Fretwell's Travel Journal: Chapter 3 -- More of Indonesia.

March 17th -- Today we gained a different and better perspective on Indonesia. Yesterday's tour of Jakarta left us feeling sorry for the Indonesian people. Today we traveled from Semarang to the UNESCO Heritage Site, Borobudur, an ancient Buddhist Monastery, built in about 650 AD. It is the largest single monument in the southern hemisphere. The trip by bus was 56 miles, which took almost 2 hours each way, and it took us into the country and hills of Java.

Today we saw a different Indonesia than we saw yesterday; this time a gorgeous tropical country filled with industrious people, vibrant farmlands, and spectacular vistas. We passed by thousands of rice paddies, several rubber-tree plantations (ficus elastica), a coffee plantation, banana plantations (not the pulpy things we buy in the US; these are the little finger bananas that are so dense, yellow, and flavorful), stands of teak trees, guava orchards, and fruit stands filled with jackfruits and durian. We passed through scores of small villages, and they were far cleaner and more prosperous than Jakarta. We were enthralled. Enthralled, that is, when we were not hanging onto our bus seats for dear life.

We had a police escort to and from Borobudur, which is the only way we could make it to the site and back in a 9 hour day. Traffic is horrendous on the Island of Java. They have good roads, but they're mostly one lane each way, and winding mountain roads. In America we'd follow the slowest truck for miles waiting for a clear spot to pass. Here in Indonesia, they just pull out and pass on the curves, expecting all oncoming traffic to see them in time and to move over and share their lane with them. They're good drivers, skill wise, because they threaded the big busses through holes in traffic that left less than 1 foot space on either side, and they didn't slow down to do it either. It was a thrill ride -- both ways -- better than anything Disneyworld can offer. In the relative safety of a big bus it was a thrill, and interesting. In a car, it would have been utter terror.

I've driven about 12,000 kilometers in Mexico, and thought it required undivided attention. I gotta tell you -- Mexico ain't nuttin' compared to driving in Indonesia! The police escort actually slowed us down -- a good thing in my opinion. The police turned around to go back and help a disabled bus, and our driver took off like a scalded cat, driving like an insane man until the police escort eventually returned. Then it was just borderline madness.

So, I'd rate the scenery, hills, farmland, and people as the huge plus for today, and the highway game of chicken as the second most interesting aspect of the trip. The goal of our trip, Borobudur, is a massive temple site, very well preserved, and worth visiting, but it took a distant third in our minds to the excitement of getting there. It was well worth the trip to Borobudur, however, just to get out into this amazing country and really see it. I climbed to the top of the monument, and took many pictures, which you will have to wait to see until I post them either on my website or in Dropbox. Given the size of pictures my new camera takes, it will probably have to wait until after the trip, when I have REAL high speed Internet.

We passed about 10 small sawmills on the trip, and I'd have loved to stop and see what kinds of tropical woods they were harvesting and turning into lumber. We know they grow teak and mahogany on Java, but there are scores of other tropical woods here as well. Now that I'm into woodturning, I take a special interest in special woods. But, alas, there was no opportunity to stop and chat.

I gave a bit of wrong information yesterday, when I said the Communists killed nine of 10 Indonesian generals. It was 6 of 7. Their goal was total annihilation of all the generals, but one was out, and his adjutant told them he was out for awhile, but the Commies thought the Adjutant was the general, lying for his life, so they took him and killed him. Also, our guide told us that Suharto jailed all the Communists; which was truthful but incomplete. He slaughtered them all. It was quite a bloodbath. Because of their treachery, the Communist Party is a forbidden political party in Indonesia. There is almost certainly a remnant of Communists, but they must remain in hiding, on pain of death.

March 18th -- Today is an "at-sea" day. The ocean is flat as a pancake, and the sun is shining brightly. I've never seen the sea so calm this far from land. So, at noontime, our ship's captain came on the intercom and said it is the calm before a tropical storm, a big one, sporting 45 to 55 knot winds. He has no intention of taking us into the storm area, so we'll get an extra day of hanging out at sea tomorrow, instead of going into Bali's narrow passages during a tropical storm. Wise decision, I say! I like calm oceans -- dead flat is really nice. Another day of this calm is definitely preferable to steaming into a tropical storm.

The good news is that we'll only miss one port of call because of this rearrangement. We'll go to Bali after we go to Komodo Island, and will miss Makassar entirely. No big deal.

I finished reading "As Long as It's Fun: the Epic Voyages and Extraordinary Times of Lin and Larry Pardey" today, an excellent read for sailing aficionados, and started a book written about 1909, titled "Theodore Roosevelt: African Game Trails" by old TR himself.

March 19th -- Another beautiful day in paradise. Calm seas all day -- the captain obviously made a wide circuit around the tropical storm. I finished TR's book. His hunting adventures were less interesting than his "asides," his running commentary about the African settlers, the natives, and his general philosophy of life. His hopes and aspirations for the proper governance of Africa have largely proven unfounded, South Africa being the possible exception.

We watched the movie, "Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom." It is truly an excellent movie, and I learned much about Nelson Mandela's early history that I had not previously known. I highly recommend it.

The evening show was a very accomplished concert violinist, accompanied by the ship's band. Her playing was superb. The accompaniment was out of place. The ship's band is very accomplished at the new "jack-hammer" rhythm and percussion, and little else. Feature, if you can, Mozart's "Eine Kline Nachtmusik" to the overpowering beat of a bass drum, a snare drum and a bass guitar at 20 decibels louder than the violin. I don't know if it was comedy or tragedy. I admit it; I'm an old guy; and I don't like the new jack-hammer music, and especially not as an "improvement" on the music I do like.

March 20th -- We arrived at Komodo Island, the home of the legendary Komodo Dragons. We did not take the tours to the Island for several reasons: 1) It has one of the highest rankings for malaria of any area, and Ardie cannot take the malaria medications; 2) You cannot go ashore without a tour guide, and the tours are outrageously expensive for a short 1-hour visit; 3) there is considerable hiking in very hot, muggy areas; and 4) we've seen Komodo Dragons before. We stayed aboard, read, watched movies, and took many photos of Komodo Island and surrounding islands from the ship's decks. It was another great day. The rugged volcanic terrain of the islands is spectacular, and best appreciated from the water. This evening, after dark, we passed by the island with the world's mightiest volcano, Tambora. If you can imagine a volcano erupting with 1000 times greater power than Mount St. Helens', then you can imagine Tambora. I wish we'd passed it in the daylight, because I would have liked to see it, even from a distance.

March 21st -- After 3 days aboard ship, we intended to "roll our own" tour in Lombok. We got up late, had a leisurely breakfast, and went downstairs to photograph the island from the shop's deck before going ashore. We saw people returning already, which was a signal that the shore excursion might not be worth doing. So we asked one of the friends we have made already on this trip. He said, "Don't bother! It is very poor, squalid, and not worth experiencing. So we stayed aboard ship again today, enjoying the beautiful coastlines of Lombok and nearby islands.

We are getting a very firm impression that the spectacular views from the water of the many isolated islands of Indonesia -- and that cannot be taken away from them, they are truly beautiful -- make them wonderful places to view, and even good places to visit for a brief beachside vacation, but living on them is not so great. Lack of arable land, poor fisheries, and minimal tourist trade make them poor -- desperately poor -- places to live. They look like Shangri La, but they are not. Lombok is gorgeous, and poverty stricken.

Today I started and finished a book very relevant to the country we are now seeing, because the Japanese occupied Indonesia during World War II. The book is titled "Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption," by Laura Hillenbrand -- also author of "Seabiscuit." It is the true story of Louis Zamperini, an Italian American GI captured by the Japanese and imprisoned during WWII. It brings to life the terrible atrocities suffered by allied POWS in the Japanese camps, and vividly describes the Japanese reactions when it became clear to them that their war was lost. I highly recommend it.

March 22nd -- We arrived early this morning at Bali, which is undoubtedly the tourist center of all Indonesia. The Island of Bali has about 5 million residents, and at times has a population of 12 million, the extra 7 million being foreigners and tourists. Tourism is their biggest source of revenue, by far. It is gorgeous country, and wonderful beaches.

From where our ship is moored, we can look out on one of the big tourist areas. At any one time we could count between 10 and 12 boats pulling parasails high in the air with thrilled tourists gaping down from 150 feet in the air. Wave runners and rent-a-boats are everywhere. There are hundreds of excursion boats for the tourists.

Whereas Indonesia is 85-percent Muslim, Bali is the major exception. Bali is 85-percent Hindu, and few Muslims. Besides the tourism, the Hindu character of Bali makes it more interesting that the rest of Indonesia.

The Hindu religion requires a "temple" be constructed for every dwelling, so every house, home, shanty has a mini-temple as part of the structure. Besides the temple, the Hindu are very strong on the traditional Hindu architecture, replete with intricate carvings and gargoyles. Consequently, even in the poorer areas of Bali, there are lots of unique adornments on the outsides of homes.

We took a 6 hour tour today, of three Hindu temples. The first was an expansive grounds with many buildings surrounded by canal-like ponds, and ponds within the grounds. It is, appropriately, called the Water Temple. Here we learned that cock fighting is a big part of the Hindu religion. The Indonesian government has outlawed cock fights, but relented in Bali "for religious ceremonies." So, here you have to go to the Hindu temples to see the cockfights. I don't know if the usual heavy betting that goes hand-in-glove with cockfighting is carried on in the Hindu ceremonies or not, but I know what I want to believe.

Our guide for today was Hindu, and he spent much of his time talking about the Hindu beliefs. I found his talk fascinating; but I won't bore you with the details. Suffice to say, many of their beliefs have helped their true believers to cope with life, and that is what it should do. The near endless cycle of progressive reincarnation is very attractive to its adherents.

Our second Hindu temple was a Monkey Temple, complete with about 500 rhesus monkeys as its guardians. The temple itself isn't very large at all, but the grounds for the monkeys was considerable. They're overfed, tame, and hypersexed. I think every mature female monkey was either pregnant, leading about a youngster, or twins. Our guide, when asked how many monkeys were at the temple, started by saying, "Well, there were 200 this morning, 300 by noon, 500 now, and 1100 by nightfall." Then he laughed and gave us the real number, but he said they are very prolific. I have several excellent pictures of male, female, and baby rhesus monkeys now.

Our third Hindu temple, or temples, are Sea temples; small temples built on little promontories of land jutting out into the ocean. At low tide, they are peninsulas, and at high tide they are mini-islands. The settings and the temples were very picturesque.

Very little here is Americanized. I looked hard, and McDonalds, Dunkin' Donuts, Circle Ks, and MiniMarts are the American brands -- and we understand that they are for the tourists, because the locals cannot afford them.

In summary, I can well understand why Bali has become the tourist center of Indonesia. It is beautiful in its own right; it has a unique culture and architecture, and an air of mysteriousness which set it apart from the rest of Indonesia, and the weather is highly predictable, varying about 15 degrees from the wet to dry season. We're very glad we have seen it.

-- Marvin O. Fretwell, 3/22/2014

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