March 1-2, 2015 – Java, Indonesia.

March 1: Semarang, Indonesia.

Our port today was Semarang, which is on the island of Java, in Indonesia. As we walked off the ship, we were greeted by Indonesian dancers and musicians and a purple dragon. The port city Semarang is in central Java, but we saw nothing of it, only the highway which headed up into the highlands, where our destination Borobudur is located. We were in a caravan of at least six tour buses and traveled with a police escort – for traffic control not military protection, fortunately. We made one rest stop along the way. Rest stop, in fact, any stop means vendors selling stuff to the tourists. I found a nice batik, however, and did my part to support the local economy. Borobudur, we were told, is the largest Buddhist monument in the world and was built in 750. Evidently, it was swallowed up by the jungle for hundreds of years but was rediscovered when Europeans started coming into the region. It has been restored a couple of times and today stands by itself on the top of a mountain. Rather than trying to describe it (as a big pile of dark stones), I will refer you to Denise’s pictures. Our guide was very considerate of our capabilities, although he couldn’t really do much about the heat. This temple is built in several levels, and visitors (worshipers) are supposed to receive some particular benefit from climbing to each level and walking completely around the monument several times at each level. The steps were very steep, and hand rails were available for only some of the stairways. Our guide brought us to each level and allowed us to rest between each one as he explained to us the stories about Buddha which were carved in bas relief at each level. We eventually made it to the top level, which contained a number of bell-shaped structures which have some significance which escapes me. Considering the time when this monument was built as well as its workmanship and unity of design, it’s really very impressive. But as we have found with other sites of this type, the huge number of other visitors gets in the way of any kind of meaningful communion with its spirit. When we had completed our tour, we walked over to a nearby restaurant where we were served a “typical” Indonesian buffet lunch. The food was good and plentiful, and we afterwards had the opportunity to do a little shopping for Indonesian handicrafts – dealing with the annoyingly aggressive local vendors as usual. Our next stop was a handicrafts center, where the vendors were easier to deal with, so we bought a nice piece of batik fabric for Denise. The bus ride both to and from Borobudur deserves a paragraph of its own. Having a police escort in Java evidently means that the bus can drive with no regard whatsoever for normal traffic rules, such as keeping to your own side of the road, not running red lights, and not traveling at a breakneck speed. Throughout the ride, people who could see in front of the bus frequently gasped or otherwise expressed shock and disbelief at what the driver was doing. But the police were in the car ahead leading the way, and after all, we did return to the ship in one piece. One passenger said it all: “This is the longest carnival thrill ride I’ve ever been on.”

March 2: Jakarta, Indonesia.

The ship docked this morning in the port of Tanjung Priok, near the city of Jakarta, on the island of Java, in the country of Indonesia. We were greeted by beautifully costumed Indonesian dancers accompanied by musicians playing various types of drums and one amplified stringed instrument which created a particularly discordant sound. Since we have a large number of Indonesian crew members, the ship had also set up a family waiting area for them under a big tent in order to facilitate family reunions. Our excursion today was entitled Jakarta Highlights, so we had a driving tour of the city with a few stops. The driving part we found somewhat depressing. We had been told to expect a lot of traffic, which there was. As in other cities we’ve seen, the number of motor bikes is astounding. But what floored us was the poverty. In one section near the port, homes were made of non-construction materials such as corrugated metal, sticks, and burlap. The downtown business district has an impressive skyline with skyscrapers for world class hotels and global companies, but almost every other building was in need of some type of repair, some in need of a lot of repair. Broken and uneven sidewalks, litter and even garbage, a smelly and polluted river with people fishing, and men sitting idle along the roadsides were some of the other “highlights” we noticed. One positive thing I saw, however, was that in certain areas along our route, the landscaping was totally fine. Several times, I saw workers pulling weeds, raking up leaves, and making public areas tidy. We understand that Jakarta has a huge problem because it’s sinking and is ripe for a major flooding disaster. I doubt that fine landscaping is going to help with that issue. The bus tour of Jakarta was supposed to provide a high-level introduction to the city and Indonesian culture. Our first stop was for taking photos of an obelisk celebrating Indonesian independence and the presidential palace. Next, we had a 45-minute stop at the national museum, where we found displays and objects relevant to the history of Indonesia. I found this to be a comfortable museum with interesting subjects and artifacts, and its display text was often written in English as well as in Indonesian. Perhaps significantly, our next stop was for one hour – at the main tourist mall in the city. We would have liked more time there because they had extensive collections of the work of Indonesian artisans and the Indonesian textile industry. The last stop on our tour was the Museum Wayang, celebrating the tradition of puppet making and performance which Indonesia is known for. Our guide in this museum was an actual puppet-maker, who explained how he makes the puppets and how his work has led him to relationships with UNESCO and other world organizations. Both his father and grandfather were puppet-makers, and he currently has hundreds of students from all over the world who want to learn his craft. During this museum stop, we could hear that a driving rainstorm had started, so we got soaked walking back to the bus. By the time we reached the ship, there were only sprinkles. I wish I could say that the rain had left Jakarta clean and sparkling. Not a chance.

Borobudur Buddhist Monument

Borobudur Buddhist Monument

Top of Borobudur

Top of Borobudur

 

View from Top of Borobudur

View from Top of Borobudur

Model of Borobudur Monument

Model of Borobudur Monument

 

Jakarta National Museum

Jakarta National Museum

 

Jakarta Puppet Museum

Jakarta Puppet Museum

February 26-February 28, 2015 – Bali, Indonesia.

February 26: Bali, Indonesia.

This morning we docked in the port of Benoa, near the city of Denpasar, on the island of Bali, near the island of Java, in the country of Indonesia. We are now entering unfamiliar countries, and I’m trying to make sure we get all the names right. Our view from the ship on one side was of lowland terrain with beaches, and on the other side was of the dock with welcoming musicians and dancers. The dancers were wearing brightly colored wrapped dresses of gold and red, with head coverings of the same colors. Men dressed in headgear, sarongs, and white shirts were playing the music, which involved various kinds of drums and flutes. They played quite a while to a very appreciative audience, I think. Originally, we were scheduled to arrive in Bali late in the afternoon today, but being unable to call at Geraldton a few days ago because of the weather, the Captain arranged for us to get to Bali this morning instead. Our Indonesian crew folks were glad for the change. The ship allows them to bring family members aboard and to entertain their families for the day. We’re happy for them.

After breakfast, we went down to the cruise terminal, which is a big square building next to the dock with walls partially open to the outside and lots of intricate wood decoration. It’s a haven for internet users. They have set up rows and rows of seats, which were filled with internet-starved individuals, both passengers and crew. Denise was finally able to call her brother and sister, and she spent some quality time catching up with them. Despite the intense heat, I took a walk across the courtyard to a small market but didn’t see anything I needed. One could hardly take a step without being approached by someone selling something, from a wooden tray to a taxi ride. I returned to the ship for lunch, but Denise wanted to take advantage of the good internet to conduct some business so she stayed longer. But it was far longer than she had anticipated. Problems with AT&T kept her on the phone for hours, and the problem with voicemail messages was never resolved. What a waste of time. I sat on the deck while she was out but then went to the Lido with her for her lunch when she finally returned. Since I needed to do the Perth post, we went back to the terminal for their good and free internet, and the posting was painless and fast for a change. We returned to the ship to eat dinner; and since Denise had more business to do (because of needing to accommodate U.S. time), we went back out to the terminal later in the evening. So many people were still there. I returned eventually because I started seeing mosquitos, and Denise stayed out a while longer, still unable to resolve her cell phone issues.

February 27: Bali, Indonesia.

Our excursion today included some cultural sites in the southeastern area of the island of Bali. We learned from our guide Stefanos that even though the country of Indonesia is mostly Moslem, Bali is mostly Hindu. Consequently, the culture is a little familiar to us because of our awareness of India and our Indian Hindu friends. I gather from what Stefanos told us that Hindus feel a certain responsibility for the health of the universe, which they pray to be cleansed every 100 years. In the meantime, religion seems to be an important part of the life of every Balinese. They pray daily, maintain multiple temples in their homes and communities, make offerings to both good and evil gods (Hindus recognize that life has both bad and good and that their responsibility is to keep these forces in balance), and conduct religious rites which are required for the spiritual health of their families and communities. We saw lots of evidence of their religion during our drive through the countryside today. Structures that look like temples (with the upturned pagoda-type roof) were present in every village. From the road, we could also see temples in almost every home. Offerings had been placed not only in homes but also in public places, such as at intersections along the roadway.

Our tour bus today was very small, clearly made for Balinese and not for Americans. It provided a most uncomfortable ride because we had to be so squished together, but at least it was clean, new, and air conditioned. The first stop on our tour was at Klungkung, which is the site of a former royal palace which was partially destroyed when the Dutch invaded Indonesia in the early 1900s. Today, we can see pavilions with amazingly detailed drawings of historical and mythological significance, water features, and perfectly manicured grounds. Back on the bus, we drove for a long while and eventually arrived at the Besakih Temple, the “Mother Temple of Bali.” It’s located just down the mountain from an active volcano, which we could not see today because of rainclouds. The bus stopped in a market space, but we ignored the goods and the vendors and walked uphill towards the temple grounds. We turned a corner and there it was rising high into the sky in front of us. It looked like a series of black thatched roofs stacked one on top of the other. That was the main temple, and there were more than 20 others nearby. The predominant color of the temples was black – because of the black volcanic stone used in their construction. Our guide led us up what seemed like hundreds of very steep steps on a circular course around the various temples and pointed out to us groups of people who were praying and presenting their offerings. He said that the temples are always busy because people throughout Bali come here regularly to pray and to get supplies of holy water that is needed for personal and community devotions. After we finished looking at the temples, we started back down a long hill towards the bus. We assume this route was chosen deliberately because it was lined with dozens of vendor stalls, selling all sorts of Balinese goods: sarongs, aprons, shirts, wooden ware, masks, puppets, magnets, drinks, foods, etc., etc. Walking through here, we were constantly being accosted by someone trying to sell us something. We found it very off-putting and could not consider stopping to look at anything because we would not be allowed to make any buying decision in peace.

Our next stop was a restaurant for a very nice buffet lunch. The name of the restaurant was Mahagiri, located in Rendang. The setting was spectacular. We were atop a hill overlooking a terraced mountain of rice fields. While we were at the temple and as we were driving towards the restaurant, we noticed that the rainclouds were intensifying. Fortunately, the rain held off until we were inside the restaurant. But what a rain it was – possibly the heaviest rainfall I’ve ever witnessed. It didn’t last long, but it was intense. We were all seated comfortably inside, even though the dining space had no walls. Some of the foods provided were white rice, fried rice, fried noodles, chicken with sauce, soup, sautéed vegetables, and pork satay with peanut sauce (the best peanut sauce I’ve ever had). Our guide had told us that Balinese food is normally spicy, but this was not, and everyone seemed to enjoy it. For dessert, they offered fruit: papaya, watermelon, fried plantains, and lychee. I felt very brave because this was the first lychee I’d ever tasted. It was good. Our final stop was in the coastal town of Amlapura, at a royal palace which is evidently still being used by the remaining royal family members. The palace grounds held several buildings and pavilions but were not impressive as palaces go.

A few notes about driving in Bali:

-For most of the day, we were driving over busy but narrow roads. The roads were wide enough to support a white line down the middle, but that line was a fiction if it was supposed to mean there’s enough room for two cars to pass comfortably.

-Our route took us through lush jungle foliage, which seemed impenetrable most of the time, and past flooded fields where rice was being grown. Occasionally, there would be a cow tethered in a clearing or chickens pecking among the roadside plants. Examples of “your basic dog” were everywhere. FYI – the guide told us that Hindus don’t eat dog meat because they consider the dog an unclean animal.

-In general, the homes are built right up to the road. A wall separates the house from the street and encloses a paved courtyard. If the home includes a business, the shelves for goods or the service areas are practically in the street. Arrangements of this type along the roadways seemed to be working for fruit and vegetable sellers, roosters (for cock fighting), convenience shops, lumber yards, stone cutters, auto and bike repair shops, and purveyors of garden plants, among others.

-On the way back to the ship, we were driving during rush hour and got hung up in traffic a few times. Bali is one of those places where the number of motor bikes seems to exceed the number of cars on the road, and the driving habits of these bike drivers are typical of the breed. We thought some of the hair-raising situations that we witnessed would have led to accidents, but they didn’t.

Back on the ship, we had cocktails and then dinner, where we made a point of talking with our Indonesian dining room people about the past couple of days. Leaving their families and returning to the ship must have been hard for them.

February 28: At Sea Day.

DISCLAIMER: During the day today, we spoke with other passengers who have more experience with Bali than we do. I need to emphasize that our somewhat negative account is based solely upon our experience in driving to these cultural sites. Evidently, Bali has modern amenities which make it a popular destination for tourists from all over the world, particularly Australia. We just didn’t see those parts of the island.

Pavilion in Klungkung Palace

Pavilion in Klungkung Palace Complex

Lily Pond in Klungkung Palace Complex

Lily Pond in Klungkung Palace Complex

Besakih Temple Steps

Besakih Temple Steps

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Besakih Temple Grounds

Besakih Temple Grounds

 

 

 

 

View of Rice Fields from Mahagiri Restaurant

View of Rice Fields from Mahagiri Restaurant

 

 

Pavilion at Amlapura Palace

Pavilion at Amlapura Palace

 

 

 

 

View of Rice Fields from Mahagiri Restaurant

View of Rice Fields from Mahagiri Restaurant

Besakih Temple Grounds

Besakih Temple Grounds