Indonesia for beginners and former Dutch Colonials as well : Rotterdam Cruise Review by gbs1112

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Indonesia for beginners and former Dutch Colonials as well

Sail Date: March 2014
Destination: Asia
Embarkation: Singapore
We have begun a cruise around Indonesia from Singapore. Many of the passengers on board began the cruise in Europe so have been here for several weeks already. Quite a few Dutch passengers as you might expect as well as British who joined in Southampton, but fewer North Americans. Ship's announcements are in English and Dutch.

We occupy one of the suites on deck seven and have access to the small comfortable Neptune lounge. The ship is one rung down from the service of super-class ships such as Silversea so access to the lounge helps make up for the slightly less attentive overall performance. We have had use of a similar lounge on Brilliance of the Sea and it was an evening event to gather there for drinks with fellow passengers. It was not the free drinks but the sociability that was so agreeable. We made our way to the Neptune Lounge on our first night at sea. Some canapés were laid out but no one was there and there was no drink service.

Event timing is an More oddity for passengers used to Cunard Queens Class, Silversea and so on. Our first day out from Singapore was a sea day and at 1:10 pm we went to the main restaurant for lunch, only to be turned away because lunch was served from 12-1pm sharp. We should have been more attentive to the ship's programme. We retreated to the self-service restaurant on deck 8 only to find it heaving with people standing with plates of food waiting for a table to be vacated. A further retreat, this time to the Neptune lounge, where some small savouries and a cup of tea were quite sufficient.

The ship changed $US to Indonesian currency for the first excursion ashore but the rate was poor amounting to 10% commission on mid-rate quotes. Shore based exchange from now on.

Second night out we dined in the Canaletto Restaurant, one of two specialty restaurants where a small premium is charged. Located on deck eight near to the self service cafeteria it is a self contained pleasing space with about twenty or so seats at well spaced tables laid with white linen. Even though there is ample room the tables, mainly for two, are small after setting flowers, lamps, bottles of oil and vinegar and salt and pepper. The restaurant was less than half full and the service prompt, pleasant and efficient. One speciality for the evening was the Italian herb sausage, unfortunately overcooked with a hard, unyielding casing and dry interior. Our main course was osso bucco which was much better. Tiramisu served three ways in coffee cups was disappointing. It had probably been prepared during the day in the main galley and was largely a whipped cream dish with a very small portion of slightly varied something underneath. Industrial, uninspired and not Italian. We dined there once again only to find that the menu was almost unchanged. The meatballs I had with my pasta were huge, glutinous and tasteless.

Our suite, situated midships a few paces from the Neptune lounge, is substantial even before taking in the walk in wardrobe, vanity and bathroom inside and the large balcony outside through double doors where there is a table and four chairs as well as two sun loungers. There was much more storage than we could use. With so much space within the bathroom and wardrobe area a walk-in shower would have been welcome instead of the combined bath and shower, but this is a personal preference by a senior passenger who finds stepping into and out of a bath difficult.

The bathroom amenities we find in hotels and ships is frequently a mentioned feature. In this bathroom there was a cake of soap and a 50ml container of body lotion. It did look very bare. To be fair the cake of soap was all we needed as we had all the other essentials for comfort anyway but the fun of exploring what was provided was missing.

The suite was quiet without any engine vibration or noise and there were no sounds either from the passageway or adjoining cabins.

From Jakarta, Sunday

The ship's schedule has been mucked about with. We are supposed to be in Bali on Wednesday but this morning when I got up at 5:30am to let the steward in with our breakfast there was a letter from the Captain saying that the Port in Bali had no berth for us, despite it's having been booked a year or more ago. We are going to have to rejig the schedule and arrive a day later. That is a problem because we were going to stay overnight in a hotel about an hour away from the port and had a booking for a restaurant listed as one of the 50 best restaurants in the world. We were up so early because we were booked on a whole day tour departing at 6:50 and I had to see what I could do about changing the bookings before we left. I managed to get an email off to The Four Seasons in Ubud and their reply that evening was fine. They also knew about my restaurant booking though I had never told them about it and they offered to rearrange that too. The restaurant had asked where we were staying when I booked it some four months ago and must have checked with the hotel to confirm that we were a serious booking. Our car for the two days was another private booking, for a guy lots of people on TripAdvisor had used and recommended. I was able to phone him and he was OK too.

The long tour was to the Botanical Gardens started by Stamford Raffles and his wife over a century ago, the main attraction for us, with the incidental addition of a safari park and the highlands. The guide told us that for weather reasons they would start with the safari park. We were on bus 4 and guided by Ari. By the end of the day i could have cheerfully strangled him. His pronunciation and English usage was unusual. Worse was that he did not know when to stop and with a microphone to hand he rambled on with no theme to his discourse, just random jottings often of a personal nature. He did not stop until half an hour before we got back to the ship when we were all loosing the will to live. There were long intervals when I had no idea what he was talking about. 'Safari' was the first. Booked for the Botanical Garden Tour some weeks earlier I had forgotten the other details I felt were incidental and it was an hour or more before I realised we were to visit a Safari Park with lots of different animals. It turned out to be the highlight of the day. The park is well laid out and the bus follows a route past wild life of all descriptions in the open. Many roam about on the road, and where some restraint is needed a deep ditch may be sufficient while the man-eaters are discouraged by a discretely placed electric wire. Years ago I visited Ranthambore Tiger Park in India and never set eyes on anything fiercer than a small deer. Tigers, lions, puma aplenty on this tour. No matter which side of the bus you were on you did not feel you were missing very much on the other side. The only animals I expected to see but didn't were Komodo Dragons. They do have some elsewhere in the park on a different route. We will see them in their natural setting later when we stop in Komodo itself.

The traffic on the drive out from Jakarta is dense. For half an hour or more I could hear a siren that never got closer and no police car or ambulance ever passed us. We had a police escort of one or more motorcycle police and a police car that was clearing the route. Even so progress was slow when we left the toll road and after the Safari Park we drove on a narrow road up into the highlands with extensive tea plantations to have lunch at a mountain Pass.

Traffic on this route is one way at a time but still slow even with our escort. The weather was closing in and if there was a view from our lunch restaurant close to the summit it escaped us. On the way back down Ari announced that our time in the Botanical Garden was to be reduced from one hour to thirty minutes because it was expected to be a two hour drive back to the ship because of the Sunday traffic. By the time we arrived at the Garden it was raining heavily and we were provided with green plastic ponchos with a tight hood. They were efficient but there were hundreds of them around and everyone looked the same making it hard to identify and stay with our own group. Ari had expected a guide from the Garden to take us around but none was available so he cheerfully said he could manage. He couldn't. The persistent rain, the wariness needed not to follow the wrong poncho clad group in a different direction, the speed we made around part of the garden and the lack of any useful information made the visit a washout in more ways than one.

From Semarang, Monday

An industrial city not on the tourist circuit. One of the main reasons for the ship's calling here is the excursion by steam train and so on to the volcano area, elevated and cool, with a very important temple. We were not booked on that, but all tours to the area were cancelled last night anyway because the volcano had erupted, killing a few and shrouding the temple in ash.

We ventured into town by shuttle bus late morning, with the traffic leaving the port area having to manage a good half mile of flooded road but the sea water was never more than a few inches deep. We were dropped at the main square and managed one and a half sides of same before deciding it was too hot and too dull to press on. A pleasant lad managing the door of a department store understood our enquiry about a food court and came out 50 yards onto the Square to point out the nearest place with one.

The food court was rather dimly lit and not too busy. Minimal aircon too so it was sticky but a bit cooler than outside. We had been warned not to have ice in any drinks so we asked for iced tea, the canned sort. What was served was a tall glass of hot sweet tea with lemon. It was actually rather good and should have been pretty sterile. Nasi Goreng is the only Indonesian dish I know and it was one of the first foreign meals I ever had in NZ as a youth wanting to extend my culinary experience. Basically fried rice with a fried egg on top. In NZ it was tarted up and was quite exotic. Today's serving was basic, but it was hot and a safe choice from a menu with no English help. The whole meal came to about £4 for the two of us so we decided we could afford a taxi back to the ship visiting a couple of the sites I had made a note of from a Wiki travel download before we left the ship.

Before we boarded the shuttle bus from the ship in the morning taxi touts were offering a taxi to downtown for $US20, and being sent packing too. There was a taxi rank outside our lunch place and the driver of the first cab in line looked OK. Well dressed and an honest face I thought. No English so my asking him for a quote for my route met with a blank stare but he pointed to his meter and turned it on. A metered cab was fine and the meter started at 25 pence. A sign inside the cab gave prices and waiting time was £1.50 per hour. We visited a rather splendid old Colonial Dutch building that was being restored and would have made a very up-market hotel I thought. Our taxi driver had been busy while we were inside and presented me with a piece of paper on which was written 'YOU PAY $40'. I assured him that I had no US dollars adding for no one's benefit except my own that I was not an American and would not be caught carrying their money. I pointed to the meter that was still running nicely and the message seemed to get through. Our last stop was the railway station which again was Dutch Colonial and built 145 years ago in a grand style. It was a bit underwhelming. I was concerned that he was going to have to negotiate half a mile of sea water to get to the port, not good for a car, but he ploughed on. The meter came to a little over £2 so I made it up to £3 for the flooding. Taxi drivers in the third world have perfected a disappointed look, his was pretty good but he took the cash and wished us well.

We have a sea day tomorrow and are booked into the other specialty restaurants on board for a special Dutch evening. It is quite a pricy extra so I am intrigued to see what is in store.

A lot of the crew are Indonesian and today alongside was a tented area with at least 100 chairs in rows filling up with locals in their best gear. The young crew members from this port were allowed to invite their families on board to see where they live and work. Their visitors were given a meal as well. When we got back to the ship after our shore visit I retreated to the Concierge lounge a couple of steps away from our room for some fluids and was the only one seated in there when one of the young waiters brought in his family as part of their tour. He asked if one of the men in his party of at least eight people could sit in the arm chair next to me for a photo. It was his uncle and he introduced me to his father who was standing in the group, wearing a T-shirt saying 'I love Holland America' I noticed that I was in the photograph taken and only had just enough time to tighten my stomach muscles.

The young girl who helps in the lounge is from Bali she has been given a day and a night off this voyage to go home and will bring her family on board on the next cruise in a couple of week's time. I get the feeling that Holland America is looking after their crew rather well.

Seaday Tuesday

Cocktails with the Captain (and about sixty others) at noon. He is a tall, well built man, very pale, and bald. A pleasant man and we spoke about flooding in Semarang and the UK with comments about Dutch water control.

We are making 14 knots across a very calm sea. Passed north of the island of Madura, and i had to google 'Madura Foot' to remind me about it but it seems that the Madura of foot fame was Indian.

The specialty restaurant in the evening was as special as they claimed. When booking it I had heard 'Brai' and thought that the Dutch treat was going to be related in some way to the Afrikaans South African Brai. Wrong. Librije. Dutch for library. Librije is a Michelin 3 star restaurant north of Amsterdam and a copy has been set up here. It is a very elegant room and all the staff are dressed smartly in black. The menu included a paired wine with each course. I am not sure if we got a discount for my partner's single can of Sprite instead of any wine. Most of the wines were American and were a good pairing. There was one NZ wine, a Villa Maria but served with a dish i did not order. The food was immensely fussy and often twee, but my main course of turbot was perfectly cooked and presented. One of the notable features was the silence and absolute stability of the room. There was no hint that we were onboard a ship underway. Not 1mm of roll or pitch.

Bali Thursday and Friday

The driver was waiting for us. Dewa is jovial, drives carefully and is always on time. His English is limited and little misunderstandings crept in and by the end rather too many in his favour. We made it clear that shopping was not our reason for being there and that we would not be buying anything. Ubud is a long established artists colony, several are noted and it would have been of interest to see the quality but without our agreement we were wheeled into a large outlet with parking for numerous busses and a huge display of dreadful art. The highlight of our first day was a visit to a coffee plantation. The superior product there is from coffee beans that have been eaten by a civet and are collected largely intact the following day. We were assured that they are washed most carefully but that part of the demonstration where someone scrabbles through piles of civet poo is done out of sight. After the talk we were presented with about 12 sample cups of their various products including civet coffee and regular coffee side by side. There was a very subtle difference in favour of the civet's effort but we did not buy.

Before going on to the hotel Dewa took us the The Monkey Forest in Ubud. My research had warned me against visiting but he reassured us that it was somewhere else where the resident packs were a troublesome menace, stealing glasses and anything else that is loose and where no eye contact was to be made lest it was interpreted as a challenge and on and on. He was right about these monkeys being more civilised but my glasses were still safe in my camera bag and we bought no bananas to tempt them with. The park was not overrun with monkeys and all seemed quite tame and content. A bathing pool for the monkeys was a highlight and they were having great fun in it, just like a bunch of kids. There was a Hindu temple too. We had to hire a green sarong and a yellow sash to dress properly before entering, but as no ceremonies were taking place were spared the need for appropriate headdress as well.

We checked in to The Four Seasons which is located about five kilometres outside Ubud around 1pm. The hotel is built into a steep slope leading down to the Ayung River flowing swiftly through a deep gorge. There is white water rafting a little further down the river. Cars are security screened at the gate and park just beyond. From there all movement around the extensive grounds is by electric buggy. Our villa, No. 26, was well down the slope and accessed by a winding road. It was easy to summon a buggy whenever you wanted to move around the estate. The villa was truly indulgent. From the road you had to descent a full flight of stairs and I noticed elsewhere that there seemed to be no lifts anywhere. The parking lot could be accessed from reception by a bridge from the third floor. When I asked if there was a lift a buggy was summoned immediately but people with limited mobility might need to think before booking. The villa was huge and its main feature wad an outside totally private terrace with a good sized plunge pool surrounded by a variety of seating options shaded or in the open. Inside, the bedroom was dominated by two queen sized beds each with a majestic canopy of mosquito netting. The netting was probably more decorative than practical and throughout the voyage insects of any variety were never a problem and the canisters of repellent were never taken out of the drawer. The bathroom was indulgent and in pride of place was a free-standing bath filled with a couple of inches of water on which was scattered red rose petals. The bath looked out through shuttered windows onto the courtyard. That evening we were booked in to Mozaic which is about ten minutes drive from the hotel. Our quote with Dewa included transfers in the evening but he assured me that the hotel had a transfer service so we excused him. There was no transfer service.

The Chef-owner of Mozaic is French with a Balinese wife. It is listed as one of the fifty best restaurants in Asia and is part also of 'les Grandes Tables du Monde' which has Librije as another member. All the menus were tasting menus of varying length and each offered a paired wine. We selected a six course serving, which with the incidental mouthfuls came to about nine servings each and we were well beaten by the end. The wines were good and of special note was the Po Cesare from Barolo with the beef course. The menu stated that 450ml in total of wine would be served. With the exception of the Barolo i had to restrain the volume being poured. It was a good meal but we were seriously bloated for the next 24 hours.

Komodo Saturday

Lots of small islands on the approach to Komodo Island itself, the biggest, tallest and greenest of the group. There is one small village surrounded by a dragon-proof fence but no roads. We were tendered across the bay to the ranger station well away from the village. I had booked our tour today from London and was surprised to see I had elected for 'The long trek'. Ninety minutes through the forest with three rangers to protect us. I suspect the long trek is much the same as the short trek, even keeping to the same path but stopping to see more palm trees. Soon out we were passed by a fast-moving stretcher party, not an encouraging start. Later on we saw them coming back carrying a woman from the ship. There was no blood so I presume the heat had got her. By the time we were well into the forest I was as drenched as I have ever been and hoping the smell of sweaty males did not provoke the dragons. A good seventy minutes of the trek was spent admiring palm trees, tamarind trees,photographing a poisonous centipede dressed in stunning orange and black, and identifying a few bird calls. One was a very vocal lyre bird and some Australians recognised a sulphur-crested cockatoo calling. About an hour after starting the ranger gathered us around and whispered that we were going to enter the dragons den. Not his real words but into a clearing in the forest where the park had established a watering hole to attract the free roaming beasts. They could get water, lie in the sun and capture other animals also looking for water. Apparently snakes were often caught this way.

There were dragons aplenty. Most were somnolent but enough moved just enough to make the photographers happy. One photographer was down to deck level to get an eye to eye shot of an approaching dragon before a ranger ordered him back, pronto. There were a number of extra rangers scattered around, emphasising the fact that these were dangerous beasts, not to forget that there were a number of foolish people as well. Back on the ship by lunch time and just time to get out of my soggy clothing first. I gather that all who went ashore were counted safely back.

Makassar Sunday

The tour today was the third and last I had booked from London. It was ' Tour of Makassar, waterfall and butterfly park'. It has turned out to be the most miserable day since we left London. We left the port for a short drive to the central market for a half mile walk through the produce being offered, mostly fruit, vegetables and spices. A couple of minutes into the walk it began to rain heavily and ponchos were delivered. With the hood up vision to either side is restricted and the path was an uneven, pitted track with puddles of water of unknown depth. The separation between the stalls was only about six feet wide and as well as the locals and the tourists it had to accommodate innumerable motor cycles and small vans, all mercifully travelling only one way. The relief at finding the bus waiting at the other end was immense. Trousers were soaked from mid thigh down and feet did not feel dry either.

From the market we had a one hour drive out to a National park. The tour guide did not tell us too much about the area we were passing through The National Park area on a fine day is probably quite an attractive and interesting area, Granite and limestone bearing mountains with free-flowing rivers to admire. The waterfall we had driven over an hour to see was a very muddy brown chute of water falling about 10-20 feet. It was still pouring with rain and the ponchos were wet inside and out by now. There were some signs about butterflies and it must have been so because local lads were trying to sell butterfly pictures and so on but otherwise there was no mention of them on the tour.

Toilets were available, unisex stalls in a row. Several men ahead of me entered and then quit immediately with a puzzled look because there was no hint about how to use them. There was not even a hole in the ground. A length of coat-hanger wire to secure the door and a big tub of water with about twenty gallons of muddy water and a ladle were the only objects in an otherwise bare tiled cubicle. I have no idea how the women coped. By the time we were back on the bus for the hour's drive to lunch we were pretty damp from head to foot and gradually all on board closed the air-conditioning vents to try to warm up a little.

The South Sulawesi Indonesian lunch was good. Most of us were looking forward to a hot shower and dry clothes back on board so were not at all thrilled to find that we were to visit Fort Rotterdam first. It was quite close by and at least had stopped raining. Abandoning the ponchos when we left the bus was a serious error because while inside the first building the rain started once more, this time with the intensity of a real tropical storm. Fort Rotterdam is from the Dutch Colonial era and is a well maintained complex containing a couple of museums as well as a Dutch Protestant Church as a centrepiece. The two museums on either side of the compound show poorly lit poorly curated collections of an ranthropological history of the locality. The second of the two was a total mystery and as we left I asked the guide why we had braved a tropical downpour with no protective clothing to see it. He said it was a newish area devoted to the introduction of Islam into Sulawesi. He had rushed us through because he did not rate it highly but his boss had instructed him that he had to take us there. In the first of the two museums i wandered away from the guide to read the texts illustrating the exhibits. One exhibit the guide did not stop at was one on Islamic circumcision practice for boys and girls. That was a surprise to me, specially with the intensity of interest and concern about FGM in the western world right now. The Fort attracts a lot of school children who are very cheerful and cheekily greet the tourists with a friendly 'hello'. One of them asked me to pose for a picture and thanked me warmly.

Anti-macassars were a feature of Victorian furnishing but the guide had not heard the term. Google back on board helped out. The first were the flap still worn at the back of a sailor's shirt. In earlier times sailors used to treat their periwigs with Makassar oil and the flaps were to keep their shirts clean. Macassar oil did originate in this area but is a blend including coconut oil.

Back on board and even into dry clothes I could not get warm and later on filled the bath and had a good hot soak.

At sea Monday

The Captain made himself available for a Q&A session today. Before leaving Komodo he had announced on the PA that the departure was difficult and all navigators would be on the bridge to monitor the departure. He was asked to expand on this. The Komodo charts he had available were small scale last issued in 1910 and nothing was in the position indicated by modern GPS. The surrounding waters are quite shallow and in places there is only 2 feet of water under the keel. They had left Singapore light on fuel and water to reduce the ship's draught. The last large ship to make passage onwards to Makassar was the ROTTERDAM one year earlier. He had planned a slightly different route this time. They did not offer to update Indonesian charts but took frequent pictures of the radar screen to keep better records for their own fleet.

He also told us the the ship had five diesel generators, rather more than needed. The ship can make a comfortable 17 knots on two.. On four it can make 25 knots and on five 25.5 knots. Only the Queen Mary is faster. The extra speed is useful in areas of piracy. They cant keep up.

Surubaya Tuesday

Surubaya is the second largest city in Indonesia. It was a hot overcast day with no rain. It is a twenty to thirty minute taxi ride into the centre and there was the usual fierce scrum with taxi touts demanding extraordinary fixed fares. We knew the correct fare would be around 50 rupiah but gave way at 100 rupiah (£5) The metered ride back was 40 rupiah.

Our plan for Surabaya was very simple. The Sarkie brothers who had built Raffles Hotel in Singapore, the Eastern and Oriental in Penang as well as others built the Majapahit Hotel here. Lunch at the hotel and a visit to an adjacent Mall would complete the visit.

The Majapahit is old, beautifully maintained and is as distinguished in its own way as the other Sarkie hotels. I knew it was special when we arrived at the front door and another arriving car had gold number-plates. The Sarkie Restaurant up one flight of stairs of highly polished wood served Chinese and Indonesian food with a Dim Sum lunch special. Only one or two other tables were occupied and we were seated in a booth for six. A generous dim sum lunch, two beers and a bottle of sparking water came to £17 for the two of us.

Sea day Wednesday

Singapore Thursday,

Arrived 4pm. Less

Published 07/07/14

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