Sunday, April 5, 2009

More Tropical Adventures

After two weeks and over 3,000 miles of cruising less than half-way around Australia (roughly from 4 o'clock counter-clockwise to 11:30, so to speak), we headed north to Indonesia. Our first stop was Komodo Island,
the only place in the world where the world's-largest lizards known as Komodo Dragons live in the wild. At $98 per person for the shore excursion, however, we decided we'll wait 'til we're in Seattle and see a no-longer-wild one at the zoo.
Because it's an Indonesian National Park and the dragons are dangerous (a non-tourist woman was killed by one two days before our visit), we could not go ashore without being on a tour with trained guides. We did get to see a traditional fishing village from our ship, and these two fellows
who never did figure out how they were going to sell anything to the folks on our huge cruise ship, as the lowest open deck on the ship is only ten feet closer to the water than where this shot was taken from. By the way, the dragon tour info included the warning that the animals can smell blood from two miles away, and suggested that menstruating women consider not taking the tour. As with most cruise ships, of course, precious few of the passengers had to do those troublesome time-of-the-month calculations.

Next was Bali. Incredible Bali. Colorful Bali.
On Bali after getting this nice welcome courtesy of the local port we hopped a tour bus and covered 125 km, deeply immersing ourselves into this fascinating place. Although the mountains get to over 10,000'
we stayed mostly in the lower foothills, where we visited two temples and a traditional village.

The first stop was Klungkung Kertagosa, where we visited the "Floating Temple." The stonework on this 250-year-old temple was very interesting, and the painted ceilings stunning.

Equally interesting was the adjacent center of town, marked by a monument to Bali soldiers who died fighting the Dutch in 1907. There was a continuous stream of motorbike traffic around the circle, with motorbikes carrying loads of bread, entire families, and other unlikely things. Along the main street were stores of a type we would see all day, open to the street and frequently adorned with guys sitting around, not unlike old American images of guys sitting around the cracker barrel at the general store.

Next stop was Pura Kehen temple, over 900 years old and still very active. Our guide pointed out these palm baskets of offerings, seemingly random but just the opposite, carefully organized to contain flowers and fruit of certain traditional colors and in a carefully prescribed order. The stone work of the temple was quite impressive and the temple a peaceful place, with even the chickens in a sort of zen state.

Our tour took us some 125 km through Bali, and in almost every area we went we drove past rice paddies in various stages of growth, from just-planted to just-about-to-be-harvested. Many times we saw water buffalo helping with the labor, or saw thatch structures for housing either the water buffalo or their food.

Almost as ubiquitous as the rice paddies were the sarong salesladies, who showed up at each of our stops with their wares balanced on their heads (a common method of carrying things that we saw all day and with things as diverse as firewood and baskets of vegetables). The sarong ladies did everything short of tackling us to try to make a sale. The material is gorgeous, but just how many sarongs do you really need? Our last stop took us to a traditional village where cloth is made, and hopefully these photos will do justice to them.

The town of Tenganan Pegeringsingan was fascinating, from the colorful roosters (for cock fighting) to the dogs and water buffalo wandering through town, it was a way of life quite unlike anything you're likely to see on our usual side of the Pacific.

By the way, we barely dodged, by 2 days, a holiday that would have been quite interesting though troublesome to our sightseeing, "Absolute Quiet Day." According to the official notice in the local paper, "No light may be lit, no work may be done, no travel may be carried out, no amusement may be made," in fact no plane may land nor cruise ship dock, except in an emergency, island-wide. How do you think Absolute Quiet Day would fly back in the States...?

Our third stop in Indonesia was in Semarang on the island of Java. This is one of the most densely populated large islands on earth, with over 100 million people. Our main destination was Borobodur, the largest temple in the Southern Hemisphere and one of the oldest, about 1300 years old! To get there we drove 55 miles in a bus caravan
escorted the whole way by police, which was a good thing given the traffic. Even so, it took almost 2 hours, with the road an almost uninterrupted mass of small houses and small shops, except for this one rubber plantation. But the temple was worth it, as these photos will hopefully show.

Borobodur is a Buddhist temple, though it has Hindu stylistic elements. It was used as a pilgimage site and teaching tool, with numerous carvings illustrating incidents in the life of Buddha or points of Buddhist thought. Pilgrims would start at a certain point on the lowest level and walk all the way around, learning and meditating as they went, then rise to a higher level of the temple as they rose to a higher level of understanding. Time has taken its toll on some of the temple, particularly on the heads of the many, many Buddhas, but a surprising amount of the stonework is in good shape, and fascinating.

Well, not sure we gained enlightenment with altitude, but at last we reached the highest level. Those bell-shaped structures are called stupa, and inside each one was a Buddha. Since no one on earth reaches true Nirvana, no one can reach the very highest point of the temple, as you can see.

Nearby was an excellent lunch, with the most unusual item than thin cone on the dessert dish. It was a sweet rice paste that you ate by unpeeling the palm leaf it was wrapped in. Then back to the bus, but this time with a break for a 10 km ride on a steam train. Not sure how old the engine was, but our car was built in 1906.

It was a good antidote to the road, as we got out more into the rice fields behind all the roadside clutter, and the countryside was indeed beautiful, and some of the houses along the tracks quite interesting. All too soon it was over, however, and we felt about as beat as these pedicab drivers we saw along the road on the way back to the boat.

Well, that's it for our quick introduction to Indonesia. We have many more exciting places coming up, and few dull ones, so it may be a while before we can continue with the next "installment." But hang in there, we will eventually bring you by word and picture back to the Pacific Northwest. Here's the route we're taking from Sydney to Hong Kong, with Singapore, Bangkok and Saigon up next.