Indescribable

Trip Start Feb 21, 2007
1
5
18
Trip End Apr 12, 2007


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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

3/14/2007
Ah Bali... So many images that are never captured on film. A woman carrying a folded umbrella on her head. A little girl with her arm around her brother, both under a small bright pink umbrella to match their mother's big one. Shrines and temples poking out from the undergrowth. Women preparing offerings at the local temple. Rain bouncing off the stonework. Sarong vendors carrying their sarongs on their heads, crowding around tourists like bees. On our first stop I got so surrounded that a policeman had to extract me.
Our disembarkation from the tender was greeted by dancers with a gamelan orchestra. Floressa Bali met our group of 12 as promised. They put a lei of frangipani and orchids around each of our necks and gave us a packet of postcards, a printed itinerary, and a Bali map. They showed us courtesies that we as Americans can't even imagine. In the rain they provided us umbrellas. They took them out of the back of the mini-van and held them over the door for us as we got out. I felt like a Sultan. As an aside, a 13 hour tour which includes lunch, a kecak (pronounce kechak) dance, and all fees cost us $62 each.
We had the freedom of a small group. On our first stop we had the place all to ourselves and left just as 3 big buses arrived. When we saw a picture that called to us, we stopped and took it. We took our time, except toward the end when we had to run to our dance performance.
Floressa gave us 2 minivans of 6 each, so we had 2 drivers and 2 guides, all speaking excellent English. The guides were really wonderful people and shared details of their religion, Bali private life, Bali agriculture, Bali eating. A person can eat 1 kg / day of rice. That's 350,000 tons of rice a day to feed Bali.
The Hindu religion is incredibly complex with hundreds of stories and art forms. The art contains lots of fierce looking monsters to scare off the evil spirits. The reason for the elaborately carved scary looking creatures on the prows of their boats is to scare the evil spirits that live in the sea.
The ceilings of the Kerta Ghosa religious court in Klungkung is filled with paintings showing the cause and effect between life in the world and after death. People who commit sexual pecadillos are shown with flames applied to the appropriate parts. People who pass gas are shown with the offending member being hacked off by a wicked looking blade.
There were also paintings related to astrology. There is a painting for each day of the year. If you are born on the day represented by a picture of a man attacking a monster, you will be very stubborn, and you will do great good for you community but people will not appreciate you very much. If you are born under the picture of a man plowing a field behind 2 water buffalo, you will have a tough childhood but a better adulthood. If you are born under the sign of a sick man, well, the meaning is obvious.
At the 13th century Kerteh temple, the rain really let loose. We all had to wear sarongs, provided at the entrance, to show our respect for the temple. Of course our feet and shoes got soaking wet. This reminds me why I wore nothing but flip flops on my prior trip here. To tell you the truth, I know nothing about this temple except what it looks like. I kept wandering off from the guides to take pictures, and the avoidance of the rain (what avoidance) kept me from concentrating. They use a black palm thatch in the roofs which I love. When I took a picture of a very tall multi-story pagoda, I found how hard it was raining as the water is just streaming off each layer.
We had lunch at the wonderful Lakeview Restaurant on the shores of Lake Batur, overlooking Mt. Batur. I guess. Actually, the view was shut off that day. But we had 3 courses served buffet style, and the Bali Hai Beer was the best yet since I left California. We discussed this name with the guide. Americans all know Bali possibly because of South Pacific and the song Bali Hai. It doesn't mean anything in Bali, but many things are called Bali Hai. We think they took the name from the Musical.
After a leisurely hour, we headed downhill to Tampak Siring to the holy water temple, Tirta Empul which means bubbling water. The temple was built in 960AD. Everything about this temple was a delight to the senses. The amazing lush jungle behind the temple contains a spring which provides water for the lovely pools in the temple grounds. They had  golden  deer, a rooster in a cage, cooky loving carp and many beautiful art pieces and pavillions. Again, I don't know much about it as I just wandered around and took pictures.
By this time we are really late so we completely missed Ubud and the silver/gold smiths. Which is ok as Ubud is a whole day, and silver/gold smiths can cost a lot of money. We visited a privately owned wood carving shop. The owners lived in front of the shop. It was like driving into a museum or temple. The place was elaborately decorated. Not knowing that the front was living quarters I wandered back to see the elephants, the open air pavillion with a gilt screen and living room furniture, and the gardens. I knew something was wrong when I encountered a guard dog in a cage and armed guards. I assumed a humble position and they let me take pictures. Which is pretty incredible, but I was very careful not to even hint that I might do some damage.
The merchandise were all museum pieces. They used mahogany, ebony, and a local wood - they said the name but not in English. They also used hibiscus wood, which was light colored with dark shading. I missed the erotic section, as well as the salad tongs, which were of the size and price that I might have been able to take home.
At the painting studio a man hounded me wherever I went. It was quite annoying. But I did like a painting of a festival with banners flying in the background, umbrellas in the middle ground and lots of people in the foreground. He started at $120, but ended at $40 including the hand carved frame. Ed is wondering how I'm going to get that home.... Once I had bought a painting, the guy became quite agreeable and fun. Not before.
We went to a fabulous batik shop. A woman was drawing batik designs in wax with the fabric on her lap! She drew an group of hibiscus on Millie's hat, and drew an elaborate dragon on Ed's t-shirt. The dragon occupies the whole shirt front. Luckily Ed was wearing a white shirt, and we will probably frame it. Definitely don't wash it in hot water as the wax will melt and go away. I believe the shop was Kartika Batik. I searched for something for myself, but nothing quite worked. I've always wanted a batik painting and I finally chose one featuring Hanuman, the monkey king and his minions carrying a palanquin with Rama and Sita in it. Did I mention I've always wanted a QUALITY painting in batik? Well the painting was $675 because it was by a famous artist. The manager finally came down to $300, but I really had to ask how this fierce scene would fit into my decor (it doesn't), 2 minivans of people were waiting for me, and I didn't have any money and didn't want to pay the charge for the credit card. So I walked away with nothing.
We finally arrive at Batubulan, the Kecak Dance place. There is no gamelan orchestra. The background is provided by a choir of about 100 men chanting chak, chak, chak..... and other asian sounds. The parts of the men are played by women, which confused me as I could not find Rama and his cousin. The costuming was wonderful and interesting. At the end men in the choir built a fire and poured gas on it and the monster stomped around in it in his bare feet, then threw burning sparks all over himself. I think for $5 we got our money's worth.
By the way, the ship charged $89 for an 8 hour tour; $59 just to go to the kecak dance. We did a 13 hour tour including Kecak for $62pp.
On our at sea day, the Filipinos put on a show at 11:15pm, after the regular show. They were wonderful, singing songs and doing national dances. Apparently there are not enough Filipino women on board, so the final dance substituted men with giant balloon breast implants in the female parts. There was our wine steward in a blond wig, hamming it up. They all volunteered for the show, and we were told they rehearsed between midnight and 3am, then in some cases showed up at 5:30am to start breakfast.
3/16/2007 Semarang
Semarang is not nearly as bad as they say. Yes, there is trafic, pollution, and rather few sights, and it is more a commercial center than a tourist center. But the $25/hour taxi did not materialize. Even at the desk in the port office it was only $15, and we walked outside and got a taxi for $10/hr with a driver and English speaking guide. Nadine and Don joined us for our Mr. Toad's wild ride.
On the Semarang website they had this item:
PURI MAERAKACA
It is a well arranged park on the beach exhibiting traditional houses of every central Java regencies. In these houses, specific crafts of each regency are displayed.
Indonesians are known to be very unreliable. If you ask if a place is far and they want you to go there they will say not far, and then drive for an hour... If it is close and they want to negotiate a big price, they say very far.... But with the paucity of options we decided to try this little park. It was delightful. Some of the houses formed a complex surrounded by ornate walls and gates. In some cases the guard was there so we could walk through the house. The park was clean and deserted, located near the beach, so that even though it was oppressively hot, there was a freshness about it. And as promised, it was not that far.
The colorful Sam Po Kong temple is the world's largest temple to honor the chinese Christopher Columbus, ZHENG HE, a moslem eunuch who rose in ranks to become the emperor's trusted admiral. He led the chinese armada to discover several ports throughout Asia & Africa from 1405 to 1433. ZHENG HE was born near Kazakhstan but was captured by the chinese army in Mongolia.
I didn't want to go to the Sam Po Kong temple as I've seen dozens of Chinese temples, but our driver took us there anyway. He knew what he was doing. The temple was very grand, and also very charming. Behind the temple was a massive bas relief of possibly 10-15 ft high by maybe 100 ft long which told the story of the founding of the temple. Even though the temple is miles from the seafront, at that time it was on the seafront and there was a picture showing how the seafront looked at that time. The temple contains 3 altars of equal importance for the Moslem faith, Confuscianism, and Buddhism. The anchor from Zheng's ship is there, and the captain is buried in a cave beneath the temple.
Then our guide took us to a lovely batik shop, a cool air conditioned store with no vendors crowding around hassling us, and few other shoppers. Nadine was getting red in the face, and she'd already told us when that happened she was quite close to passing out. Ed got a really beautiful shirt for $13, and I got a nice tablecloth with 6 napkins for $23. Nadine left her purse there but we went back to get it and it was ok.
The one thing I had really wanted to do is go to Pasar Johar, the local market. At the end we were too tired, and our guide said no, it is too dangerous there. So that is fine. Again, I say, he knew what he was doing.
On board, the Indonesian crew had their families visiting them, so we saw several children and families enjoying the lounges. I think the Filipino staff took over all the Indonesian duties that day so they could have the day off to visit their families.
We were dying for a cold beer, so after a quick shower we had the beer, lunch, and passed out for the rest of the afternoon. Why so tired I don't know. Maybe it was the heat.
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