One the highlights of this trip was a chance to visit Borobudur, a World Heritage site and a place we’d very much wanted to visit.
It was a fair drive from Semarang, where we were docked, so it involved an early start. We’d gathered at 6.15am but various immigration procedures and suchlike meant that it was gone 7 before we actually got going. Our late departure was causing concern, since we knew that we were in for a long journey but the Captain was there to wish us a great day and promised that he wouldn’t leave without us! It was raining, but even so, these lovely Indonesian dancers were there to greet us, beautifully made up and doing their best to create a little sunshine on this rather dreary morning.
As a result, we didn’t see much of the first part of our journey. We did, however, hear the siren of the police car which escorted us throughout the day! Our coach sped through the traffic behind the flashing blue lights and siren making the journey rather entertaining at times.
The suburbs of Semarang weren’t too pretty in the rain, though our guide, Udin, pointed out anything interesting. He also reassured us that Mr Puddy, the driver, was very experienced and we were in good hands. We were to be glad of that reassurance later!
We passed by markets where people were doing deals, buying the odd duck or hen for supper and then carrying it away by it’s feet. At this point, I was glad to be at a distance!
Soon, we began to climb up out of the build up environment and into a lush world of paddy fields and wooded hills.
At this point, the driving became, ermmm…..interesting! Travelling in a line of traffic uphill, behind a slow moving lorry, the police car would overtake on a blind bend, waving the downhill traffic into the gutter to allow our passage. At times, there would be inches between us and some two ton truck and somehow a motorcycle rider would sneak through with millimetres to spare. Just like in Vietnam, a shared responsibility for everyone’s safety means that people take risks in the hope that others will avoid them. Oh my.
A “comfort stop” along the way resulted in a rather long line for the ladies!
But we were soon back on our way and passing through coffee plantations, mahogany and teak woods and before long, we got our first glimpse of our destination.
Though we’ve seen pictures, we didn’t really have a grasp of the scale of Borobudur.
But here we were.
Wow. What a setting! We did our best to tie on the obligatory sarongs, take photos, look around and take it all in, but already Udin was setting a hot pace. Photographers did their best to entice us into posing in front of the monument, but we didn’t want to linger.
We wanted to climb!
Well, not so much climb, but we certainly wanted to see more. Though the steps were steep and unevenly spaced, it wasn’t too difficult because they were in groups of no more than a dozen or so, allowing us to catch our breath on each stage before climbing higher.
Not only that, but our “VIP” status allowed us to begin the climb from the best place and to avoid the km walk uphill to the entrance.
We walked around each level, gasping at the beauty and fine detail of the carvings. We learned how the nearby volcano had erupted and covered the temple with dust, how it had been taken apart and reassembled with stronger support on the inside. Above all, we marvelled at the engineering expertise of the builders.
I loved the colour variations, especially where the water had flowed and there was a small mossy patch.
I loved how the pathways were paved like a game of Tetris.
And when I remembered to look up and out, I loved the view!
The depth of the relief and the detailed carving was remarkable and every small vignette revealed a new image, a different story and truly individual characters.
In just one or two places, the pieces didn’t quite match up and for me, that could only add to the charm!
Soon, we were nearing the top. Standing here amongst the stupas, each of which had a carved Buddha inside, we listened to Udin as he told us about the way to achieve Nirvana.
We enjoyed the company of local youngsters and laughed with them as they took photographs of us and we of them. Good humour abounds!
From the top, the views were stunning.
We just couldn’t stop taking photos. But then Udin recommended we follow the Buddhist way and walk three times clockwise around the top stage. The first time around, we should contemplate the view. The second, we should focus on the Buddha statues and the third, we should meditate in silence. That way, we could experience what Borobudur was all about.
We followed his advice and having done our three rounds, we made our way down again.
That took concentration and perhaps it was good that we had gathered our thoughts before attempting those tricky steps again.
By now it was lunchtime, more yummy Indonesian food and a tasty selection of desserts. The small bananas are always our favourite, the mangosteen is a refreshing and slightly less cloying alternative to lychees and rambutans. But the green jelly spheres concealed a palm sugar and nutty syrup inside which was a delicious surprise and the cone was a leaf rolled around a soft palm sugar blancmange-type dessert. All interesting, beautifully prepared and presented.
And accompanied by lovely smiles and charming dancing.
The way home was exactly the outbound route in reverse, though the traffic was incredible. Believe it or not, our police car got us through, though Mr Puddy’s skills were sorely tested, I can tell you – as evidenced by the occasional squeal from those people who had bagged the front seats.
The Durian season is coming to an end here and there were stalls selling them by the side of the road. This was another occasion when I was glad to be behind glass. If you’ve smelled Durian, you’ll understand why!
We were racing to get back to the ship, though, because we needed to be on board for 3.30pm for a 4pm sailaway and it was now gone 3.25.
When we arrived, however, we were to find the Captain and several members of the crew dealing with a rather curious situation. The tide had come in and the inshore wind was blowing the water over the dockside, resulting in acqua alta!
Concerned as always for the safety and comfort of his passengers, this Captain has been a delightful presence throughout our journey and on this afternoon, he was there to welcome us back and to reassure us that he’d have kept his promise not to leave without us!
Safely on board, we popped outside to see what they’d had to do to keep our feet dry! The crew of this ship are truly remarkable and once again, we admired the way in which all the senior officers get involved with situations such as these.
And that was that. The end of another great experience and time for Trivia again. Would we make it three triumphs in a row? Sadly not – we were beaten in the tie-breaker!
A fun evening followed – the Crew show is always charming and dinner with a bunch of friends in Signatures, the French restaurant, followed by the Broadway show was a fine finish to the day. Sadly, we’re nearing the end of the journey but we’re not quite there yet. We cross the Equator tomorrow and anyone who’s done that on a ship will know there’s fun involved.
I promise to share!