excitedly jumps into the backseat next to me and without introduction immediately begins speaking rapid fire Bahasa Indonesian. He is really excited and animated and they engage in a quick back-and-forth.  I can tell something is up, and we rapidly pull away from the plaza.  I finally interrupt to ask what is going on.

You have to understand, my contact is a very soft-spoken, demure young man. As I ask my question he develops a pained expression on his face as he searches for the right words to explain the situation.  It’s obvious he is trying to soften the impact, convey that I shouldn’t really be alarmed… But it turns out there was a bomb threat on the plaza.  To this day I’m not sure if there was actually a bomb that had been found, or only the threat. But of course I think about all of the people on that busy Jakarta plaza, and of course I think yes, we are truly on an adventure now.

We drive for a while down narrow back-alleys and side streets with various twists and turns, and I realize that I have no idea where I am now.  As dusk is setting in we arrive at what looks like a very small wooden shack-like structure with a recessed portico that resembles a car-port.  Behind this opening sits the Teak.  Beautiful, premium, old-growth reclaimed Teak.  There is at least 5000 board feet of material here, and it is stacked 10’ high and the beams run 20’ long easily.  Long lengths like this in reclaimed wood are rare.  They are big timbers: 8”x8”, 10”x 10”, and larger.  I realize as I look at this pile of wood that it appears that the wood was here first and the house was built around it!  I can’t imagine how we will ever remove the wood without first removing the buildings that surround it.  

After a brief introduction I begin inspecting the wood.  I borrow a small flashlight and in the growing darkness start climbing a ladder to the top of the pile of wood to get a better look. These are very tight quarters as the 10’ tall pile is surrounded by the house and various lean-to structures, a chicken-coop… There is also a tree growing right up through the middle of the stack, and one end of the pile is under the low-hanging roof of a neighboring structure. To reach the end of the pile (so that I can measure the length of the beams) I have slide along my belly on the top under this dark recess. As I begin inching into the darkness I think to myself “I wonder how many poisonous snakes live in Indonesia?” 

After some inspection and a verification of the dimensions and quantity we settle in to negotiate the purchase.  We sit down at a small table in the “outdoor” room under a single incandescent light bulb hanging from a wire.  It is very warm and humid…sweltering is the word I’m looking for.  As I sit down I realize I have seen this setting before… It is uncannily like a torture scene from the latest action-adventure movie.  Of course my guests are quite hospitable, and I have nothing to worry about, but nonetheless the ambiance is unsettling.

My hosts bring a cup of lukewarm, insanely strong and sweet coffee and offer me clove cigarettes, which they are chain-smoking during my entire visit.  The combined affect is intoxicating.  I'm having a hard time thinking straight....