Monday 20th March 2017

Bali, day 1

On Friday Gill e-mailed a company called Bali Made Tour to ask if they could arrange a private excursion for us. The brief was to include a two hour spa visit for Gill and a driver to show me around in the meantime, plus a show of some sort and return to the ship by 8pm. But first of all we had to arrive in port!

As we approached Benoa, Bali's port, we ran into lots of pleasure craft buzzing around in the main channel like flies, and Sirena's captain had to keep angrily sounding the ship's hooter, warning everyone to stay clear. He then had to turn the ship ninety degrees and reverse to the quay, a really tricky manoeuvre in the circunstances, with two tugs standing by.

By 1pm we'd had lunch and went ashore to find our driver, Putu. We were delighted to see that he was driving a modern, air-conditioned car and to find out that he spoke quite good English. Later we realised that this was quite an achievement when he said that he didn't have a passport and had never left Indonesia. We suspect that he'd never left Bali itself.

We went straight to the spa, where Gill disembarked for her two hour session. She was massaged, scrubbed and moisturised, then soaked in a perfumed bath while she drank a cup of ginger tea. 'Two hours later she floated out' – first hand quote ;o)

While Gill was in the spa, Putu drove me around. Knowing that we had to be back at the spa in two hours seemed to limit him a bit. He asked if I'd like to go to the 'Upside-down House' – he'd never visited it himself but said that a friend of his had found it fun. I had no idea what to expect, but paid my 100,000 rupiah (less than £7) entry fee and went in.

There were several young people waiting to 'help' visitors, and initially I couldn't see why. Rooms were all upside-down, with furniture fixed to the ceiling and the walls. My young guide showed me how to take a one-legged pose while hanging on to something and pretend to scream while I took her photo. She then indicated that we should change places and she photographed me. She showed me the result on my camera, turning it upside down, and and it did look as if I was holding on for fear of falling. Fairly amusing, but not exactly hilarious, but she seemed to enjoy it enormously.

I didn't stay long, and Putu then took me to a site where there was a Hindu temple right next to a Chinese shrine, and we visited them both. He found a spare sarong for me to wear – it's compulsory when visiting temples, it seems. The Hindu site seemed a little run down, but there were several people paying their religious respects. An old man, who seemed to be the senior person present told Putu that he must pray, so he did. He also gave me a fistful of burning joss sticks to carry, both palms clasped together, and plant in an earth-filled urn. He also heavily suggested that I should put some cash in the collection box, so I donated 50,000 rupiah – well, it sounds like a lot, doesn't it?

The Chinese shrine looked quite a bit different, and when I asked Putu a couple of questions about it he apologised and said that he didn't know because it wasn't his religion. When we left the site with still an hour to go before Gill would be finished he seemed to be at a bit of a loss over what to do, but suggested going to look at the beach - that was fine by me.

The surf was pounding up the beach, so it wasn't one for swimming. I killed ten minutes before suggesting that we go back to the spa to meet Gill. It was only later that I realised that this was where the bomb had gone off in 2002, killing lots of Australian and European tourists.

We picked up Gill and set off again, and our first stop was at a 'plantation' - well, they had a few coffee bushes with beans on them! They also had some caged mongooses. If we understood our guide correctly they make coffee from the beans left in the animals' poo. They then peel roast and grind them- we were glad we're tea-only people! We were given seven varieties tea to taste and quite liked the 'Rosella' and Lemon Grass variants, so we bought some. They're in powder form and you drink them with a fair bit of sugar, it seems. Still, a pleasant alternative to coffee that's been through a mongoose ;o)

Next, Putu offered a beach visit, which, already having seen one, I wasn't too keen on. There was an entry fee to pay at a kiosk at the top of some steep stone steps and we set off downwards. After two flights we really weren't sure that there was any point in continuing, and then we were diverted by the local monkeys, many of whom were carrying their young whilst leaping about. We later saw warnings that they have a habit of stealing sunglasses, earrings, bags, cameras and other easily-grabbed items that they then try to barter for food. We saw one of them proudly carrying a single flip-flop that it picked at in idle curiosity. We could well understand that they're very intelligent creatures. After a few minutes' entertainment we opted against the long hike down the stairs to the beach and instead returned to find Putu and continue.

The final stop on the tour was at the Uluwatu clifftop temple, which once again required sarongs even though we couldn't enter. The walk along the cliff edge was a bit scary, with views down to seas with surf breaking fiercely below. It was safe enough, with walls along the path, but didn't help that there were so very many people there. With hindsight it was apparent that the attraction was the 'Kecak and Fire Dance' that we were also heading for.

Right at the edge of the cliff was a little amphitheatre that reminded me of the Minack Theatre in Cornwall. We later estimated that there must have been space for 1,500 to 2,000 people, all sitting on steps. Our guide told us that, at the end of the show we should make an early exit, 'when they kick the fires away', because there would otherwise be delays in getting back up to the car. We didn't see how we could be so rude as to do this, especially when we found ourselves sitting three steps from the front and with people really packed in together.

Kecak is a Balinese dance with a 'choir' of seventy men virtually chanting themselves into a trance in an event that lasts an hour. It's based on the Hindu epic, 'Ramayama', involving the kidnapping of Prince Rama's wife, Sita, by the demon king, Rahwana, involving transformations and disguises that an audience can see through immediately but that completely perplex the heroes. In the end, the monkey army and its leader, King Hanoman the White Monkey, rescue Sita, and she and Rama are reunited.

The fire bit came near the end, by which time darkness had fallen. Hanoman is captured by the baddies and they attempt to burn him alive, but because of his supernatural powers he escapes, victorious. Luckily, we were given explanatory notes that Gill read but I only skimmed, and she was keeping me up to date throughout ;o) There were very few Europeans present, and the majority of the audience seemed to be of Hindu background, which meant that they were very familiar with the plot.

The last 20 minutes of the show turned into a comedy circus, with Hanoman leaping about amongst the audience, sending one little European lad into floods of startled tears. One of the 'baddies' addressed the crowd, stand-up style, finding out which countries they were from and making jokes in their various languages. Another of them got a bit too close to one of the Europeans while taunting him. His 'victim' whipped off his combined mask/headdress, put it on himself and danced around to the intense amusement of both the baddy and the locals. Great fun!

But the high point of the show was the finale, when Hanoman is bound and a circle of what looked like coconut fibres is laid around him, whereupon this is set alight, representing him being burned alive. The problem was that it was a windy day, which explained the ferocity of the surf below us, and the coconuts fibres started to blow into the choir, whose members had to skip aside. Meanwhile Hanoman stamps out the flames and reunites Rama and Sita. End of show.

We stayed until the end, which a lot of the audience didn't do, drifting out, impolitely, from the ten minute point onwards. We made a determined exit through the crowds and a delighted Putu met us and took us straight to his car. We think that he'd been anxious about getting us back to the ship on time and had expected a traffic jam leaving the site.

We were back on board at 8pm and went straight to the restaurant on the top deck, as we needed to eat quickly if we were to get good seats for the night's show. This was advertised as a 'Balinese Folkloric Show', and was probably the best post-dinner entertainment of the cruise so far. A small band played on xylophone-like instruments that they struck with what looked like claw hammers while a group of teenage dancers performed in exquisite costumes. A fabulous end to a very interesting day!

Tuesday 21st March 2017

Bali, day 2

We had to be ready to leave the ship on our excursion at 7.40am, so we set an alarm. As is usual when we set an alarm, we woke beforehand!

The tour was called, 'Balinese Arts and Crafts. Our first stop was at a silver workshop, where they had some lovely jewellery that had been made on the premises. In their large showroom Gill and I both centred in on the same lovely silver necklace, and she tried it on. Unfortunately, it was a little too long, and the assistant said that it couldn't be altered, but moments later another assistant hunted her down to say that they could indeed shorten it, and before our bus left. After shortening it twice it was perfect and we bought it just in time to re-join the bus. Quite a few other people bought items as well, so it was a good half hour's visit for the silversmiths!

At the next stop no one was likely to buy anything. This was in a village that specialises in bamboo furniture, and we watched a couple of people skilfully working with very sharp knives. And that seems to be a theme on Bali, with communities specialising in particular crafts – we also passed a village where the locals make nothing but kites, and if we'd stopped I might have found the one looking like a three-masted sailing ship a bit hard to resist!

Then it was a wood-carving workshop, with a handful of men carving items with incredible precision amongst a profusion of magnificent pieces. The most impressive of these were tree trunks, including their roots, that had been transformed into a mass of characters and animals. The carvers must have incredible vision to be able to 'see' the finished work even before they start work.

The next stop along the road featured paintings, some of which we could imagine on our walls if only they weren't so enormous. It seemed odd to offer such very large pieces to tourists when they'd prefer something a lot smaller, but the artistry was still excellent.

The final stop was at a batik workshop, which pleased a lot of people on our coach. At least here was a chance to buy some easily portable items! After this it was back to the ship for lunch.

As the ship picked its way out of the harbour at 4pm there was still a fair number of blasts of the ship's hooter, urging smaller boats out of the way. This was quite important since the available channel was really quite narrow and there were shallows close by.

This evening Gill bought the string quartet's CD and got them all to sign it. They're really lovely people and are seemingly unused to their semi-stardom on this ship.

Tomorrow's another sea day when we can relax and start going through our photos so far.




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