There is often a small band or local musical group welcoming us when we arrive at various ports. Our welcoming party today was the most elaborate of any commercial cruise I have experienced and rivaled those usually reserved for the most formal arrival ceremonies when I was in the US Navy. Since we moored starboard side, we didn’t see the marching bands and other welcoming parties until we started down the gangway and we missed seeing the Captain and other senior officers exchange traditional gifts and participate in other formal events. Remember, this is all happening around 6:15 in the morning!
Once off the ship and we started to walk down the pier, I felt as if we had interrupted a large military Change of Command, it was almost has if we had opened the wrong door in a theatre and found ourselves suddenly on stage. We walked thru the Merchant Navy Cadets Honor Guard who had formed an arch of swords followed by another contingent of Merchant Marine Cadets rendering snappy salutes. This was a very impressive military display and the enthusiasm was evident and much appreciated. It is always nice to feel welcome.
The main event was the all day tour to Borobudur. There would be 7 bus loads of guests taking part, almost 25% of the ship. Three of the busses, including us, would leave a little early and take a 30 minute train ride thru some ride paddies along the way. The other busses would drive directly to Borobudur with one rest stop along the way. The 55 mile trip to Borobudur would take around 3 hours with one hour of that time used for breaks and shopping stops.
The worst traffic in the world was forecast for today – and while busy in spots – I would rather drive to Borobudur than deal with the traffic on the drive from Fresno to Yosemite Valley. The roads were busy, with only one lane each direction for about ½ the trip, but the motorists were driving safely and were obeying normal traffic rules. Based on the ship’s location talks, we had come to expect something out of Mad Max Thunder Road – but this was not even close to being the case. The way to think about this would be like this. Imagine you arrived in San Francisco and were taking a one day tour out to Sonoma and back – about the same distance – the traffic could be a nightmare, or a relative breeze. I would think about traffic in the Indonesian ports the same way as you think about traffic in LA, NYC or Boston – plan ahead and leave yourself plenty of buffer time – or take a ships tour.
After leaving the very industrial port area – similar to Long Beach, but not as big – we entered a toll road that was empty and we sped along at 60mph for about 45 minutes until we arrived at the railhead for our 30 minute train ride.
The trains were old, with bench seats facing each other next to open windows. It was quite pleasant with mild temperatures, not what we had expected, but again it was quite early. The train travelled down perfectly straight, level track, thru a series of rice paddies with some people working the fields in knee deep water, with others moving about in long canoes. Along the banks of the rice paddies and next to the train tracks we saw men holding shotguns at the ready peering into the water. Not sure if they were looking to kill snakes or varmints or were hunting for something to eat.
Now clear of the rice paddies we saw a platoon of soldiers wearing camouflage uniforms come jogging down a road carrying military style rifles. They appeared to be involved in some sort of training exercise from a nearby military base.
By mere happenstance we sat across from Zulie and Karl, a very nice couple from Florida, who mentioned that their son was following a blog about our cruise called theinsidecabin.com. They were a little surprised to learn that they were sitting across from “The Inside Cabin” himself – so here is a shout out to their son, Mark, in Florida.
While getting off the train and back onto the busses, we had to run our first gauntlet of local vendors selling everything from fans, small elephants, replicas of Borobudur and some interesting looking paper parachutes. They were quite persistent – and borderline annoying, but they would leave you alone after you said no a half dozen times.
Our police escort, who had been leading us since we left port, was now starting to earn their keep as we headed off the main roads onto a winding, two lane road. The roads were all in excellent condition, well-marked with traffic signals and signs as you would expect anywhere. Automobile drivers were staying in their lanes, obeying the speed limits and driving courteously. The mopeds and motorcyclists would swarm and split lanes but were not causing anyone concern. Whenever we started to slow behind traffic our lead police car would swing into the opposing lane, siren wailing, lights flashing and force cars coming from the opposite direction onto the shoulder. We were the lead bus and right behind us were the 6 other buses with another police car in trail. Most of the time we were in our own lane, driving normally behind the police car. Our police escort allowed us to run all red lights at full speed. Unlike the USA where an emergency vehicle will pause before entering an intersection with a red light, we motored thru at full speed. We continued like this for about 1 hour until we arrived at Borobudur. There were only a couple of times where we experienced a “close call” with traffic going the opposite direction.
The grounds surrounding Borobudur are neatly trimmed and beautifully landscaped and they presented a very organized feeling similar to what you get when approaching Disney World – everything was manicured and in its place.
Once out of the busses, we followed our guide to the base of Borobudur, which is a very impressive structure. Borobudur is a Buddhist Temple that was built in the 9th century and abandoned 500 years later in the 14th century following the decline of the Hindu Kingdoms in Java and their subsequent conversion to Islam. Borobudur lay hidden underneath volcanic ash and jungle growth until the early 1800’s when the British Governor General Thomas Stamford Raffles sent out an expedition to investigate rumors of a large monument deep in the Jungle. Restoration would continue in fits and starts until the early 1970’s when Borobudur was taken apart stone by stone, cleaned, cataloged, the foundation stabilized and finally reassembled. Work was completed in 1991 when it was designated as a UNESCO world heritage site.
Borobudur is a complex structure with many galleries, carved relief panels, small and large Buddhas and various stupas overlooking the surrounding grounds and mountains.
Our guide lead us around the base, explaining significant features along the way. We will eventually climb up to each of the 3 major levels, culminating with our ascent to the highest level, which is described as attaining Nirvana. Climbing Borobudur was slow going – it was over 100 degrees – (95 in the shade) but most of us did finally reach the third level and attained some level of Nirvana.
Going down was easier that going up, but you still had to be careful as some of the steps were quite steep. We eventually made it to the bottom and wound our way to the lunch pavilion where we enjoyed a Indonesian style buffet followed by some culturally relevant entertainment. This consisted of two groups of beautiful girls wearing ornate costumes dancing to some very pretty music. We didn’t get an explanation so I never learned more about the performances background or history.
Time to get back on the busses for the 3 hour trip back to the Amsterdam. The traffic going down was about the same as coming up, with a repeat of the police leading the way and clearing the road ahead.
We stopped twice on the way back, for about 30 minutes each time, for bathroom breaks, soft drinks and to give the local vendors another crack at making some more sales. At the first stop we enjoyed an ad hoc puppet show with the puppet master telling some story about a man and a tiger, using flat figures cut out of metal for puppets.
At 3:32 our armada of busses pulled up to the cruise terminal and everyone piled out heading back to the ship. There were a few shops along the way still open, but now that we were past our all aboard time, ship security was walking alongside the crowd, trying to herd us back to the ship so we could leave on time. There was about a 20 minute line to get back on the ship since everyone, over 250 people had to go thru the ships single metal detector and x-ray machine. Everyone was back onboard around 4pm and it took the crew until 4:20 to get everything wrapped up and let go all the lines. Our bow was already pointed out to sea, so once the thrusters pushed us off the pier we were moving toward open ocean. The wind started to kick up, so much so, that a few of the tables set up for the Sail Away were ready to blow over. The sailaway was lightly attended and once the wind picked up we headed back to our cabin.
For dinner, I had the grilled Mahi Mahi which was wonderful as usual.
Tonight’s entertainment was called “A Night at the Opera” with Opera Interludes. Opera Interludes is a group of 2 male singers, 2 female singers and a piano player. They sing and act out various songs from popular operas and while I am not an opera fan, their performance was outstanding. After attending my first Opera in the Sydney Opera House, and now this, I may become an opera fan after all. This is one of the benefits of cruising in general and a Grand Voyage in particular. The entertainment has been outstanding and you have a unique opportunity to sample a variety of shows you would otherwise never consider.
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