North into the East Indies

July 16, 2018

February 23-26, 2018


Javanese market vendors in a village outside Semarang, on the way up the mountain to Gedong Songo.

I confess, I’ve never been sure where the ‘East Indies’ begin and end. No wonder: Britannica describes them as ‘the islands that extend in a wide belt along both sides of the Equator for more than 3,800 miles (6,100 km) between the Asian mainland to the north and west and Australia to the south.’


A broad territory that includes my next three stops, in Indonesia.


Indonesia is not an easy country to describe: The fourth largest country in the world, ‘[t]here are around 300 distinct native ethnic groups... and 742 different languages and dialects’ [Wiki]. It is the country with the world’s largest population of Muslims. Yet the island of Bali is predominantly Hindu — and it is filled with fabulous Hindu temples, including one of my favorite sights of my entire trip, Pura Taman Ayun. But, first...



The ‘dragons’ were discovered by Westerners in 1910; 1926 news footage of them inspired the first King Kong movie. No, he wasn’t a lizard; I imagine it was the idea that monstrously large wild animals lurk in the jungle, just waiting for modern man to tame them. You know how that turned out. Until fairly recently, the dragons were lured into view with live goats staked in the middle of this arena. These are small fry: they can weigh up to 250 pounds.

Bali, the Island of the Gods

As I wrote earlier, at this point the trip was getting truly exotic. My favorite spot: the 17th-century Taman Ayun Royal Temple, once the family temple of the powerful Mengwi dynasty; the dynasty survived until the late 1800s.

The wood-and-thatch ‘meru’ shrines at Taman Ayun... exquisite.

​Outside the temple complex...

After lunch at a former royal palace-turned-guesthouse, we proceeded to the most photographed spot in all Bali, the 16th-c., black lava Tanah Lot, or ‘Sunshine’ Temple, which becomes separated from the mainland when the tide rises. The site was swarming with tourists, mostly Asian.


​Java on horseback...

The island was a trade center of the mammoth Dutch East Indies Company in the 1600s and 1700s. The Dutch were in control for 300 years — in fact, Indonesia welcomed the Japanese in WWII because it brought Dutch rule to an end. We docked at the port of Semarang, then took a normal size bus up into the hills before transferring to smaller vans that could manage the narrow roads and village streets.

Muslim schoolchildren (in white) walking home...

Once we ran out of road, we switched to horses for the final climb to the 9th-century Gedong Songo temple complex.​

Post horse, we wandered through the village market...


Then began the long ride back to the ship. #



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