Chapter 32: Bali and Borneo
September 1st-October 23rd, 2005
Beautiful Balinese Dancer Wild Man of Borneo
September 1st: Getting Settled in In Bali
When I last wrote we had been participating in the Darwin Sail Indonesia Rally with about 70 other boats making our way through various Indonesian islands. We had just made our passage to Bali and were awaiting a slip in the marina here. We were lucky enough to have some really great cruising friends aboard Pacific Bliss (a Catamaran, with another couple of old folks like us, home-based in San Diego) who had arrived earlier than us, were tied up along-side the very small marina here and allowed us to side-tie to them until a slip became available for us. It is sort of a first come, first serve here with a mysterious “waiting list” which seems to work more by being a squeaky wheel and a lot of whining, rather than who got in first! Anyway we felt we could whine and wheedle better if we were here at the marina “in their face” every day — and it worked… today we finally moved into a slip and now have a home of our own!
The marina here is old, pretty dilapidated, has irregular electricity (with power surges), and no potable water. Several boats have already had electronics blow out due to a power surge the other day. And the water in the bay is too dirty and filled with trash so we cannot chance making water with our desalinator, so that means to even wash dishes or shower, etc, we need to buy water in these huge Sparklets type bottles to fill up our water tanks. However on the plus side, the staff here is friendly and efficient; there is a bar and restaurant here; we don’t need to run the generator to make electricity; and we can walk off the boat at any time to touch ground — which beats being at anchor anytime!
Last night was the official end of the rally with a goodbye dinner hosted here at the marina restaurant. A lot of the boats are still cruising the islands and haven’t arrived here, but there was a pretty good turnout. And an unwritten cruising law: offer a “free” meal to cruisers and they will break records to get to it! Of course there was more Indonesian food (no “chain saw chicken” — see last chapter–though), more Indonesian dancers and a few final “farewell” speeches — but it was nice to see some cruisers we hadn’t seen in a month, as well as say our good-byes to many of the rally cruisers/ boats we will not see again. Most boats are on the same track --enroute to Singapore and then onto Thailand --and will be crossing the Indian Ocean in January/February…a year ahead of our plans.
Ross, our Australian young man that has been crewing for us since we left Darwin (about 6 weeks ago) has just departed to continue his “trekking” around the world, with plans to go to Java and then to Singapore and Thailand to meet up with some friends — on a much faster track than aboard a sailboat. His plan was to go with us only to Bali and that he did. He worked out pretty well and was a great help to us, especially since we’ve had quite a few overnight passages along the way and very quickly he “learned the ropes,” so to speak, and was able to hold his own for a night watch.
So now we are crewless and it looks like with the officialdom here in Indonesia, it will be difficult (even if we could find someone for the remaining of our journey this season) to add them to our cruising permit. The permit we have is for 3 months (obtained via the rally registration back in June) and to change or add a crew it takes a months notice as the paperwork has to go to Jakarta. Usually with the way business works here a little greasing of the palm will hurry things up, but for this, it doesn’t seem even with a bribe that it can be done any quicker. Our plan has always been to leave here, after about 2 weeks of “sight seeing” to go to several more Indonesian islands enroute to Southern Borneo (an Indonesian province called Kalimatan) and then west and north around to the top of Borneo to the Malaysian side of the island to it’s capitol, Kota Kinabalu — where we have reservations to leave our boat at a marina and fly home. That is another 1,400 miles and is looking like a really long ways through our eyes now. It has been a long season already with lots of miles behind us (Australia is a really BIG place!), lots of anchoring, and passages, but it has helped having a 3rd person at least to help with part of the hard work and the overnight trips. I think we are just feeling a bit drained now, and hopefully with a bit more rest and relaxation here in Bali, we’ll be rejuvenated and ready to head out again.
[NOTE: THROUGHOUT THE REST OF THIS CHAPTER, I AM INCLUDING BITS AND PIECES ABOUT BALINESE LIFE, HISTORY, CULTURE, RELIGION AND IT WILL BE MOSTLY WRITTEN ITALLICS SO IF YOU ARE NOT INTERESTED IN IT, YOU CAN SKIP DOWN. TO ME THIS IS VERY INTERESTING AS IT IS ONE OF THE MAIN REASON WE ARE TRAVELLING — TO LEARN MORE ABOUT OTHER PEOPLES OF THE WORLD — AND THAT IS WHY I HAVE INCLUDED IT.]
Although I wrote some about Indonesia — history, culture, etc in the last chapter, here I will concentrate on Bali, as it is very unique from the rest of the Indonesian chain of islands. So first a little about Bali:
Bali is one of the more densely populated islands (over 3 million) of Indonesia and is located 8 degrees south of the equator. It is a tiny island (85 by 48 miles in size --about the size of Delaware), extremely fertile due to the many active volcanoes and high mountains (that provide the rainfall that irrigates the beautiful rice terraces). The great tourism boom started in the early 1970’s (the first time I came to vacation here!), which brought many improvements in roads, telecommunications, health, and education that most of the other islands we have visited do not have. Of course it has also brought wall-to-wall resorts, and shopping areas so in parts of Bali, you have to look for the paradise that was once abundant. And unfortunately, Bali has not been immune to global politics. In October, 2002, 2 simultaneous bomb explosions went off in nightclubs in the most populated tourist area in Bali, Kuta Beach, injuring/killing more than 500 people) and putting Bali and all of Indonesia on the “don’t go to” warning lists for tourist destinations. This has had a significant negative impact on the economy here with many hotels and businesses no longer in existence and others still 3 years later struggling. That, with the fall of the rupiah, their currency, makes it actually a bargain though now for those of us here.
However despite the tourism, the Balinese have held onto their unique culture. It is the only island in the chain of 18,000 Indonesian islands that holds onto its ancient Hindu religion (See previous chapter, 95% of Indonesians are Islamic, whereas in Bali, 90-95% of the population is Hindu!) Back in the early 1000’s, Java’s (the main island of Indonesia) powerful king, who was Hindu, began to spread his influence and power to Bali bringing the Hindu religion here. Throughout the following centuries and with changes of dynasties, the Islam religion became “official” in Java, and there was an exodus of the Hindus to the island of Bali, which held onto its religion through strong leaders. With the exodus also came to Bali artists, dancers, musicians, and actors so by the mid 1400’s Bali became the cultural center, which it remains today.
Their current religion has grown from a long succession of Hindu and Buddhist influences layered upon deeply rooted cults of animism and ancestor worship. From the teachings of the priests traveling from India and Java, the people adopted practices to suit their needs. The Hindu religion practices a “caste” system, but the one in Bali is very relaxed and simple compared with that of India with no “untouchables,” and most people, except the high priests (the highest caste), belonging to the working class caste. As mentioned above, their religion is also overlaid over the Indonesian’s ancient animism beliefs. Animism is defined as a belief whereby natural phenomena and things animate and inanimate are held to possess and innate soul. Everything is sacred on Bali — the trees, the flowers, the people, the insects, etc. Every act carries a deep spiritual meaning and every stage of human life is ruled by otherworldly consideration. The Balinese believe that good spirits dwell in the mountains, volcanoes and anywhere up high, and bring prosperity; whereas bad spirits, giants, and demons lurk beneath the sea, haunt the woods, and desolate beaches. The people live between these two opposites and their rituals strive to maintain balance.
Religious rites and festival guide a Balinese from birth to death and into the world thereafter. They provide the forces that hold the family unit and village community together. Religious observances regulate the plan of a town, the order of a home, and the ethical code of the people.
It only takes a short while staying in Bali before, all around, you can see that Balinese Hinduism is more of a lifestyle than a religion. The 210 day Balinese calendar is filled with rituals that must be fulfilled at exact predetermined times. Every business, every taxi, every home starts each day by placing a small weaved palm basket with offerings outside (or on the dashboard in the case of the automobile). The offerings are usually fresh flowers, a few grains of rice, other food items, and a stick of burning incense. These are placed out for the gods who, so honored, in return will protect the household of evil, give good luck to the driver of the automobile, and give good business to the business.
One will also quickly observe while driving around in the very busy and congested streets in even the business district, there is a temple or shrine almost on every block. Many businesses have temples built on their grounds, and all Balinese (Hindu) homes have some sort of family temple/shrine built outside the house, regardless of the economic nature of the occupants. Even the rice paddies have shrines. Most of the time the community temples are left un-occupied. It is only during holy days, when the deities and ancestral spirits descend from heaven to visit their devotees that temples flourish with festivity. For these events everyone arrives beautifully dressed in traditional dress, presenting the deities with beautiful offerings of fruit, whole pigs, and other things of value. They also present to the deities music, prayer and the best entertainment to entertain the deities and to amuse them during their sojourn on earth. Usually after 1-3 days, the deities return to heaven and the temple empties until the next holiday. So these large temples are places for the mortals on earth to renew their contact with the divine and are the true centers for the Balinese culture. I will write more on the temples and the dances and music later as we explore Bali
We’ve only just begun to sightsee! There is so much culture with an exotic and mystical air about it mixed with sheer tropical beauty on this island — I have been looking forward to returning to this island (last time here about 20 years ago and before that 30 years ago!), that I don’t know where to start with being a tourist!
It is not hard to see that Bali HAS changed a lot since my last visit, and of course, not all for the good of “exotic” memories. Driving down the street there are McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Mr. Donut, Circle K’s and even Starbucks! There are thousands of motorcycles crowding the streets winding in and out of traffic — At one 4-way intersection, I counted 44 of them in the “front” row ahead of the cars/trucks. The streets are very congested as they have not been able to keep up with the huge over development of the tourist business of 1980-90’s. In some areas it takes 30 minutes to go 3-4 miles due to the bumper-to-bumper traffic… on mostly 2 lane (with only a few 4 lane) roads. [Thank goodness that MOST of the Balinese are poor and cannot afford cars — the motorcycles seem to be the affordable vehicle of choice… so although they seem like a nuisance, if everyone who owned a motorcycle instead owned a car, it would be impossible to get around.] Many of the motorcycles though are used like trucks, carrying several piled high crates of vegetables and fruits, carrying a load of lumber (sticking out 5 feet on each side of the motorcycle), carrying pigs and chickens, and also more than likely carrying whole families (I’ve seen one man driving, with a child in front of him and wife on the back breast feeding a baby — so 4 on one motorcycle.)
So far we haven’t seen any “countryside” yet… it seems like one city/town, now merges into another. However there are still beautiful flowers and colorful shrubbery everywhere — so that everything is still very tropical looking. And right next to a high-rise building, and an exotic 5-star hotel, may be squeezed in a rice paddy. So there are bits of my “old” memories still present — but it has grown “up” a lot. Most everyone we talk to (taxi drivers, shop owners, restaurant workers, etc) complain that since the Bali Bombings in 2002 (2 nightclubs in the biggest tourist district had bombs go off set by Islamic extremists injuring 300 and killing 200 people), they have been struggling and that the tourist business (which is now the heart and soul of the economy of Bali) is still suffering badly. Hotels that used to command 300-500$/night stays are now offering “100$ specials” and that many places have gone under and have not survived. However, as an observer driving around the tourist areas, that is hard to believe! As above, the streets are crowded with cars, with tourists walking, and the hotels and restaurants do seem to have quite a good business. But the “booming” (as the Balinese pronounce, “bombing”) is still talked about as if it was yesterday. There is a huge granite monument (with the names of all that died) at the sight of one of the night clubs that was bombed in memorial as a constant reminder that even paradise is not exempt from the crazy extremists and the politics of the world. (Addendum: this part of my journal was written BEFORE the most recent bombings — see below October 1)
We made our first temple tour to Ulu Watu not far from the marina on the very southern tip of Bali. The temple is perched on a high sheer cliff with breaking surf down below. This is one of several temples that cater to the spirits of the sea, so it was a must for us as sailors to see–and the time all the tourists go is at dusk so a spectacular sunset can be viewed at the same time, so we got a driver and took off. Upon entering the temple, you, are required to don a sarong and temple belt. For a small donation, these are supplied and we were quickly dressed and entered the temple grounds, which were extensive up and around the sea cliff walls.
What we were not prepared for were the aggressive monkeys! We were warned to remove our sunglasses, hats, earrings, etc. before entering, as the monkeys tend to snatch them and run. At first when we saw them we thought they were cute and began taking photos. They walk among the visiting tourists, without fear. They have vendors that sell small bags of peanuts or bags of cut up fruit to feed to the monkeys, but we did not purchase any, satisfied to just watch and photograph them at a distance. I was leaning over one of the temple walls taking a photo of the coastline below and all of a sudden a monkey jumped on my head and shoulder from behind, removed the hair “scrunchie” holding up my long hair, and took off running. I didn’t hear or see his approach, nor really knew what happened, and let out a blood curdling scream in fright. On the side, Joe, having watched it happen, was laughing his guts out. From that moment on, I didn’t think the monkeys were very cute and I kept a wide berth from them and began to look up in the branches above me as I walked under them! After navigating up and down the steps of the temple we sat down on a wall to rest along with our driver (who we’d hired for several hours). He had his legs crossed with one foot dangling down and suddenly another (very big male monkey) came along and grabbed the shoe off our driver’s dangling foot and again took off. He sat down not far from us and, much to our one-shoed driver’s dismay, began to nibble on the shoe. This monkey was too big and scary to want to try and get in a wrestling match for the shoe, so our driver, took off in search for the person selling the bags of peanuts. He threw a bag of peanuts to the big monkey but he ignored the peanuts and held onto the shoe. Then another tourist (we had quite a crowd now watching to see what happened) threw a bag of fruit to the monkey. The monkey was pleased with the fruit and grabbed it, letting go of the shoe, which our driver then grabbed! Nasty mean creatures!!!!
Monkey at Uluwatu Temple with Surf Below
Part of the attraction of this temple, is at sunset they also put on one of the famous Balinese dances in an outdoor amphitheater — again overlooking the sunset and the temple — quite a magical location. Most all of the dances in Bali are a combination of graceful moves, elaborate costumes, masks and head dresses, in which a story that is told. In fact some “dances” are more drama than dancing. The movements of the dances are not leaps runs, spins (like “western” dances) but usually done in small measured steps and somewhat “jerky” shifting movements, where the movements of the wrist and fingers and facial expressions is how a dancer is judged. 2 bodies dancing may be synchronized, but they never touch. The dances are usually a blend of seriousness and slapstick where the predominant theme is good versus evil (where of course “good” always wins out.)
The dance we saw that evening at the temple was called the Kecak dance. Unlike most of the dances where there is an “orchestra” of kettles, gongs, bamboo type xylophones, the “music” for the Kecak dance is made up of human voices — a male chorus that make “chak-a-chak-a-chak” rhythmic sounds. Over 50 men came out in sarongs and sat in concentric circles and just used a few choreographed synchronous movements of their arms, head and upper torso in combination with the constant “chak-chak” sounds. After a few minutes of that, I was wondering what is so great about this. But then out came the graceful and exotically costumed dancers telling the Hindu love story of Rama and Sita with “witches” and monkey “demons” and fires exploding on the stage— (with various intonations and volume of the background “chak-chak” chanters continuing) — somehow it was eerie, with excitement — and it came together as a worthwhile experience.
Uluwatu Temple at Sunset
Sept 2nd —6th: Off to a Beach Resort for a Much Needed Break from Boat Life
All along we had been looking forward to going to resort somewhere once we got to Bali to get AWAY from the boat, from boat worries and “projects”, from cooking (me!) — somewhere air-conditioned, with a beach for me and a swimming pool for Joe---so I planned a trip for us. The hard part was planning which of the wonderful beach areas of Bali to go to. We immediately decided against the overly crowded, nightclub, shopping center infested area of Kuta, which I heard described once as Bali’s Tijuana. Sanur Beach along the south coast about 15 minutes from the marina is what we decided on. We ended up at a hotel (called Gazebo Beach Cottages) with a Balinese style cottage-suite (with 2 rooms, an indoor as well as an outdoor Balinese style private garden shower) in the middle of beautiful gardens, one of 3 pools right outside our room, just a few feet from a wonderful white sand beach. There are also 3 temple/shrines on the hotel grounds with beautiful stone carvings right in the middle of the hotel grounds. All along the beach is a walkway that joins the many —many hotels, cottages and restaurants so we had our choice of many places to eat — besides the cuisine of the hotel. Most all of the restaurants are open air overlooking the ocean, many with tables right on the sand. There were “hawkers” roaming up and down the beach selling souvenirs, manicures, pedicures, beach massages, but usually a simple “no” would send them away.
And Joe is happy with the hotel as we even have CNN and HBO in the room and an Internet café next door! Unfortunately, we haven’t seen “news” (not even a newspaper) in a long long time, and 24 hours a day on the TV there is nothing except news of the disaster of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana/ Mississippi area. It is almost embarrassing being an American and seeing how our people react to disaster with rioting, shootings, etc. It is even all over the Indonesian news channels as many of the local people (when they find out we are Americans), say they are so sorry with what has happened with Katrina in our country. And yet ironically their own country suffered hundreds of thousands of losses of lives 7 months ago with the Tsunami — and yet their people didn’t loot/riot/ and shoot each other as a result of THEIR disaster. It is very sad — and makes me now not miss having news to watch when we are away.
While Joe’s been busy catching up on his Internet surfing, I’ve was happy to discover close-by an extensive souvenir market of 60-80 stalls with incredibly low prices and lots of stuff I didn’t need. Obviously though I went broke saving money on the cheap prices buying stuff! I’d get back to my room with sack fulls of “stuff” — take it out and look at it, and then decide that the items were such good bargains I should go back and buy MORE!
As we’ve found (and mentioned a lot in the previous chapters about prices in Indonesia at other islands), almost everything in Bali is CHEAP. Some examples. We have been using the same “driver” for our errands and he charges us about $4-6/half day-- for using him to take us wherever we want, wait outside, then take us to another errand, wait, etc. It’s like having our own chauffeur at our beck and call (and certainly a lot cheaper than hiring a car for the day, even if we were willing to take our lives in our hands with the crowded congestion and the millions of motorcycles that crowd weave in and out the streets.) Another example, DVD’s here (all the latest movies) are about 70 cents apiece and Software sells for about $2.00/program regardless of the program. A good meal (Indonesian, Balinese) at a small restaurant costs about 2-3$, whereas at a resort, hotel, or larger classier (European/American cuisine) restaurant may run about 3-7$/meal. Drinks run from 1$/beer to $3 mixed drinks. Even at our resort where we are now, a “boat drink” such as a Piña Colada cost around $3.50 versus $6-7 in the US or Australia! Gas/Diesel cost about $1-1.50/gallon. ETC, etc… Hotel rooms totally depend on what you want and location… the one we are in now which as above is wonderful is about $70/night including full breakfast, but there are some for quite a bit less in the same beachfront locations (as well as some that are double the price). But these also seem to be a bargain.
The day after we arrived here at the beach resort, our good cruising friends, Lois and Gunter, from Pacific Bliss, decided to join us on our vacation away from the boat, and even decided to stay in the same hotel, getting assigned to an adjoining “cottage.” We all do our own thing during the day (Joe spending half of his time at the internet and the other half reading a book by the pool… me at the pool/beach and of course shopping) and then have been joining up every evening by our pool outside our cottages for a 4-some Happy Hour. We’d open wine, and bring out whatever snacks we had accumulated and discuss our day’s activities and take turns choosing a restaurant to go to for dinner. We also one night celebrated “officially” Joe’s Birthday. Gunter had talked him into getting his ear pierced, much to my surprise-- (Gunter, almost 70 years old had had his done a few months ago!)–So Joe showed up with a “diamond” ($2-type) stud. We had presents for him to open poolside and then went to a wonderful 1st class Italian restaurant with great hand made pasta dishes — Joe’s favorite.
One night, the resort we were staying at, put on a Balinese dance show with the hotel staff as the dancers and the “orchestra.” The stage was set up on the beach with dinner tables all around. We were amazed at the talent of the staff in their performances. However I had read that dancing and the theatre is not a profession in that the dancers at the performances all around Bali are farmers, fishermen, (and in this case hotel staff) by day. Most Balinese have learned these dances since they were very young and it is just part of their community and village life, and of course all of the dances are tied in with their religion–telling stories of their “gods” and spirits.
Also a bargain to the list above here is massages. Neither Joe nor I are really “massage-people” but it is so convenient here and so cheap $2.50/30 minutes, that we both succumbed and had one each. Also I got a $5.00 manicure/pedicure and Joe a Salon-type 3$ hair cut. So we felt well pampered.
The day before we were due to leave our resort beach vacation, both Lois and Gunter and Joe and I decided why not stay another day and night, so we did. (It was very easy to decide NOT to go back to the work awaiting us aboard Mi Gitana!) So we all enjoyed another hassle-free lazy day of lounging in the sun.
Sept 7th-10th: Boat Chores
Well we returned to the reality of life back on board the boat after our nice 6-day “vacation,” and we are already planning our next vacation for next week up to the mountains. We’re still not sure when we’re leaving here for Borneo, but in case it is soon, we want to be sure we see as much of Bali as possible prior to our departure. [As a cruiser going from one wonderfully different country to another (especially all the island paradises we have been to), we hope that after we finish our circumnavigation that we may one day return to our “favorite” places (return in by plane or cruise ship — NOT by personal sailboat!) However, we also know that we are getting older and life’s future is never certain, so we DO try to make the most of every destination in case it is our last time at that location.]
We are knocking off a few “must do” things on our boat “to do” list. One is not causing us much work but we need to be here to supervise. We have 2 “boat boys” re-doing all our external woodwork (bright work) on Mi Gitana. For the first time since we purchased the boat 8 years ago, we are having them remove all the old varnish and stain, by scraping (with a knife) the stained/varnished wood to the “new” wood, then sanding it, and then they will eventually re-apply new stain so it looks good as new (at least that is the plan). After that we will have the “boys” polish all the stainless steel (lots of it on deck), and clean and wax the boat top to bottom. The reason we are doing this now is the labor cost per “boy” per day is $10… again pretty cheap. So far they are working hard and doing a beautiful job. Mi Gitana is 20 years old this year and desperately needs this face lift. Hopefully next year we will be able to haul her out in Thailand and have her fiberglass areas repainted, but this should be a great improvement until then!
Our friends Lois and Gunter departed a few days ago enroute for Singapore so we no longer have a “buddy boat” nor their company. It was sad to see them leave as we have been essentially traveling with them now for the last 4 months and have really enjoyed their company. However they also reside in San Diego area and we hope to see them again when we all return for the holidays. We will also catch up with them cruising next year.
Sept 11th — 15th: A trip to Ubud —Center of “Cultural Tourism” in Bali
30 years ago when I visited Bali, Ubud had only dirt roads and no electricity. It was a village in the true sense; however, perched on a gentle slope leading towards the central mountains with its lush vegetation, rice paddies, and close proximity to Bali’s capitol city, Denpesar (about 30 minutes away), it attracted visitors even then — and became to become the home of many artists both local and foreign. Since that time, Ubud had undergone tremendous development, and now it is difficult when driving there to see where the city below ends and Ubud begins as urban sprawl has finally reached its edges. Still compared to some of the loud raucous resort areas of Bali, Ubud has maintained the reputation as a place to go for a retreat, to relax and enjoy the many spas, garden type hotels, open-air restaurants, and even some views of rice fields.
Joe and I decided to take our 2nd Bali vacation to Ubud. Also coincidently we had received an email that some other cruising friends of ours, Barry and Sue (SV Windspirit) who for the last 5 months have been RV’ing around Australia were coming to Bali for a weeks vacation-- and going to Ubud at the same time as we had planned to. So we would have another opportunity to re-visit with them and compare both of our recent adventures.
We had several sightseeing stops planned for our drive to Ubud (with our “driver”). First stop was to watch a morning performance of a dance that I had seen on both of my previous visits to Bali that was still imprinted in my mind as being a highlight of the trip… called the Barong Dance. It again is a dance of good against evil. The Barong is a mythical character resembling half lion and half shaggy dog dressed with gold and jewels. (Underneath the costume are 2 men, the front man forming the forelegs and manipulating the mask, the 2nd man moving the hind legs and wiggling the Barong’s bottom.) The Barong protects with magical powers the village from his opponent Rangda, a mythical witch with long wild hair, a lolling tongue, fangs and saber-like fingernails, also with opposing magical powers. Because the play is charged with sorcery and magical charms, a Hindu “priest” first comes out and extensive offerings are made before the play starts to protect the players during the performance. Besides the Barong and Rangda, there are also monkeys, a boar, and beautiful female dancers. A story / adventure between the characters develops that is too complicated to relate here. (A program is handed out with your admission ticket that explains act by act what is happening, as of course the talking is in Indonesia.) For me mostly it is the elaborate costumes that make this play/dance so rememberable. Plus, the Barong character is found in their temple stone carvings, their artwork, and all over Bali as a symbol of good.
After watching the morning performance of the Barong Dance/Play, we did a few “arts and crafts” stops still enroute to Ubud. While driving through the different townships (note, it is crowded enough that you hardly know when one town ends and another begins), each area seems to have it’s own “specialty.” We drove through one area in the capitol city that for about a mile or two on both sides of the roads were about nothing but cellular phone stores… hundreds of them! Then you drive down for another few miles and see roadside store after store selling nothing but teak furniture… then a few miles more and nothing but rattan/bamboo type furniture, etc. Another area was famous for it’s stone carvings so the road is lined with huge 3-10 ft stone carvings of Buddhas, Temple protectors (monstrous creatures), “heads,” elephants, etc. Another village just made hand painted beautiful kites in various shapes and sizes, followed by another that specialized in making bamboo wind chimes.
Then we came to an area “famous” for it’s batik work. We stopped in one of these “centers” and saw several dozen women hand painting designs on material, then covering the painted area with hot wax, then painting some more colors (very intricate patterns, so each yard of material took hours and hours to do this process), more wax, etc. Most of the pieces were more like a work of art than something you would wear and put through the laundry a hundred times. The next artist/craft stop was in the town of Celuk which is known as the silver and gold center. Again the streets were lined on both sides with jewelry making centers where elaborate finely filigreed jewelry out of 24 karat gold and 925 silver was being “manufactured” by young (mostly) girls. The metals come from mines in the Indonesian section of Borneo (Kalimatan). I managed to talk Joe into an early “birthday” present for me from one of the gold places.
Next craft stop was in the town of Mas, where they are famous for woodcarving. When I last visited this town and purchased a carving (20 years ago), the town had various wood carvers homes that you could visit and watch him (always males) carve and purchase a piece of his art if you chose. Today, the streets, like above were filled with huge showrooms of carvings for miles and miles. Many of the showrooms/galleries were almost like museums. There were still several men carvers carving (by hand still with simple hand tools) in each of the showrooms, but each showroom had thousands of pieces. And after visiting several of the showroom/carving “centers”, it soon became obvious that even though the pieces were beautiful, most of them had the almost exact same pieces, figures, in each one… so a lot of the individuality didn’t seem to be there. Still to me it was amazing that the pieces (from several inches high to 12 feet high) represented so many hours of carving and sanding out of beautiful woods, and relatively could be so inexpensive. (Of course some of the “master carver” pieces or the huge pieces ran into the “thousands” of dollars.) Naturally, as with everything in Indonesia (which after a while can get exhausting), you still had to bargain — and could for the most part get anything for about half of what the initial “asking” price was. I bought a fairly large beautifully carved teak mermaid to add to my collection for around $20.
We also drove through one town that appeared to be having a celebration at the temple. We stopped, “rented” the required sarong and sash and went in to observe the temple and it’s decorations for the celebration. We were told it was a sort of “harvest” celebration — honoring the deities that bring good crops to the surrounding fields. Most temples in Bali (versus the western churches that are closed massive structures) are open-air affairs surrounded by walls and portioned into courtyards. To enter, you pass through large pillared entrances. There are demonic faced stone carvings on the entrances as well as throughout the temples that are supposed to “scare” away evil spirits. Throughout the courtyards in all of the temples there are simple thatched (on stilts) pavilions… some for the “orchestras” during festivals, some for the “priests” and village elders to pray and hold meetings, and some just for the locals to present their offerings.
Inside the temple we observed very elaborate “offerings” set inside the pavilions. One was over 20 feet high with a pig’s head at its base and hundreds of spears of fruit. Another had a “barong” (like the dance we had just viewed) surrounded by fruit offerings. There was also a holy man chanting to the deities to descend from heaven to “visit” their temple and accept their many offerings. The local people were dressed in their finest clothing and even the poor would appear to give what they could afford to leave as an offering. Offerings of actual food for the deities and evil spirits should not be taken literally. Rather they are given in the same spirit as one presents a gift — a sort of modest token to strengthen the people’s request: that the divine bring more prosperity to the community (in this case asking for more fertile soil, good weather and good crops) and that the evil spirits (which are always also present) bring the least possible trouble. Thus the offerings are always sharply divided into two kinds: those to the evil spirits, which are left upon the ground, and those to the deities, which are exquisitely made and appropriately placed upon high alters. With the high offerings are usually incense to carry their essence upward towards the divine. Ordinary people after the celebration take what is left over — i.e. the material part (e.g. huge fruit baskets) are later brought home and eaten by the family.
Finally after all our crafts and “cultural” stops, we reached our destination for the next few days — Ubud. We found a great hotel (Ubud Inn) right in the middle of town with a pool, air-conditioning (a must), TV, etc… for only $40/night. From our hotel we could walk to hundreds of craft shops (again, I was in heaven) and markets, restaurants, and spas. We called our friends Barry and Sue and made arrangements to meet them for dinner to catch up on our “adventures.” It was ironic to me that they have given up cruising, have their boat for sale and have taken up the RV life like so many of our other past cruising friends have done — and yet the “problems”/dislikes are so very similar… things breaking all the time and problems getting parts; not having a vehicle to use once “anchored” or in their case in an RV park, for shopping, sightseeing, going out for dinner; cost of fuel; and most of all very cramped quarters (even more so in an RV than a boat usually). But we had fun enjoying their company again — and comparing stories.
Just down the street from our hotel was the famous Sacred Monkey forest and temple . Joe and I spent an hour or so watching the monkeys (Balinese long-tailed macaques) in the serenity of a dense tropical forest. These monkeys were well fed by the temple/forest “keepers” so were nowhere near as aggressive as those described above. It must have just been “birthing” season as there were many babies clinging and feeding off their moms and others learning how to swing from trees. They were quite entertaining.
I spent one morning of our Ubud stay attending a cooking school at one of the famous restaurants there called Casa Luna. The teacher (and restaurant owner) was Australian/British lady who married a Balinese many years ago, and now owns several restaurants, a hotel, and now the cooking school. The instructor started with going through in detail each of the ingredients used in Balinese cooking — some unusual items that even I had not recognized in the markets. We then participated in making about 12 different dishes some with sauces that had 20+ ingredients in them. Indonesia was once known as the “spice islands” on the trade routes of the early European explorers and was revered for it’s exotic spices. And their cooking revolves around these spices today. Many Indonesian dishes are way too spicy for American palates; I’ve learned in eating in restaurants in Indonesia to avoid the piles of “red stuff” dolloped on the side of the plate — as all the rice in the world will not put out the fire in your mouth after eating a speck of the red stuff! In our cooking class though I saw that the sauces could have the “heat” regulated — and actually should be balanced so that all the flavors of the 20+ ingredients could be tasted — instead of just FIRE in your mouth. Of course they do not use a Cuisinart (food processor) to blend their spices, herbs, flavorings — they use huge stone mortars and pestles. We students (about 15 of us) actually participated in all of the grinding, mixing, etc… so it was hands on. And naturally the best part was being able to taste and dine on the dishes after they were prepared. The class was about 4-5 hours and cost a whopping $15! If there hadn’t been so many other things I wanted to see and do in Ubud, I would have gone to a different class every day at that price! After the class I walked to Ubud’s central market and bought many of the spices used in our recipes that would be hard to find in the US and with any luck I’ll be able to get them home with me and put some of the lessons into practice. Too bad I can’t get one of their 30 lb stone mortars and pestles home with me! But I’d probably end up after a few minutes of grinding items by hand revert to my Cuisinart anyway!
I mentioned above that Ubud is known for its spas. And I also mentioned that Joe and I were not “massage” people. However Ubud again made it too cheap to resist. Although almost all the hotels, even our bargain-cheap hotel, had a spa in the hotel, we were directed to a place across the street. There we both got a ONE HOUR full body massage for $3.00 a piece, followed by an outdoor garden spa-type shower. It was wonderful. The following day, I returned for a one-hour “head” treatment they call a “cream bath.” First, my hair was enveloped with an avocado cream treatment with a full 30 minutes of a head massage. Then my hair was wrapped and placed under steam, while the masseuse for the next 30 minutes continued the massage to my shoulders, upper back and arms. My hair was then rinsed, dried, and French braided… all for a cost of $3.50. It was soon easy to see how people can become addicted to a day at a spa–unfortunately most resort prices, especially in the US would be more likely to be 60-70$/hour rather than the 3$ we paid!
Unfortunately, tomorrow our 4 day Ubud “vacation” /retreat will end and we return again to life on the boat. We’ve enjoyed our outing — very different from our time at the beach resort, but wonderful. Again, my shopping bags are full and we leave here with a suitcase more full of “bargains” than when we arrived.
September 15th-25th: Still in Bali
The 15th of September was our “leave no later than” date to depart to Borneo and our last cruising destination this year, Kota Kinabalu. Well we never left. Joe and I discussed pros and cons and alternatives for almost 3 weeks, and finally decided to not go anywhere and to just end our cruising season here. Mostly the decision was made because we have now gotten used to having crew accompany us this season and part of last year — and we were not looking forward to the next part of our trip (1,400 miles) with few stops, a lot of consecutive overnights (one stretch with 9-10 days/nights straight) without having help for the overnight watches. Obviously we’ve done it before (making the 25 day Pacific crossing with just the 2 of us), but we’re at the end of a long year mileage-wise of cruising and we are both tired and ready for a break. We were hoping the “vacations” here in Bali would help rejuvenate us, but if anything, it’s made us more relaxed and perhaps a bit lazy — so we’ve decided not continue any further this year. Unfortunately we bought our airline tickets home several months ago and they cannot be changed so we STILL have to fly OUT of Kota Kinabalu (Malaysian section of top of Borneo) to get home. So we will need to buy tickets from here to KK to join up with our international flight there and back.
And that is not all bad… not wanting to miss Borneo (our reason for planning to sail there in the first place), we will now fly in there 8-10 days early of our flight and do some sightseeing there prior to flying home. Not a bad compromise! Plus it gives us even more time now (an extra month) to enjoy more of Bali — not a bad place to be “stuck.” Then next year when we return in March (via Kota Kinabalu) to Bali, we will depart here and continue throughout a few more Indonesian islands west of here enroute to Singapore and onward throughout Malaysia to Thailand. (Phuket Thailand will be our take-off place to depart from across the Indian Ocean and Red Sea into the Mediterranean.)
We’ve had a pretty low-key week on the boat — for the first time we are tackling boat projects/ repairs/ maintenance/ in a slow non-panicked pace. Normally at the end of a cruising season, we are crazily trying to get the boat ready to be left alone and neglected for 5-6 months in a short period of time so we have 12-15 hour work-days prior to our departure. But now that we’ve ended our cruising early and have a month to get things done, it seems a lot more relaxed. We’ve also finally run out of projects for our “boat boys.” They did a beautiful job on waxing, polishing, staining, etc and the boat looks the best it has in years.
Just to get off the boat a few days ago, (and to escape the heat) we went to one of the ultra-modern “westernized” shopping malls (and air-conditioned!) in the tourist district and just browsed around. The highlight was treating ourselves to our first Starbucks frappaccino in a long long time!!! Indonesian coffee is usually strong (which we like) but also very mud-like (not-so-great!). They obviously have good beans (Java and Sulawesi beans in the US sell for big bucks!!!), but the style here is to grind it very very powder fine and put it in a pot, and pour boiling water over it. Then the powder grinds eventually fall to the bottom of the pot. However when you pour a cup, and let it sit for a few minutes (or especially if you try to drink the bottom third of your cup of coffee) it is full of thick teeth-gritting “mud.” Of course, the Indonesians always put in lots and lots of sugar (similarly reminding me of Turkish coffee!), so they can’t understand when we want to drink it “black.” Anyway, they have also not “mastered” the iced coffees (wonderful on the ultra hot muggy days they have here)–so the Starbuck’s frappacino was a wonderful reminder of a bit of soon-to-be-revisited home.
Yesterday (another get-off-the-boat-day), we hired a driver to give us an all day/evening tour at destinations we chose around the island. Our ultimate destination was the rim of one of Bali’s magnificent volcanoes. En route though, we made a few temple stops. The first was what is called by tourists at “Elephant Caves” — but actually Goa (old) Gaja, not too far from Ubud. The temple dates from the 11th century, but was somehow buried and was rediscovered and excavated by Dutch archeologists (during their occupation) in the 1920’s. More digging in the 1950’s found even more of the buried temple. There is a small cave that was carved into a rock face. You enter through the cavernous mouth of a “demon.” Inside was a carved statue of the elephant head/human body Hindu god, Ganesh. Outside in the courtyard were very ancient bathing pools filled with holy water gushing into them. A temple “person” (each temple has young men anxious to be your “guide”), Made (pronounced, Mah-day–very common Balinese name), decided to pick us up and guide us through the temple. Normally we shoo off these guides, but he spoke perfect English, had a huge smile, and we found it difficult to say “no” to his offer to help. Actually it turned out to be the best temple “tour” we took as he not only told was each part of the temple signified, what each statue and carved “demon” signified, but he went into great detail about the Hindu religion (again as above, VERY different in Bali, than in India) and how it relates to their culture and how they live. It was a very interesting and informative hour.
Although “technically” the Balinese, like the “classic” Hindus, worship one god (Sanghyang Widi)–the Supreme Being, and the Trinity (Brahma–the creator, Vishnu–the protector, and Siwa (Shiva)–the destroyer) — -- the Balinese ALSO worship many deities (god of wind, the sea, fertility, etc.) and their ancestors. [Usually most of the Hindu temples have a Buddhist “section” of the temple. This is because since some of their ancestors were Buddhists, the Hindu descendents want to honor their ancestor’s beliefs/ religions and do so by building a Buddhist shrine inside the Hindu temples.] The Balinese Hindus also believe in “witches” or spirits of living persons practicing the art of black magic. They believe that their life is a balance between doing good and keeping evil at bay. So Shiva–the destroyer, and the witches and demons also need to be pleased so they will be happy and not bother the individual, family or community.
Reincarnation is believed by all and the main incentive for their worship and desires to do good so they will not reenter the life as a lower “being” or object. When a person dies in Bali, before he can be buried, he must be purified… as to give the body to the “earth” he must be returned “clean.” But then the body is only buried temporarily — sometimes for a few months, and sometimes for years. Cremation is a MUST for the Balinese. They believe that the soul cannot be released as long as the body remains on earth. When the body is destroyed, the soul is freed from all worldly attractions and reunited with the “Supreme Being.” Thus a cremation is a happy occasion as it represents the accomplishment of the most sacred duty of every Balinese: the liberation of the soul of a parent or loved one. But it has to be timed not only for a “lucky” day on the Hindu calendar, but for most families who are not rich, it is done as part of a mass cremation, where many families in a village cremate the bodies of their lost family members together to share the expenses, hence the reason the bodies after death are first buried. Our guide explained to us that his father was recently cremated --5 years after he had been buried. He and his brothers dug up his fathers bones themselves for the cremation ceremony. After the mass cremation, the ashes are taken to the sea as the final purification and the washing away of all un-cleanliness.
Our guide also explained one of the rites of passage from childhood into “adulthood” in this culture happens “at about age 14 --after the girl begins to menstruate and the boy has his first wet dream”. They have their teeth filed. [I had heard of this but didn’t understand its significance until our guide explained it.] As part of reincarnation, they believe that being a human is as high as one can get and they want to erase from them all that is animal or witch-like, such as pointed (canine) teeth, which are reserved for the ghastly grimaces of witches and demons. So both the adolescent boys and girls have a huge ceremony in which a specialist (usually a priest) files a small portion of the upper teeth to form a straight line. This is also supposed to diminish the 6 evil qualities of human nature: desire, greed, anger, intoxication, irresoluteness, and jealousy. Our guide went on to say if a family is poor, and cannot afford the filing ceremony to be done, it may not happen until the person gets married… and if they are really-really poor, at the very least, a priest will do it at time of death before cremation!
After we left the “elephant” caves our driver took us to see another temple in Tampaksiring. It was not on our list of desired stops but since the guide, pulled in there for us, we took a walk, donned another sarong and belt and took a walk. It also was on the grounds of the Presidential palace — where the president visits when he comes to Bali.
By lunchtime, we made it to the rim of the volcano, Gunang Batur where we dined on an Indonesian buffet along with a whole busload of Japanese tourists. (Next to Australian, the Japanese are 2nd on the list of the most foreign tourists in Bali.) We had a beautiful panoramic view of the volcano with a lake in the center. There are many small villages surrounding the volcano, some of which used to be down in the crater. The volcano erupted in 1917 killing thousands of people, destroying 60,000 homes and 2,000 temples and yet the village rebuilt after the destruction in the same spot — (sounds pretty stupid to me). The temple then erupted again in 1926 and again destroyed the same village. This time the village was smart enough to relocate on the crater rim. It has not erupted since.
In my guidebook it wrote of a temple located not far away, actually above the rim of the volcano, Bali’s “highest temple,” called Pura Puncak Penulisan. It also said that the views were supposed to be superb looking over the rice terraces clear to the northern coastline of Bali. Although Joe had said adamantly “no more temples!!!!” he decided after hearing the guidebook’s description to accompany me. The guidebook also mentioned walking up “several” steep steps. What a crock! After again renting sarongs and sashes, we climbed up and up and up. Every time we’d get to the top of one flight of steps, we’d think we were going to be there (as the flights of steps were set back so we couldn’t see past top of the flight we were climbing) — - no, there were more and more steps. I finally got to where I would count and climb 15 steps, rest, climb another 15, then rest, etc. with then a long rest at the top of each flight. After about 15 minutes of climbing we almost gave up but we thought we saw the top… so we climbed more flights of steps and found it was only a mirage. Eventually after about 30 minutes we did reach the top. But it was definitely NOT worth it. We were high (about 5,500 feet) but most of the view was obstructed by overgrown brush and trees and what we could see by peeking through the branches was mostly haze, certainly not the coastline, nor the volcano, nor much in the way of rice terraces. And on top of that, the temple was the most dilapidated “plain” un-adorned (looked like it had been a long time since any worshipers had bothered to climb up as we had done to give their offerings!) one we had ever seen. I don’t think I even took my camera out of its bag for this one. Then of course we had to walk DOWN all those steps back to our van and driver. We will both for sure be suffering tight calves and sore knees in a day or two from this expedition. Also now for sure I know I will not get Joe to go to any more temples!
Now it was time to turn around and start heading back to “home.” Our driver took us to see the famous Rice Terraces of Bali — a view that I think I have seen in every photo story in slick travel magazines and tour guides books about Bali. It was beautiful though, however a bit sad. It is how I remember Bali being all over the island throughout countrysides on my previous visits (20 and 30 years ago). I don’t remember having to go “searching” or on a special trip to see THE rice terraces. And of course at this photo stop now on both sides of the street are tourist souvenir shops as all the tour vehicles/buses stop for a few minutes. It was hard to get a photo withOUT one of the souvenir shops IN the photo. Actually, as I’ve mentioned earlier, there are small rice paddies still everywhere — scattered even throughout the center of the cities… however not like the lush ones here.
Famous Rice Terraces of Bali
Our last stop was for a wonderful dinner in the tourist town of Nusa Dua (not far from where our marina is located) at a famous and classic Balinese restaurant, called Bumbu Bali. With decline of tourism, there is hardly any need for reservations for restaurants, but this place is booked up and reservations are needed 1-2 days in advance. They also are famous for a classic Balinese food cooking school. The atmosphere was wonderful and the food was good. In Bali, the rice is the always considered the “main course” of the meal and the other dishes (sometimes up to 10-15 different items) consisting of a variety of vegetables (usually some sort of “greens” — spinach/turnip greens sort of vegetables stir-fried in garlic, shallots and “flavorings”), pork, chicken, sauces (almost always fiery hot made up of 10-20 ingredients) are served on the side. So the serving plate always starts out with a large portion of rice. In this case we were given 3 different types: red rice, saffron (yellow) rice, and white rice and a platter of what we ordered was in the center of the table-- satay (chicken bites skewered with a peanut sauce) appetizer, suckling pig (a “classic” dish called Babi Guling), and coconut chicken wrapped in banana leaves, with the “greens” and a variety of “sauces.” Even though we avoided the hot sauces on the side, we left with burning mouths and overly full stomachs — and ended a long but wonderful day/evening exploring Bali and learning more about it’s people and the lives they live.
October 1st: Bali Bombing — a repeat act of terror
October 1st will be another date that I will remember. First of all it is September 30th today in the USA, marking the 1st “anniversary” of my Dad dying, a day I’d rather not remember and instead replace it with wonderful years worth of memories of his living. But I was thinking of it this Saturday morning as Joe and I took off for our 3rd and last mini-vacation on Bali. Today we took off for a 3 ½ hour drive (with a driver of course) to the north side of the island to a small fishing village–now turned into a small resort area–called Lovina (…A made-up name for the area with a combination of “love” and “In” for Indonesia). All that has been on the local news here lately is that today marks the day when the Government of Indonesia is to raise the fuel/petrol prices all over Indonesia 128%. In the US we get atomically mad if the area gas prices raise by 5 cents a gallon. Here the prices in one day went from 22 cents a liter (cheap by our standards) to 48 cents a liter and they will stay there. (All fuel prices are fixed/controlled by the government.) The news has been predicting riots in Jakarta (the nation’s capitol) but so far, although the poor, especially, are distressed there have been no riots. Of course this affects tourists as immediately our previously agreed upon taxi fare of 25$ to Lovina has now gone up to 35$.
But we arrived in Lovina and quickly picked out a hotel. We fell in love with the first one we looked at… because it is supposed to be my Birthday celebration get-away weekend, we got their most expensive suite/bungalow, right on the ocean (with ocean view from room), steps away from the black sand (Volcanic) beach… With a mini-bar, satellite TV, wonderful air-conditioning, etc,etc, the price was $50/night. Of course, they had other rooms (with all the same amenities, only not beach-front) for only $30/night. An unbelievable bargain! As mentioned above, Bali remains a real bargain for it’s cost of 4-5 star resorts. Joe fell in love with the big pool with a swim-up bar, and like the other places we’ve stayed at, the grounds were quite tropical with temples and shrines and every known tropical flower in full bloom. Every room has flowers on the bed, around the sunken tubs, by the sinks, etc. and a “welcome” fruit basket of tropical fruit. We were immersed again in a tropical and very relaxing environment in which to spend a few tranquil days.
Unfortunately the tranquility — at least mood-wise did not last long. We soon heard on the news (one of the big DIS-advantages of getting a room with CNN on satellite TV–normally we are kept in ignorance of the world’s news) the main tourist area of Bali (Kuta/Jimbaran) had just been blasted again (just short of the 3-year anniversary of the horrific killings of the bombs of 2002) by 3 bombs in restaurants frequented by tourists. It appears that it was done by suicide bombers (carrying the bombs in their backpacks) and they are of course speculating that it was done by the same Muslim extremist terrorists. We obviously are feeling blessed that we were not in those areas… but it has certainly put a damper on our previously “high” spirits.
October 4th: My Birthday
Today begins the first of a 3-day religious celebration — one of the most sacred in Bali, Galungan — where good wins over evil. However the spirits in Bali are sad right now. The death toll of the bombings is now around 22, with over 150 injured and more will probably die as the condition of many is critical, and health care here is definitely 3rd World. At least 2 were Australian citizens here on Holiday and 1 Japanese — and they (plus other injured Australians) have been flown back to Australia for burials for the dead and better medical care for the injured. And although I feel very heartbroken for the families and friends of the victims (especially since it could have just as easily been Joe or I among those statistics as we have been in BOTH location areas where the bombs went off since we’ve been in Bali!), I also feel a tremendous sadness for the gentle and peace-loving people of Bali. First of all, more Indonesians were victims in the bombings than the target tourists… but as I described before, this island relies on tourism for it’s economy and has suffered terribly from the aftermath of the 2002 bombings. It seemed like they were just pulling out of it, with more people filling the tourist areas again — and to have it happen again. Even though the death toll is not as high as the first time, the old saying “Twice Burned…” many people will have long memories and not schedule this as their tourist destination in the future. And I look back to all the islands we have visited so far in Indonesia, many which were predominantly Muslim, and the many locals who could speak English, coming up to us and thanking us from the bottoms of their hearts for visiting their community, their island. Many right up front said to us without us even hinting of religious strife or politics “We are not terrorists. We live in peace with all religions and we are so glad you came to visit us… please tell your friends and families to come and visit us also.” They were begging for more tourism and felt it would be the answer to their states of poverty.
Anyway both Joe and I are truly saddened by what will most surely result in many people missing out on visiting a beautiful country. That’s not to say that we feel entirely “safe” here–but then again a bombing in our own country (Oklahoma in the heartland, and in NYC) killed thousands more than here… so we know it could be “our time” any time–anywhere, but for now we were spared.
In the meantime, besides watching the news many times a day for updates, we have had a nice and relaxing stay in Lovina… with many hours by (and IN) the pool, many books read, many Cuba Libras consumed… and wonderful air conditioning day and night (which we have cranked up as high as it will go!) to give us some relief from the intense heat and humidity. We had a quiet dinner out for my birthday tonight, taking a bemo (public transportation in a van-like vehicle) to go to another resort a few miles away. Unfortunately — this is such a “sleepy” town that after 6PM, the bemos quit running and there is NO transportation except by locals who wanting to make a few extra rupiahs will load you on the back of their motorcycles and give you a ride back to your hotel. So we ended up having our waiters from the restaurant offer us rides and off we went–Joe on the back of one and the birthday girl on the back of a 2nd. Thank God — the village streets were quiet at night so we had few vehicles to play dodge ball with and we arrived back windblown but safely.
As a reward to us both, we have decided not to return to our boat as originally planned tomorrow but to stay one more day (5 days/4 nights). We still have a long list of “to dos” to get the boat ready for our departure, but now the things on the list are down to only things we can do the day or so before or day of departure… so we have lots of time and not much left to do — Another day here seems to be in order!
October 13th: Almost Out of Here
We have been tackling boat chores in the last week in a slow easy pace and are on schedule to leave here in 2 days on the 15th. With the aftermath of the bombings, we, like most “tourists” still remaining in Bali are keeping a low profile, and keeping away from the main congested tourist areas. We feel that bombing a few cruising sailboats would be low on the terrorist target list, so feel pretty safe on the boat. Yesterday marked the 3-year anniversary of the original 2002 bombings and there were high alerts all over Bali, especially at the memorial where many family members came to pray and leave flowers and “remembrances”… but the day has now come and gone without incident. Although we will be sad to leave here — we will be returning (to our boat) in March and will have a bit more time in Bali then (before departing for Singapore) so it is still not “goodbye” yet. We are packed though and ready for our next adventure in Borneo.
October 15th-23rd: Exploring and Relaxing in Borneo
We had barely heard of Borneo before last year except some references to “The Wild Man of Borneo” — and then had decided that this would be a slightly off the beaten path nice ending to our cruising season this year. However that was before we traveled and traveled and traveled and by the time we got to Bali, we were ready for a rest, and somehow never got the energy to resume our sailing adventures to continue the remaining 1400 miles to get up here to northern Borneo. So we took the easy (although quite a bit more expensive) route and got here by flying rather than sailing up here with. Since, as mentioned above, we had already bought our tickets home to the USA several months ago (anticipating this is where we would end up with our sail boat) that were unchangeable departing FROM Kota Kinabalu (northern Borneo), we decided to arrive 10 days early of our departing flight to San Diego to explore a bit of the area.
Borneo is the 3rd largest island in the world and is actually divided into sections that belong to 3 different countries… over half of the island (in the south) belongs to Indonesia (State/Province of Kalimantan), and most of the north belongs to Malaysia (2 States/Provinces of Sarawak and Sabah)… and a tiny bit carved out of the island on the Northwestern shore is Brunei, which is in itself, a small country. [Brunei is one of the smallest countries in the world — and with its rich oil fields, one of the richest. At one time it controlled all of the island of Borneo, but little by little, the land was carved away by Great Britain (for now the Malaysian section) and the Dutch (for the Indonesian section). ]
Had we traveled by our sailboat, we would have visited all 4 areas of the 3 countries on the island, but by flying here we limited our visit to the Malaysian province in the north, Sabah. This state/province of Malaysia is known mainly for it’s incredible natural features — gorgeous white sand beaches, coral reefs, the highest mountain in Southeast Asia (Mt. Kinabalu), and its vast jungles and rivers.
Before Malaysia got its independence from Great Britain, Sabah was simply known as North Borneo and was administered by the British North Borneo Company. After WWII, both Sabah and Sarawak were handed over to the British government and both decided to merge with the peninsular states of Malaysia to form the new nation of Malaysia in 1963. Today about 15% of Malaysian’s 23 million populations live in Sabah and Sarawak.
As with the rest of Malaysia, Islam is the “national” religion–and is prevalent in northern Borneo. The Islamic religion became dominant (despite the previous 1,500 years of Hindu being practiced) in the 14th century —arriving, like in Indonesia, with the Arab traders. Although many Malaysian ceremonies and beliefs still exhibit pre-Islamic traditions, there has been a trend in recent years of a rise of Islamic fundamentalism with calls to introduce Islamic law for all and “purify” the current religious practices. Physically Sabah is, at one point, only 30 miles from the Philippines and there are close cultural ties between the people of Sabah and the Filipinos, especially the southern-most Islamic section of the Philippines (the island of Mindanao). Mindanao’s Muslim rebels often retreat downwards to Sabah when pursued by government forces. Also of note is that the “home” of the Bali Bombers (both currently and the 2002 ones) are supposedly from the Sabah state of Malaysia, and there have been more radical Islamic groups found teaching militant Islamic to areas in Malaysia. However, by law “freedom of religion” is guaranteed in Malaysia and there is a great deal of advertising going out to promote Malaysia as peace loving, a blend of cultures and religions living in harmony, with their tourist logo all over television and travel agents being “Malaysia, Truly Asia.”
On our flight to Kota Kinabalu, the capitol city of Sabah, we flew on Royal Brunei airlines from Bali, with a stop in the country of Brunei. The country of Brunei has banned alcohol (even in their tourist hotels, etc), so it was a “dry” flight. Also it was a little surprising that on the plane BEFORE even they gave the flight safety briefing, on the movie screen overhead came Islamic chanting and a prayer. But hey, I’ll take prayers in any language asking for our safety! Also the female flight attendants had on Muslim attire with headscarves as their “uniforms.” So the flight was different.
We didn’t arrive until late Saturday (15th) night and proceeded to collect our massive amount of luggage, get a taxi and check into our wonderful 5 star hotel, part of the Asian chain -- the Shangri-La. What luxury! I had forgotten (it’s been a long time since I’ve seen that many stars over my head — other than a night at sea!) what a difference that “5th” star makes! Big white terry cloth robes and slippers for both of us, Full shower and separate tub where you could actually set the degrees of the water you wanted to come out of the faucet, down comforters and pillows, and of course HBO, Cinemax, CNN (maybe not considered a stateside luxury — but was great for us!) Anyway we enjoyed a 3-night 3-day stay there — decompressing from our life on the boat --before moving onto our next destination.
Although Sabah is the richest in natural resources, it is the poorest of Malaysia’s states, 1/3 of the population living below the poverty line. Their main crop is palm oil (with tourism now coming in a close 2nd) — but with the planting of the acres and acres of palm trees, came of course the cutting down of their rainforest jungles and the destruction of the habitats of the many splendid wild animals of Borneo.
One of the planned highlights of our trip/vacation here was to visit the world’s largest Orang Utan sanctuary. So on Tuesday (Oct 18th) we took of for a 2 day- 1 night “wild life expedition.” 'Orang-utan' means in Malay language 'Old Man of the Forest', because ancient people used to think that Orang-utans were people. 2nd only in size to gorillas, these apes are very human like, sharing 96 percent of the same genetic material as humans. To get to the sanctuary, we had to fly by plane over the beautiful mountains to the city of Sandekan and then proceeded for a drive to Sepilok, an area of 11,000 acres of virgin equatorial rainforest that has been set-aside as forest reserve and orang utan rehabilitation center. There it is possible to experience a close encounter with the "Wild Man of Borneo." The center was established to help protect the orang utan, who have become popular as illegal pets in Asia (where trappers usually kill the mother to steal the baby) and whose jungle homes are increasingly being turned into the lucrative palm oil industry. Logging of the rainforest, mining, and also forest fires complete the story of the destruction of the endangered Orang utan’s habitat. At one time Borneo boasted a population of 180,000 of these apes, which has since declined to 30,000. Now there are only two places in the world to view them in the wild, the islands of Sumatra (Indonesia) and Borneo.
As many as 50 orphans a year are admitted to the Sepilok Center that we visited, where they are treated like human babies, placed in cribs, given T-shirts to wear in the colder months, and even taken home by staff to be given their nightly bottle feedings. This process can be quite long, and includes a "kindergarten," enclosed and controlled areas, and in its last stage, they are let out in the open forest reserve in Sepilok, where the orang utans are free-roaming. Eventually over a period of 5-6 years, the orang utans are taught all the survival skills of the jungle before being re-released outside of the reserve in other of Borneo’s rainforest areas.
It is when the orang utans are in the free-roaming open area of the forest where visitors get a chance to see the orang utans. You follow a trail amongst huge and rare rainforest trees that leads eventually to a feeding platform where the center’s rangers come twice a day with a bunch of bananas and sugar cane shoots and milk to feed the orang utans that decide to show up. They purposely keep the diet “boring” so eventually they start to find their own food in the rainforest and begin to wean themselves from the feeding platform .
Orang Utan Showing Off for Us Observing Tourists
For the feeding we went to, we observed 12 orang utans including one mother with her baby holding on firmly to her as she got her place on the platform for the feeding. We also witnessed one “rape” as a male swung across the ropes (placed high in the forest by the park), grabbed a female ape and forced her (by holding onto her foot and dragging her to accompany him) to have his way with her. Afterwards, he laid back and picked up a small sugar cane shoot to his lips looking like he was relaxing and smoking a cigarette, much to our amusement. He also kept a tight hold of the female’s foot not letting her get away. Eventually he let go of her foot and she quickly escaped. It was quite a show for us onlookers. Mostly though we watched for a couple of hours the magnificent apes with their 9 foot arm span as they swung through the trees quite close to us— seemingly to pose for our photos in different positions.
After our visit to the rehabilitation center, we joined a group of 6 other multi-national tourists and boarded a small “river” boat to go up into the rainforest to our pre-booked “river lodge.” In our minds, Joe and I somehow expected a lazy slow trip meandering in the river, looking at wildlife as we made our way up the Kinabatangan River–sort of a “Lord Jim” or “African Queen” experience. What we got though was a very high-speed ride with 2 180 hp engines (360 hp total) like on a jet boat. However even at the high speed we had a 2-½ hour trip up the river — so we were REALLY in the jungle!
We also learned what “eco” tour/lodging means — it’s an excuse for no TV/music (“noise pollution”), no air-conditioning (only solar powered electricity), and lots of bugs (not wanting to “poison” the environment with bug sprays)! Somehow the romance of staying in an eco-river lodge was quite a “we’re-glad-we’re-only-staying-here-one-night” experience — after our previous several nights oozing with luxury. We had a small room with 2 very tiny, very hard single beds (foam rubber on wood frames), mosquito netting (although that didn’t seem to deter the bugs that inhabited our room). The other people in our group were certainly more nature lovers than we were as they had signed up for a 5 AM the next morning “nature” walk which included the necessity of wearing leach socks to keep the leaches from attaching to the skin between their hiking boots and their long pants. (Since we had gotten up at 5AM already to catch our early morning plane ride to get to Sandekan and the Sepilok sanctuary–we were also in no hurry to rise again that early the following morning.) The other “optional” trip we opted OUT of was a visit to some caves famous for it’s source of edible birds nest (swiftlets) — popular with the Japanese in “bird’s nest soup.” Joe said NO WAY when I read him a description of a visit to the caves from our Lonely Planet Guide book, which said the trail to the caves necessitated some “sweaty rock climbing”, followed by “wading through ankle-deep guano alive with insects.” Somehow, lying by a white sand beach or a turquoise lagoon type pool was more our idea of “enjoyment.”
However, we HAD gone up this river trip to enjoy another monkey experience — besides a view up close and personal of Borneo’s rainforest. The area in the river we were at was the home of a breed of primate found only in Borneo — the proboscis monkey, one of the world’s largest monkeys — growing up to 45 lbs. Our guide called them the “sexy monkey” — because the male monkey has a long bulbous nose that looks like an engorged penis. In fact the bigger the noise the more wives he attracts. They also have big pot bellies (as they have 2 stomachs) and make strange honking noises. Like the orang utans, much of their natural habitat also has been destroyed due to the palm plantations.
We left our lodge in a smaller (and quieter) long river boat just before sunset, (as that is when these strange looking monkeys come out to the trees near the river bed) and slowly and very quietly in our boat creeped along a narrow side branch of the river. Our guide had said they occasionally see the pigmy elephants, crocodiles, snakes, and rare hornbill birds along the riverbanks. We were rewarded with viewing (and watching for about an hour) 2 different “families” in 2 different sections of the proboscis monkeys as well as some macaques and silver leaf monkeys, one snake in a tree, and several types of the hornbill birds flying overhead. After our sunset river trip, we returned to the lodge to a buffet dinner, and a nature “slide show” — and an early night to bed.
The next morning (as above we opted OUT of the sunrise walk-in-the-leaches-trek) we slept in a bit, ate a hearty breakfast and readied ourselves to return to civilization — back on our 2 ½ high speed river trip BACK up the river! (Prior to leaving, we ran into our group who had gone on the sunrise hike and sure enough they were muddy with tales of leach attacks, and the only wildlife they had seen was 1 monkey and some elephant dung. --- VERY glad we didn’t go!) Upon our return to Sandekan we were met by another tour guide who guided us on a tour of the area. One stop was at a “water village” where people live on stilted houses over the water; And another interesting stop was at a war memorial that the Australians had built commemorating those that had died (mostly Australians and British) at a Japanese prison camp and during a “death march” during WWII when the Japanese occupied all of Borneo. From there we were back on a plane and heading back to Kota Kinabalu. It was a very interesting 2-day trip — but we were ready to get back to a little more luxurious surroundings.
We had booked ourselves for part 3 of our Borneo vacation at another 5 star resort (called Nexus) about an hour East of Kota Kinabalu built in the middle of nowhere with on one side a beautiful stretch of a large white sand beach and the other side, a tropical jungle. The resort also has on its grounds a world-class golf course, tennis and squash courts, horseback riding, and a host of water activities. But for us — we mostly cared about a few more days of soaking up some sun, enjoying the pool, and swimming in the warm Sulu Sea. Like the previous described resort, it has every known amenity and enough restaurants on it’s grounds that you can choose a different one each night for a week. We’ve mostly been sleeping in late (love that air-conditioning!), eating a huge buffet brunch (included in room price), spending the mornings on the ocean and the afternoons by the pool–going through several thriller books so far… followed by a late afternoon revengeful card game between the 2 of us, happy hour, with our biggest decision each day as to where we were going to eat that night. A truly relaxing and enjoyable decompression from the stresses of our cruising life.
But in 2 days we will be flying home to San Diego to rejoin the real world and our life on land at our Baja (Mexico) hacienda on the beach of Rosarito. So ends our tales of adventures for this 2005 “season.” We will be home from 25 October until around the first week of March (at which time we will fly back to Bali and rejoin Mi Gitana to continue our cruising throughout Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand).