On our continuing excursion from Sydney to Beijing, we arrived in Padang Bai, Bali, Indonesia, and tendered in from our ship, the Regent Seven Seas Voyager, to the dock. There, four of us in a van plus the craft instructor and our driver and his assistant began an 8 1/2 hour journey around this wonderful charming island.
The Balinese people are descendants of a prehistoric race who migrated through mainland Asia to the Indonesian archipelago. To this day, they retain their own individuality, having absorbed and adapted those parts of each dominating civilization, which best suited their own spiritual and creative values. They are mostly Hindu. Dharma and Karma is a big thing with them.
We took off up into the hill country., It is very scenic with the rice paddies terraced down the hills. Every community of homes has a shrine with varying degrees of opulence.
We stopped in a town to visit an ancient royal temple. We were swarmed with vendors offering batik sarongs, which I find fun. They did not follow us into the temple and its grounds. There were many spiritual offerings around on walks, walls and statues. These consisted of a large flower with orange petals of some kind and small incense sticks.
The country has been through a lot. The Dutch came and went, then there was President Sukarno who had all of Indonesia in an uproar. In 1956, the Besakih volcano erupted. Many died and famine prevailed over wide areas. Entire villages were wiped out, and thousands of acres of farmland were ruined. Less than 10 years later, the Communist Party staged an abortive coup d’etat in Jakarta and reprisals began all over Indonesia as the Nationalists set out to extinguish all traces of communism. Bali was the scene of incredible violence and thousands of people were killed.
Much of Bali’s rich history is still evident in its modern culture. For example, Nyepi (which means “silent”) Day, is celebrated every New Year. On this day, usually in March or April, the Balinese do not work, light fire (or use electricity), go outside or fulfill personal desires. These observances allow the people to reflect and cleanse themselves while also allowing the Earth to rest and cleanse itself for the New Year. Each year on Nypei Day, the entire island is quiet and after sunset, it is completely dark.
We visited a wood carver, a painting studio and bought souvenirs from persistent ladies in the streets. Usually the street vendors were much cheaper than the studios for the same thing. It is a given that you barter and haggle over the price. A $5 carved box on the street was $45 in the studio, and they were identical! The studio came down to $10. Everyone wears sarongs, and we were inundated by all sorts of batik sarongs. It was fun. Hand-painted coolie hats were a must for home at the pool. God only knows how I will pack it. Perhaps Brad will wear it home. Not likely.
It was just starting to rain as we boarded the tender for the “Mother Ship.” The outdoor barbecue on Deck 11 was pulled back under the running track and tables set up inside.
We ate downstairs in the elegant Compass Rose as the guests of the head of human resources and the chief head of housekeeping. Others at the dinner were our friends Bruce and Andrea from Oregon and a couple from Los Angles. He is a manufacturer of protective gear (such as Kevlar vests) for the police and the army. It was an interesting and fun evening.
After dinner, we went to see the Platters on the ship’s theater stage. Yes, they are still alive. They sang all the songs from our youth and brought back memories of good times. The theater was packed. They had the old folks dancing in the aisles. Seriously!
The next morning, we were running late and did not make the high tide to cross the sand bar at Sandakan in Malaysia. So we headed directly to the Philippines.
Oh well, we’ll have to come back another day to see the orangutans in the rain forest.
And it will give us another day in Manila. Our floating hotel staff that we interact with every day, are mostly from the Philippines. They are so sweet and work so hard to please all of us that we are thrilled they will have another day to see their families that live in or near Manila.
Children, parents, cousins and aunts all show up to see their kin. It is a big party for the Philippine staff while we are out sightseeing.
These are poor people who love their families. It is sad when the ship leaves and tiny children are waving and crying “Poppi, Mami, don’t go!”, The Philippine staff are paid less than the European staff. We don’t know why. But all the ship lines do it.
In the evening, the Balinese members of the crew wanted us to see their Kecak Dance. They took it upon themselves to order costumes and performed for us before dinner in the big theater.
The Kecak dance is the most dramatic of all the dances seen on Bali now. It is taken from the Hindu epic “Ramayana.”
Unlike other dances, there is no gamelan orchestra accompanying it. Instead, a troupe of bare-chested men serve as the chorus, making a wondrous cacophony of synchronized “chak-achak-achak” clicking sounds while swaying their bodies and waving their hands.
We had dinner at Jimbo’s Diner, a tradition on the ship. It takes for its theme, a biker joint. Everyone comes in costume. There are trashy barflies, a Marilyn Monroe look-a-like, blonde floozies, very pregnant girls with young “hoods” from the entertainment staff. The best was one of our starchiest friends who came in leggings, a see-through dress, blonde wig and hooker heels. We were in hysterics.
The next day we arrived in Manila a day early because of the cancelation of the stop at Sandakan. Manila is a favorite of mine for shopping. We shopped along the dock and then took a bus tour of the city. Our first stop was Rizal Park for a history lesson, and then we went to Fort Santiago, started in 1571 by Rajah Sulayman and completed nearly 150 years later by Filipino forced labor (by then Spain was running the show)., Next was Casa Manila Intramuros (meaning within the walls), a charming old house in the old part of town.
Across from it was San Agustin Church. It is said, “He was a man who came back and the journey itself was his cargo. This is what made him a discoverer, not because he was the first to arrive, but rather because his was an adventure to be narrated, one that could be understood, one that could be told. He was a man who came back to prove that it was possible to return.”
After surviving a number of earthquakes, typhoons, fires and wars through the centuries, Intramuros took the deathblow when the Americans liberated the Philippines from the Japanese in 1945. Artillery shells reduced the walls and buildings to ashes. Thousands died during the eight-day siege.
When it was over, Intramuros was a dead city. Eventually they had enough resources to try to restore the historical area. The cathedrals, some dating from 1571, were reduced to their foundations. They were rebuilt. The area is flourishing now.
The shopping was wonderful. I was beginning to worry. I always use our bathtub to stash purchases, and it was looking pitiful, but now it looks good for Christmas!
As I write this I am listening to the reports of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan. We expect to ride it out fairly well because Manila is on the east side of the island. And we are on a boat. But it does give you a strange feeling to be here.
We acted as life was normal. We had dinner with friends from Oregon and of course the only topic was the tsunami. After dinner, we had entertainment to take our minds off the trauma.
The National Dance Company of the Philippines, which is considered a national treasure, presented “Bayanihan.” The word means “working for the common good.” They have performed in 66 countries and more than 700 cities around the world.
The next day we took off for the Villa Escudero, a colonial coconut plantation that dates back to the 1800s.
We arrived and had a tour of the Escudero Private Museum, one of the largest collections of junque I have ever seen!, It was a mishmash of family vintage clothing, personal items, ugly china and more religious items than the Vatican has.
They have their own huge pink and white church, the house is pink and white and you are driven around the place in covered wagons pulled by water buffalo. We went to a man-made waterfall that falls to a large flat creek bed that has picnic tables and benches in the water. You took off your shoes and waded in and went to the buffet table and found your spot and ate with the water cascading down and around your feet. It was certainly different.
Afterward we went to a huge pavilion with a stage and sat through a delightful afternoon of native musical entertainment of song and dance and beautiful costumes.
Then it was “Ride “˜em Cowboy” on the way home. Our buses had two police motorcycles for an escort. Nothing passed us on the two-lane roads or the four-lane expressways. They rode ahead and motioned cars, trucks and everyone off to the side. We breezed through three tollbooths and never slowed up. It is supposed to be a two-hour drive. We did it in just under an hour. Whew!
Next up: Taiwan.
About the Author (Author Profile)
A fixture in Louisville society, Carla Sue Broecker has been writing her weekly column for more than two decades.