We were scheduled to be docked by 8:00am but due to a scheduling conflict at the port in Benoa, there was a large ferry transport occupying our berth. Apologetically, the Captain announced we would be circling the outer harbor until the ferry departed. By 9:15, we were successfully moored. This was a particularly exciting day for two reasons. First & foremost, Bali is home to dozens of crew members. Second, our largest theme party of the World Voyage was scheduled for that evening aboard the ship, but more on that later. As we were approaching the pier, it was heartwarming to see the hundreds of family members who came to greet their loved ones. Our arrival was almost as festive as a military ship returning from sea duty! Holland America made prior arrangements to have a special tent setup shoreside (complete with chairs) to accommodate the many families. When you consider that most of these crew members haven’t been home for as long as 10 months, this was very special indeed. Those of us who have cabin stewards from Bali posted signs on our doors indicating we were declining all services for the day, which meant they were free to take the day off and spend their precious time with family members.
Since Bali is so diverse and with limited time to see it, we decided to forego a large tour bus and instead, hired a 4WD vehicle with an English-speaking guide. Within minutes after docking, we were buckled in this little Jeep with no air conditioning, and off we went. Although it was humid to the point of oppressive, it was the best decision we could have made! Before sharing some general information & thoughts, here’s a small collection of some great memories from in and around the area.
So, Bali is a province in the country of Indonesia. The province covers a few small neighboring islands as well as the isle of Bali. The main island is located in the westernmost end of the Lesser Sunda Islands, lying between Java to the west and Lombok to the east. It is one of the country's 34 provinces with the provincial capital at Denpasar towards the south of the island. With a population of roughly 4.2 million, the island is home to most of Indonesia's Hindu minority - about 93% of Bali's population adheres to Balinese Hinduism while most of the remainder follow Islam. Bali has a varied landscape of hills and mountains, rugged coastlines and sandy beaches, lush rice terraces and barren volcanic hillsides, all providing a picturesque backdrop to its colorful, deeply spiritual and unique culture. They say this is one of the world's most popular island destinations - renowned for its diverse and sophisticated art forms such as painting, sculpture, woodcarving, handcrafts, and performing arts. Balinese percussion orchestra music, known as gamelan, is highly developed and varied. Balinese performing arts often portray stories from Hindu epics such as the Ramayana but with heavy Balinese influence. Famous Balinese dances include pendet, legong, baris, topeng, barong, gong keybar, and kecak (the monkey dance). I realize these dance names are probably meaningless, but they are nonetheless an integral part of one of the most diverse and innovative performing arts cultures in the world – they have paid performances at thousands of temple festivals, private ceremonies, & public shows each year. One such show & demonstration was held on our ship as a part of our celebration before we departed – it was an incredible evening.
Bali is also home to over 100 Circle K Stores. While much smaller than our typical footprint back home, I was very proud to share with our guide & driver that I spent over 32 years with this wonderful company! I must admit – it was rather strange to see one of our stores sandwiched between sacred temples of worship. The temples are literally everywhere – thousands of them. Most temples have an inner courtyard and an outer courtyard which are arranged with the inner courtyard furthest kaja. These spaces serve as performance venues since most Balinese rituals are accompanied by any combination of music, dance and drama. The performances that take place in the inner courtyard are classified as wali, the most sacred rituals which are offerings exclusively for the gods, while the outer courtyard is where bebali ceremonies are held, which are intended for gods and people. Lastly, performances meant solely for the entertainment of humans take place outside the walls of the temple and are called bali-balihan. This three-tiered system of classification was standardized about 40 years ago by a committee of Balinese officials and artists in order to better protect the sanctity of the oldest and most sacred Balinese rituals from being performed for a paying audience.
Balinese society continues to revolve around each family's ancestral village, to which the cycle of life and religion is closely tied. We were able to walk through a neighborhood (or village) – & posted on the entrance wall of each home is a listing of residents & their gender. It’s very common for one or more generations to reside in the same complex and as the family grows, more rooms are added.
For those of you familiar with Bali, particularly employees of Circle K International, our jeep tour started in Benoa, then northeast through Sanur, Klungkung, and all the way up to Penelokan. In route, we stopped at the Masceti & Goa Lawah Temples. Cheryl was appropriately ‘covered’ – I was given a sash to cover my legs as we entered the temples.
We stopped at a factory where they make the Balinese percussion instruments. When you think of a factory, you envision high-tech, automated operations – NOT the case here. Our photos don’t begin to capture the environment. It was like stepping back in time. It was a dark, dingy sweat shop – workers were crouched on the floor (barefoot) with roosters running around. There was no modern equipment – everything was being carved & sanded by hand. Amazing! And as ill-equipped as they were, and as shabby as the environment was, these were very proud employees who were producing some truly magnificent instruments & works of art to be used not only locally, but shipped around the world! We complimented as many as we could – we were drenched with sweat by the time we left the facility, which was located at the back of an alley through some rustic, wooden doors.
We had lunch at a restaurant overlooking the Batur volcano – the last eruption was in 1963. In 1917, it took thousands of lives, and the blackened lava remains on the mountainside to this day. From Penelokan, we drove southwest through the bird sanctuary & monkey forest before reaching Ubud. Between Ubud & the capital of Denpasar, we passed several rice fields (harvested 3 times each year) – all were very beautiful & well-kept. We stopped at an art gallery to watch some of the local painters in action, and no sooner had we arrived than a wicked thunderstorm let loose and the building lost power. It’s not easy trying to view canvases in the dark! By then, it was 4:00pm - we decided to head back to the ship and get cleaned up for the party.
Our guide was excellent – very knowledgeable, able to answer my questions, and went out of his way to take good care of us. Our driver was an absolute maniac, but not unlike the other drivers. Traffic was absolutely hideous, but apparently normal for Bali. Scooters weaving in & out, vehicles changing lanes unpredictably & erratically, and no evident speed limits! The roadways were complete chaos – we thought several times we were about to bite the bullet but all-in-all, we actually enjoyed the ride! We’re the ones who enjoy rough seas also, so our twisted sense of having a good time is not limited to the ocean!
Last year, the grand party of the World Voyage was centered around Mardi Gras – it was a phenomenal event I thought couldn’t be topped. I was wrong. The indoor pool & hot tubs on deck #8 were closed a few days ago and construction started on building an authentic Balinese market environment. Several dozen ‘live’ palm trees were brought on board along with rice plants which would eventually adorn the pool & perimeter areas. Several Bali bands joined us, along with local dancers & shadow puppets. The cuisine for the evening was of course, Indonesian, and the alcohol was ‘on the house’ – whatever you wanted, and in any quantity. The roof above deck #8 was opened and the ‘no admittance’ barriers were removed promptly at 5pm – let the party begin! We were able to secure a table front & center and throughout the evening, our friends were able to rotate chairs in & out. There were times when complete strangers joined us, but not strangers for long – have another drink! We were scheduled to sail at 11pm and as such, the party was called by 9:30 giving the bands and other local folks time to pack up and clear ship security. The following morning and for the first time this trip, I had to ask Cheryl for Tylenol – it was an awesome evening and once again, Holland America went above & beyond in every respect.
We’re off now to Ujung Pandang (Makassar) – roughly 300 miles north – they call it the cultural gateway to South Sulawesi’s Bugis community & Tana Toraja, or Toraja Land. My friends, I haven’t a clue at this point…I don’t know what’s ahead of us!