Saturday, February 9, 2013

Day 35 - Java

Guide shows us a Nutmeg Nut

Today we docked in Semarang, on the island of Java in Indonesia. We had breakfast sent into the room so we could make our early tour start.  Today's tour was called "Steam Train and Plantation."  We first took an hour bus ride to a plantation where they grow coffee, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, rubber trees, and a couple of kinds of fruit I have ever seen before. We took a walking tour of the main grounds where we saw examples of the various plants and trees, then saw how they shell and grind the coffee by hand.  Coffee, tea, and pastries were waiting for us on the patio for refreshment before re-boarding our bus.

Steam Train

The bus then took us to the train station.  This is also a train museum, with 21 engines on display.  There were also musicians playing Indonesian instruments in the station, as well as a number of locals walking around trying to sell us souvenirs.  They had batik bags, shadow puppets, hats, postcards, and a few other local items.  Years ago I might have bought something, but since we moved into a smaller house last year my first thought is now "what would I do with it when I get home?" 

Locals wave to the train as we go by. Foreground is a rice paddy

We boarded the open air train and took a wonderful round-trip ride through the Java country side.  This was a great chance to get an idea of what life is like for people who live on Java.  We saw rice paddies, people fishing in shallow ponds, and local villages.  All along the way people waved and smiled.

After the train ride we rode back to the plantation for an Indonesian lunch, then embarked on the hour long ride back to the ship. 

Fishing from a Small Boat

All of this was great, but the best part of the whole tour was the bus ride itself.  We were in the 2nd bus in a convoy of 4 buses with a police escort leading the way.  Java has a lot of traffic on 2-4 lane roads. Whenever the roads got congested, the police directed traffic either on our side of the road or in the oncoming lanes to move over and let us through.  We went through red lights and very often drove on the wrong side of the road, following the police lead.  

Red Police car leads our bus convoy

To make it more interesting, there are more motor bikes on the roads here than cars.  Ray & I managed to get the front row seats on the bus, just behind and above the driver, so we had a great view of the maneuvers. I got some great video of the ride. 

Without this police escort, I am sure we would not have made it to the plantation and back in the 6 hours allotted.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Day 34 - Java Sea

Not much to talk about today. We cruised the Java sea all day on our way to the next port, Semarang, Java. There was a lecture this morning on Borobudur, which is an ancient monument probably used as a Buddhist teaching tool. Fascinating place, but the tour would be too strenuous for us, so we opted for a different experience tomorrow.
There was a wine tasting event in the main lobby this morning, which I did attend briefly. I confirmed that I still like wines from Chile over French. :-). An art auction rounded out the afternoon.
We decided to order room service for dinner and not have to get dressed up.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Day 33 - Bali

We arrived at Benoa Port, Bali, Indonesia to a beautiful sunrise this morning.  There is one problem with going out on the balcony to get a quick photo in this part of the world.  The camera lens always fogs up as soon as I take it from the air conditioned room to the humid air outside.   I've tried wiping the lens, but it just fogs up again until the camera warms up.  So the first few shots I took of this sunrise look a lot hazier than they should.

Our tour for today was "Balinese Arts & Crafts."  We had to meet the tour at 8:30AM, so we had breakfast in our room again. We are just not morning people, but the frequent time zone changes we've made help.  We've gone through 5 time zones since we boarded the ship In Auckland, each one giving us another hour to sleep in the mornings.

The tour was very interesting.  It seems that everyone in Bali is either an artisan or a farmer.  We began by visiting a place where they made beautiful bamboo furniture.   They have over 60 varieties of bamboo and they have mastered the craft.  We both left with a new appreciation for this art.

The next stop was a woodcarving village.  The local population is Hindu, and they believe in many gods.  The first thing they do when they build a house is to build a small home temple. Every temple needs statues.  Some are wooden and some are stone.  Although we did not stop at a stone carvers shop, we saw many many examples of this art form as we drove around the island.  In the wood carving shop they also had many animal carvings and wall hangings.  We picked up a nice wall hanging of carved birds.

Temple behind Artist Community.
Painting was the next craft we saw.  The guide brought us to an artist community where they had many rooms showing paintings in many styles.  The work was beautiful. A few of the artists were working out on the front porch to demonstrate their craft.   There were so many rooms I almost couldn't find my way out again. 

There was a large temple area behind the art studios.  Ray took the photo of it at the left.  Note the cloth around the waist of the main statue.  The locals believe that a checkered cloth represents the balance between good and evil and that wrapping their statues in a cloth like this will ward off evil.  Another item in this photo is not quite as obvious. There are 2 red and gold cages to the right of the temple, behind the tree.  These hold fighting cocks, one of the popular island sports.

Gold and silver jewelry was next.  They have to import the material from other islands, but the jewelry is made here.  They also had some beautiful filigreed wall art and figurines such as ships, birds, and buildings.  The work was very delicate and detailed.

The last stop was a place where they hand-made batik cloth.  There are 3 methods.  The first is to draw a design on cloth, cover areas that are not to be dyed with wax, then dip the cloth in the color desired for the design.  Since a batik always has the design on both sides, the wax must be applied to both sides.   The second way is to stamp a pattern onto a cloth.  They use metal stamps, most of which appeared to be about 8-10" squares, so the pattern is repeated over the cloth.  The third way to to weave the cloth.  Of course, this was also a store where you could buy art, bolts of material, scarfs, sarongs, shirts, and other clothing.

Rice Paddies

As I mentioned, the locals all seem to be either artists or farmers. Every inch of land we saw was filled with something.  If there was a few feet of open land, there would be rice fields of some other plants growing in neat rows.

I really enjoyed Bali and would have like to have seen more. We were originally supposed to be in Bali for 2 days and had a second tour called "Ancient Bali" scheduled, but since we got here a day late that is not to be.   Maybe if we're lucky we might get back here some day.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Day 32 - Komodo Island

Regent Seven Seas Voyager in Komodo Harbor

We anchored off the coast of Komodo Island early this morning.  The entrance to the harbor is pretty spectacular. Jagged peaks and lush green surrounding beautiful, calm, blue water.  Because we made such good time getting here last night, all the tours started a half hour early.  Ray stayed on the ship today because he didn't think he could manage gettting on and off the tender.  The tender ride to the dock was short this time, maybe only 5-10 minutes.  There was only one tour available, and hour long nature walk through the Komodo National Park.

Komodo Dragon

There were 25 groups, each consisting of about 20 tourists, a park ranger guide, and 2 other park rangers with special forked sticks to fend off Komodo Dragons in the event any of the decided to attack.  Once my group was all together, we began the hike into the forest. The guide stopped occasionally as we walked to tell us about the plants and trees along the way.  We walked the path for about a half hour without seeing any animals and I was beginning to think that was it. Then we came to a sign asking everyone to keep quite.  Just beyond the sign was a watering hole and there were 4 Komodo Dragons lounging around the clearing.   There was nothing between us and the dragons.  We circled around them taking pictures. One of them started to walk towards us and the people in front of him slowly moved to the side.  Our guide said they only eat about once a month, but the rangers with the sticks were standing ready. 

There are supposedly lots of other animals in the forest.  The Komodo dragon will eat just about anything.  We saw a couple of deer in the distance as we walked through the forest.  Near the end of the trail we spotted a group of deer resting in the shade.

Of course, at the end of the trail, the locals had a market set up to sell carvings, t-shirts, and batiks. I bought a couple of mementos before getting in line to get a ride back to the ship.

It was really hot and humid out there.  My clothing was soaked by the time I got back to the ship.  The first order of business was definitely a shower.   We then went out on the balcony to watch our sail away.  There were kids in small boats all around the ship begging people to throw them some money, and they stayed right up until the ships engines were started.

In previous posts I have talked about the problems that have plagued this portion of our journey.  Although the cyclone delay and the singer's death that kept us an extra day in Darwin were events out of the cruise company's control, their management has decided to give everyone on board a credit off a future cruise amounting to 50% of the price of the Sidney to Singapore segment of this cruise.  I think that is very generous.  We are already thinking about how we can use that next year.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Day 31 - Timor Sea

Today we sailed northwest across the Timor Sea. North of us are the islands of Indonesia.  The water hear is fairly shallow and very calm. 

I was amazed to learn how large Indonesia is.  The country consists of many islands spread over an area as wide as the entire USA.   We are heading towards the west side of the island group, to Komodo Island.  This will be a short stop tomorrow.  We will anchor offshore and take tenders in for a few hours on the island before continuing on.

Since I don't have ports to write about today, I'll talk about life on the ship.  The ship's main restaurant is on the 4th floor so it is fairly close to the water line.   This is the view from our breakfast table.   After breakfast each morning we go to the lounge for a half hour or so to give the housekeeping staff time to clean our room.  For those who are interested, there are card games, jigsaw puzzles, quiz games, exercise classes, board games, bocce, shuffleboard, ping pong, bingo, and of course, the pool. There is usually a lecture at 10AM and, if it's something we are interested in, we go to the theater to hear it.  Otherwise, we go back to the room to read and watch the world go by.

  There was an art auction this afternoon and a lecture on Indonesia music.  The times conflicted, so I went to the art auction and met Ray at the lecture when the auction was over.     The art on this ship includes some more valuable pieces than I've seen on other cruise lines we've been on.  They auctioned off several Rembrandts, Picassos, etc.   They also give out raffle tickets and a small print to people who attend the auction and I won a piece of art fin the raffle.  Not a Rembrandt or Picasso, but I got to choose from 5 works by contemporary artists, several of which I like.  I choose a lithograph by Csaba Marcus, an artist Ray & I have been admiring.  He is around our age, so the chances of his work appreciating a lot in our lifetime is not great, but the first rule in art is "collect what you like."

We had a nice turkey dinner in the restaurant tonight.  It seems that they offer this once every cruise.  

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Day 30 - Leaving Australia

We spent last night and this morning at dock in Darwin, but the authorities released us this afternoon.  They determined that the singer who died yesterday died of natural causes. 

Marker for site where USS Peary was sunk in WWII
While the police were completing their investigation, the crew still had to remain on board, but passengers who had tour tickets from yesterday were allowed to go on the rescheduled tours this morning.  We went on a 2 hour harbor tour on what appeared to be a small ferry.  It was a very hot morning, but the boat was air conditioned inside and had a outer deck we could go out on to take photos.  The ship's captain talked about the history of the bay, particularly how it featured in World War II.  Darwin was an important strategic point that the Japanese tried to hold.  The same generals who attacked Pearl Harbor, attacked here and in a similar plan.  There were few civilians hear because they had enough warning to evacuate, but there were significant American Naval casualties.  Most of the Australian military was deployed in Europe and Asia fighting for Great Britain, so the only native force left behind were local militia.  That was our first history lesson for today.

Today was Super Bowl Sunday.  Originally, there were a number of passengers who were upset because the ship was not planning to purchase broadcast rights to be able to show the Super Bowl on board.   As a result of the complaints and delays,  the entertainment  crew arranged for the broadcast rights.  They showed it in the theater and broadcast it to the TVs in our rooms.  Due to the time difference, it began at about 9:30AM.  We were out on the harbor tour, but when we got back to our room it was still in the 3rd Quarter.  We went up to the pool grill to grab lunch and bring it back to the room to watch the game.  The only disadvantage was that we didn't get any of the U.S. commercials.  We only got Australian commercials, and they were not very interesting.

Arrow Points to our Room on the 7th floor
After the game there was another lecture by our favorite speaker, Sandra Bowren.  This time she talked about the history of Indonesia.   I never realized how large or how diverse Indonesia is.  That will be our next stop, the day after tomorrow.  The revised itinerary was delivered this afternoon.  We will still be stopping at Komodo Island the day after tomorrow, but after that we will only be in Bali for one day instead of two.

The ship was untied from the dock promptly at 1PM today and we made a brisk exit from Darwin Harbor.  I got the feeling the crew was just as anxious to leave Australia as we were to be on our way.

Day 29 - Darwin

This section of the cruise seems to have a curse on it.  We are fine, but things do keep going wrong on the ship.  First we had to wait out a cyclone in Brisbane and wound up with a day and a half at anchor in the harbor, 2 extra days at sea, and skipping 2 scheduled ports.  Just before we weighed anchor to leave Brisbane, a passenger was med-evaced via helicopter.  The helicopter pilot had to land on our ship in rough water and did a great job.  (We had a later report the man was stable and being well cared for.)

According to the specs we've seen, this ship is supposed to be able to do 20 knots, but we haven't seen it do more than 16 knots since we left Sydney.  We're guessing (hoping) this was due to a miscalculation of current and wave heights.  We were supposed to have 1 day at sea between Cooktown and Darwin, arriving at Darwin at 9AM this morning.  However, the captain announced we would not be arriving at Darwin until 1:30PM.  For some reason we are traveling a bit slower than planned.   But that wasn't the last of the story.

Docking at Darwin Harbor amid sailboat flotilla

 While we were attending a lecture on Flags of the World this morning, a "code 9" emergency was announced for the crew.  We didn't find out until we docked in Darwin after 2PM that a crew member died this morning.   We found out later that it was one of the performers, a 24 year old American woman.  That's all we know so far.  When we docked, the local authorities boarded to investigate.  They would not clear anyone to leave the ship until after 4pm. 

Darwin Botanical Gardens

Of course, that fouled up the tour schedule.  One tour went out with an abbreviated itinerary, but all others were cancelled.  They substituted a 2 hour tour of the city, botanical gardens and a few other photo stops for anyone who wanted it.  We took them up on it. 

Darwin is a small city, so the city tour part didn't take long.  Our first stop was at the Botanical Gardens.  We had a half hour to wander the paths.  This is the rainy season, so the gardens were lush.

The next stop was at Dudley Point.  The guide said this is a great spot for sunsets and there were several photographers with cameras set up on tripods.  All afternoon the sky has been threatening and there had been lightning in the distance.  Minutes after we were all back on the bus it started to pour.  I hope the photographers all got their cameras covered in time.
Photographer on Rocks at Dudley Point

We made one more stop, in the Darwin National Park, but I did not get out this time to take pictures.  There was a sign at the entrance to the park advising everyone to cover up to avoid insect bites.  I decided I didn't want to take that rick in order to get closer to a few trees.

Today is Sunday so the regular stores in town all closed at 3pm, before we were allowed off the ship.  The locals made up for that by having vendors set up in the terminal.   We had a few Australian dollars left, so we did a little shopping before we got back on the ship.

Since everyone was getting back late, the regular dinner schedule was off too, so they had an Italian buffet set up to get everyone fed quickly.  While we were eating dinner, the captain came on the PA to announce that the authorities are not letting us leave port tonight.  They are not allowing any crew members to leave the ship.   We are now scheduled to be here until about 12:30PM tomorrow.  The good news is that all the tours that were cancelled today are rescheduled for tomorrow morning.  The bad news, which we have not received yet, is that our itinerary is probably going to change again.  I feel sorry for the people who got on in Sydney and are scheduled to get off in Singapore.  They have traveled this far and 2, maybe 3 of the 9 ports will be skipped.