Semarang, Indonesia

Semarang Is Easy to Forget!

Semarang, Indonesia will not be a place to rush back to. In spite of having one of the most ancient temples in the world, the traffic, the state of the roads and bridges and appalling poverty makes it a forgettable city.

Needing almost eight hours to travel less than 60 miles made it an easy decision to avoid the ship tour and travel only into the centre of the city. Even that was an adventure in itself. While other Indonesian cities have a mix of cars, trucks, bicycles and scooters, here it seems everyone has a motorized scooter. There are no lines marking lanes on the roads and there is another roundabout coming up at the next turn.

Highly illegal in North America, it was not uncommon to see a mother, father and two children on a scooter carrying the shopping of the day. While the parents wore helmets, the kids do not—go figure.

The majority of the residents live in shacks alongside the roads. Women, for the most part have their heads covered. As distinct from Bali where 85% of the population is Hindu, in Semarang the majority is Moslem. As the ship was leaving we could clearly hear the “call to prayer” being broadcast over tower loudspeakers across the city.

We did, however, visit a very modern and exclusive mall for some retail therapy. In the midst of all this poverty, someone has built a shopping mall with every high end shop you could imagine. Ships’ passengers seemed to love the batik shop as most passengers that night seemed to be wearing traditional patterned Indonesian designs.

Tomorrow is a sea day and then we enter the busiest shipping channel in the world as we dock in Singapore.

Bali – A Tropical Paradise or Not!

Today we are in Bali, deep in a busy harbour with a progression of jets from around the world passing over the ship, landing at the adjacent airport. It is amazing to see the progression of aircraft and ship arriving and departing with tourists.

Traffic is almost unbearable as one tries to travel across the island. Thousands of motor scooters buzz around you in all directions, passing at the strangest locations and ridden by residents of all ages and gender. While back home only two people are customary on a bike, in Bali whole families ride on the scooters along with a myriad of packages.

Our tour went first to the beach community where the shops and hotels were five star and opulent and known for their beach locations and Indonesian cuisine. After the beach we headed for two of the larger Hindu temples on the island. Bali is 85% Hindu and the temples date back to the mid 1600’s. It is interesting to note that offerings are made to the gods each morning in Bali in the form of a small plate of flowers, food and incense. Outside of all shops, high class or low class, a filled plate is present in the morning. The Imperial Palace temple, as do all temples, have a number of courtyards. The outer courtyard is for cock fights which continue to this day in spite of being illegal at locations other than temples. The origin of the cock fight is the shedding of blood which is essential to their religion as a form of sacrifice.

With the majority of the ship’s crew being from Bali, the day in port enabled them to either visit with family in their homes or bring family members on board for a tour and a visit to the ice creme stand on the Lido deck. The ship bends over backwards to facilitate this day and passengers join in by leaving notes for the staff to spend time with their families and NOT make up our beds, freshen our towels or clean the bathrooms. Not really a hardship for any of us!

Like the last time we were here, Bali will not go down as a highlight as there are just too many people, too much traffic and almost an obscene contrast between the poor and the rich. While the countryside is lush, the terraced rice fields unique, the beaches beautiful and clean, the very hot tropical climate is not one in which I can get comfortable.

Komodo Island—We have seen the dragon!

We have seen the dragon, lived to get back on the ship and will not ever need to see it again.

After Darwin, our next stop was Komodo Island in Indonesia, home to the very rare Komodo dragon. This island along with two smaller adjacent islands is the only place in the world where this species of lizard lives. It’s diet consists of deer (swallowed whole, antlers and all), wild boar, smaller Komodo dragons, and anything that might come in its path including humans. Fortunately the dragons do not eat very often and spend much of their time near watering holes and basking in the tropical sun. They are roughly 8 feet in length.

Komodo Island is a national park and as such, the species is protected. To visit, we travelled as a small group with a ranger at the front of the pack and one bringing up the rear. Each of the rangers carried a forked pole in the event of an attack. Fortunately we made our way without incident to a fresh water source where three of the dragons were ready to be photographed and appeared full. Good for us!

The dragons are fast runners, very proficient at swimming and can appear out of nowhere. A fellow traveller was sitting on the beach at Komodo having a drink when one very large male strolled right by her. Quickly walking backwards she got a great video on her IPAD of the dragon and has been showing us all her accidental filming and counting her lucky stars.

As a national park the scenery is stunning with foliage of a green colour that is not like any other shade. The water is clear and the beaches are magnificent but the presence of the Komodo and and a species of alligator that jumps in the air out of its water habitat kept most passengers out of the water.

We are at anchor here as there is no dock big enough for us. The next stop is Bali where many of the ship’s staff have family members so they will get the day off to visit. Passengers will head off on various excursions across Bali, primarily to see the Hindu temples that are located in every village with many of the bigger temples dating back to the sixteenth century.