W1702 – Bali high

In my last post, W1702 – Here really be dragons!, I described an amazing day spent at Komodo Island, including a tour ashore in the morning to view the extraordinary Komodo dragons. Leaving mid-afternoon, we sailed overnight towards the port of Benoa on the island of Bali, Indonesia, where we arrived just before lunch the next day.

As we sailed in, the sea was full of little boats, some further out with paragliders trailing in their wake, and a whole array of pleasure and fishing boats as well as jet-skiers nearer the shore. Several times our ship had to blast it’s vast hooter to clear the path before us:

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As we gently slid in beside the quay I could see another dated banner welcoming us, and the air was filled with the sound of the traditional gamelan music from Bali, coming from a band playing to us under the shade of a large gazebo:

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As soon as we were docked I headed down to the restaurant to join Carol and her Aunt Annie for lunch, as the shore tours started early in the afternoon. I was booked on a tour to visit a couple of the many religious sites and temples across the island, while Carol and Annie were off to shop in a market.

Although there had been glorious sunshine as we sailed in, by the time I left the shop to walk through the terminal building to my coach, the rain had set in. I found out later that the part of the island that Carol and Annie visited was dry, but unfortunately where I went the rain just poured down, bringing back memories of earlier tours in New Zealand.

As we headed out of the docks area we soon picked up a modern toll road which ran on stilts over the sea – our local guide explained that over 90% of land in Bali is in private hands, so the easiest and most efficient way to build the much needed relief road was to build it this way over the water. The guide also explained how the area of Bali that we were visiting is unlike the rest of Bali on limestone rock. This rock is very porous, and so the area was too short of water for agriculture, but it did have white sand beaches – so the area became the centre for tourism instead, so the local residents felt blessed after all.

After driving for around 20 minutes or so we reached our first destination, the Garuda Wisnu Kencana Cultural Park, an area of around 60 hectares devoted to the Hindu God Vishnu and his mount Garuda, the mythical bird who became his companion. The central feature of the park is a 23m high statue of Vishnu, although this was originally planned to be a vast 120m high statue of Vishnu riding on the back of Garuda, which would have a wingspan of 64m. Whether or when the statue might be completed remains unclear.

The rain was pouring down when we arrived at the park, so we were all issued with thin plastic macs, mostly in blue, but some like mine in green. This I actually found to be an advantage for spotting where our group was if I stopped behind to take photographs, for the other coach on the same tour were given red and yellow macs.

We stopped first at four murals depicting the story of Vishnu and Garuda:

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We then started climbing lots of steps to reach the statue of Vishnu, some of which had a wonderful rail sculpted as a snake. On the way we passed an attractive pool, beside which was a cute sculpture of a turtle:

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Climbing the last flight of steps the head of Vishnu came into view, framed by trees and bushes:

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At last we could see the full statue towering above us, streaked by the falling rain:

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Our guide showed us a model of how the statue is planned to look, if and when it is completed:

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We then descended different steps behind the statue, and the partially completed statue of Garuda came into view, equally huge and impressive:

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Our return to the coach took us through steep gullies cut into the limestone rock, and past a much smaller statue of Vishnu riding Garuda:

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Re-boarding our coach, we then drove towards our second destination, Uluwatu Temple:

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Uluwatu Temple is a Balinese sea temple built high on the edge of a 70m cliff projecting out into the sea. Although a small temple was claimed to have existed earlier, the structure was significantly expanded by a Javanese sage, Empu Kuturan in the 11th Century. The grounds surrounding the temple are inhabited by numerous monkeys, and our guide carefully warned us to be very careful about our valuables such as glasses, necklaces etc. as the monkeys were renowned for stealing them, and either breaking them or dropping them over the edge of the steep cliffs. He suggested that where possible we took off our glasses, but in my case my eyesight is so poor without them that this was not really practical. One plus point from the heavy rain was that it made it much less likely for the monkeys to be around, and in the end I only saw three, none of which troubled me.

After tying an orange sash around our waists to show our respect, we walked through the grounds to the cliffs either side of the temple, passing amazing sculptures on the way:

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We could only view the temple from a distance, only Hindu devotees worshiping there may enter the building. On returning to the car park one of the monkeys conveniently posed for us to photograph it:

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As we drove back towards our ship it was clearly the start of ‘rush hour’, as the roads were much more full of traffic, especially motorbikes. Our guide explained that for most families this is the only practical form of transport as they cannot afford a car and public transport is so poor. Hence you often see several adults and children all piled on the same bike, often without helmets or protective clothing which seemed dangerous to us, and he said the police turn a blind eye as often they are in the same situation away from work.

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We stopped at a large souvenir shop to allow us to do some shopping which totally disinterested me, after a brief wander around the shop I just got back on the coach and waited until we could continue.

Returning to the ship I was very glad to peel off my wet clothing (despite the free mac), and take a warm shower. Later as we sat at dinner we noticed a tourist sailing boat slip past our ship, all lit up:

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That evening the show was performed by a local group of Balinese gamelan musicians and dancers who put on a fabulous and very colourful show for us:

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We were in port overnight, and were not due to sail until 6pm the following day. Carol and I had planned to explore more of the island together, however the day dawned blisteringly hot even in the shade, and neither of us felt we wanted to venture far from the cool of the air conditioned ship! It was also quite a taxi ride to the nearest town with no shuttle bus, so we decided just to look around some market stalls that were just outside the terminal building. However once again we were hassled far too much by the stallholders and so didn’t want to linger long, and so we soon returned to the cool of the ship where we rested all day.

Our stay in Bali can be summed up in three ‘high’s – the high rainfall on the first day, the high quality show during the evening, and the too high temperatures and humidity on the second day!

We set sail at 6pm as planned, and as we sailed away from the island we enjoyed a barbecue out on the open deck poolside. We were sailing towards Singapore, which we would reach after two and a half days at sea, and which will be the subject of my next few posts as we will be in port for two and a half days.

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