Bali to Saigon

Published on Monday, November 05, 2012

  • Ubud, Bali

  • Ubud, Bali

  • Ubud, Bali

  • Ubud, Bali

  • White-breasted waterhen, Bali

  • Kenanga Village, Sumbawa Island

  • Kenanga Village, Sumbawa Island

  • Kenanga Village, Sumbawa Island

  • Kenanga Village, Sumbawa Island

  • Snorkeling off Satonda Island

  • Sumba Island

  • Sumba Island

  • Sumba Island

  • Sumba Island

  • Sumba Island

  • Komodo Island

  • Komodo Island

  • Komodo Island

  • Komodo Island

  • Brahminy Kite, Komodo Island

  • Snorkeling, Tiger Islands

  • Snorkeling, Tiger Islands

  • Snorkeling, Tiger Islands

  • Snorkeling, Tiger Islands

  • Snorkeling, Tiger Islands

  • Toraja, Sulawesi Island

  • Toraja, Sulawesi Island

  • Toraja, Sulawesi Island

  • Toraja, Sulawesi Island

  • Toraja, Sulawesi Island

  • Toraja, Sulawesi Island

  • Toraja, Sulawesi Island

  • Toraja, Sulawesi Island

  • Toraja, Sulawesi Island

  • Toraja, Sulawesi Island

  • Kakaban Island

  • Jellyfish Lake, Kakaban Island

  • Snorkeling off Kakaban Island

  • Snorkeling off Kakaban Island

  • Tarakan, Kalimantan, Borneo

  • Tarakan, Kalimantan, Borneo

  • Tarakan, Kalimantan, Borneo

  • Tarakan, Kalimantan, Borneo

  • Tarakan, Kalimantan, Borneo

  • Orangutan Rehabilitation Center

  • Orangutan Rehabilitation Center

  • Orangutan Rehabilitation Center

  • Orangutan Rehabilitation Center

  • Orangutan Rehabilitation Center

  • Mantanani Island

  • Mantanani Island

  • Snorkeling off Mantanani Island

  • Snorkeling off Mantanani Island

  • Snorkeling off Mantanani Island

  • Muara, Brunei Darussalam

  • Muara, Brunei Darussalam

  • Muara, Brunei Darussalam

  • Muara, Brunei Darussalam

  • Muara, Brunei Darussalam

  • Presidential Palace, Ho Chi Minh City

  • History museum, Ho Chi Minh City

  • Water puppets, Ho Chi Minh City

  • Notre Dame Cathedral, Ho Chi Minh City

Tuesday, March 16 - Sanur, Bali, Indonesia: Hari Nyepi, the day of silence, which ushers in Balinese New Year, is a profound day to start a vacation. According to Balinese tradition everyone stays at home, no fires are lit, no food is cooked, and no one ventures out. The Balinese believe that having given a huge party for the bad and wandering spirits known as the ogoh ogoh, the evening before Hari Nyepi, everything must appear deserted including the streets and the beaches so that the spirits will leave peacefully. Fortunately, within the serene Bali Hyatt, famed for its beautiful location and well-established designer gardens, everyone was able to relax before embarking on our adventure. To round off the evening in true Balinese style, welcome drinks and a Rajalaya grand dinner was served on the Purnama Terrace.

Wednesday, March 17 - Sanur / Ubud / Embark Clipper Odyssey: After a day of silence, we enjoyed a full-day Bali experience which included a home visit to the traditional Balinese compound belonging to Wayan Sila, including the family temple or pura. Then, a visit to the Agung Rai Museum of painting in Ubud, followed by a traditional Balinese buffet lunch at Lake Leke Restaurant, owned by the legendary Ibu Wayan of CafĂ© Wayan fame. The afternoon afforded a Balinese puri experience at Ubud Palace and a visit to the market, followed by a stop at Celuk, the silversmith’s village, and finally embarkation.

Thursday, March 18 -Sumbawa Island / Satonda Island: The not-so-little fishing village of Kenanga offers a very authentic and warm social experience. Many of the local people are indigenous Sumbawanese, descended from Bugis, or a transmigrate, such as the Balinese. Quite different with its black volcanic sand beaches and colorful purple medusa jellyfish at the water’s edge, the well-ordered village was en fete in anticipation of our arrival. A circumcision ceremony for six boys from a remote and very poor village in the mountains had been arranged. Proud fathers accompanied and comforted their sons with prayers during one of the most significant rites of passage for a young Muslim boy. Our ship’s doctor was impressed with the attention to anesthetics and the sterile procedure for each initiate. The party brought the two villages together and we witnessed traditional martial arts, or silat, and dances in traditional south Sulawesi costume, Baju Bodo, before visiting the local school and walking through the village with the teachers. The Zodiacs, however, proved to be the main attraction for the local children who loved riding on the pontoons and being sprayed with water from the propeller. Our afternoon was spent snorkeling, diving, beach combing, and walking into the crater lake of Satonda, a submerged volcano, before retuning aboard for Captain Peter Gluschke’s welcome cocktail party and dinner.

Friday, March 19 - Sumba Island:Strong currents overnight delayed our arrival into West Sumba so we rolled out the lecture program with Kim Saunders’ Threads of Tradition: A Look at Indonesian Textiles to get us in the mood for our destination. The eastern part of Sumba Island is renowned for its exquisite hand-woven warp ikat and supplementary weavings and the East Sumba islanders took a four-hour bus journey to meet our ship. There was also time for a swim from the beach and a little beach combing before lunch.

The afternoon began with disembarkation at the port town of Waikelo and a traditional welcome dance performance, followed by a lively 30 minute drive in colorful local buses to the traditional west Sumbanese village of Wanokaredi. In West Sumba, the roofs of the houses are very tall resembling the sacred mountain where the ancestors—merapu—dwell. Sacred heirlooms are stored in the area under the roof and only the men are permitted to go into this space. The main body of the house contains the living, sleeping, and cooking accommodations and the space under the house is where animals are kept. The Sumbanese from both the east and the west were traditionally head-hunting warriors and their ancestral villages contain skull trees upon which the heads of their enemies were displayed. They also have a megalithic tradition and bury their dead in stone tombs in the middle of the village, sealed with large stone lids. Today they still bury on their own land, but create traditional-style stone tombs in concrete.

The next attraction of the afternoon was to be a mock pasola or ritual horse joust. The pasola is still held at the end of the rainy season in the hope that the gods will grant another rainy season and that the dry season will not be too arid. (Sumba is too dry to sustain rice cultivation so maize is the staple crop on the island.) It used to be that riders hurled spears at each other and the more blood spilled, the happier the gods would be. However, the government has now banned the use of spears and only sticks are hurled.

After returning to the ship, dinner was a magnificent Indonesian Rijsttafel, prepared by our wonderful Indonesian chef Indra and his superb team. Rijsttafel means “rice table” and consists of a variety of dishes infused with spices presented on one table, in separate dishes, and accompanied with rice.

Saturday, March 20 - Komodo Island National Park: At this time of year, the usually arid and dry scrubland that cloaks the islands in and around the Komodo National Park appeared very green. Bright and early in the morning, and inspired by David Attenborough’s Zoo Quest for a Dragon, everyone was ready for a close encounter of the dragon kind, and none were disappointed. Enjoying walks of varying lengths, everyone met several members of the family of Varanus komodoensis, who were gracious enough to pose for our cameras. It has often been said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but if a 120 pound (plus or minus) monitor lizard tells you they have a beautiful body, it’s as well to believe them, especially as they can swim and sprint, albeit short distances, up to 16 miles per hour. But, perhaps more daunting, was running the gauntlet of the highly competitive pearl vendors and trying to decide which gorgeous strand to buy.

Pantai Merah (Pink Beach) beckoned and provided ideal snorkeling and swimming from the beach or from Zodiacs, while the divers were undeterred by the swirling currents. The ice cream and rum punch served on the beach was also a hit!

Sunday, March 21 - Tiger Islands: A morning at sea enabled us to continue our learning journey with Craig Ward’s informative presentation, Jewels of the Sea: Coral Reefs, and Kim paving the way for our cultural highlight to Toraja with Bamba Puang–Gateway to the Gods: Torajan Landscape and Culture. An expedition stop at Dayang Dayangan Island provided an excellent opportunity for the entire menu of water activities together with birding and beach combing.

Monday, March 22 - Toraja, Sulawesi Island: Bugis legend explains that eight ships sailed from Pongko and, in a terrific storm off the coast of Sulawesi (near to modern Pare Pare), the ships were swept into the mouth of the Sa’dan River and continued their journey to the Sa’dan highlands where their ancestors eventually settled. Their ships are remembered in the unique, traditional Torajan architecture. The Torajans believe that their ancestors descended to earth on Erotic Mountain and that the shape of the houses reflects the rising and setting of the sun. Today, Toraja retains its fragile culture in the globalized 21st century and is still deeply rooted in ritual and tradition, especially death rituals.

Our planned disembarkation at Palopo had been dashed by news that the mountain road had been washed out in 17 places and was most definitely impassable. Determined to enjoy this expedition highlight at all costs and armed with snacks, puzzles, cameras, overnight bags, and a thirst for a new experience, we drove for five hours from Pare Pare, the second largest city in Sulawesi on the west coast, to reach our destination, Tana Toraja (Land of the Mountain People). We refueled en route with aromatic Torajan coffee and fried bananas, followed by lunch at the Hotel Misiliana.

The afternoon encompassed many of the key Torajan highlights: Lemo, famous for its Tau Tau galleries cut into the cliff face; Kambira, to see the Passilliran (baby graves) in trees; and Londa, where the highest graves in the world are located. Ke’te Ke’su is designated a Heritage Village; people still live there and it is renowned for very fine traditional wood carving. This village gives a very clear view of the Tongkonan (traditional ancestral houses of origin) and Alang (rice barn) architecture. The house in the middle of the village is one of the oldest in Toraja. Behind the village there are some hanging graves, a communal tomb, and the final resting place of a village chief. There is also a megalithic rante circle (used for sacrifice of buffalo) at the funeral ritual known as Rambu Solo. We enjoyed dinner and a cultural performance, featuring the Pa’bas and Pa’pompang bamboo instruments played by schoolchildren, at the Toraja Heritage Hotel.

Tuesday, March 23 - Pare Pare, Sulawesi Island: Not wishing to lose a moment, we started early with a choice of birding, hiking, or a cultural excursion. Our morning tour included Sa’Dan Tobarana, the center for Torajan ikat weaving and Palawa Village to photograph the classic north-south layout of Tongkonan and rice barns. The hikers were well rewarded with stunning panoramic views of rice terraces and plenty of interaction with the local people.

By mid-morning most of us were on our way to the remote village of Bori for the first day of a very important funeral where mourners would be arriving to pay their respects to the family of the deceased and to present either buffalos or pigs to be sacrificed. The climb to the village was up a very steep and muddy road. Here we presented our pig and were formally welcomed to attend part of the first day of the funeral of Bapak Ne Yanti. The funeral began with the sacrifice of several pigs, and lung and lites were offered with palm wine to the gods and ancestors. The entire experience was quite surreal. The official reception committee wore traditional costumes in vivid reds, oranges, and pinks in direct contrast with the mourners who were all dressed in black. Red and black banners with traditional designs bedecked the Tongkanan, the rice barns, and the temporary accommodation for guests. Bamboo bound pigs squealed from all corners and the center of the field. Mourners sang the Malonde, funeral song, linked arm in arm together in a circle. Hot sweet coffee and biscuits were served to us while the smell of searing pig skin wafted through the air and perspiration ran in rivers from our brows. This was the ultimate Toraja experience!

With time pressing on relentlessly we returned to our hotel for check-out. We enjoyed yet another local lunch and then headed back to Pare Pare. We arrived just before dark, bade a fond farewell to our wonderful hosts, and embarked in good time for dinner.

Wednesday, March 24 - At Sea: Today Kevin put the importance of the Wallace Line, which we were crossing, into perspective with the intriguing story behind Wallace and Darwin entitled Alfred Russell Wallace and His Dangerous Idea. This was followed by a fascinating overview of early settlement, Searching for Our Ancestor, presented by Nancy Wilkie of the Archeological Institute of America. In the afternoon, Thomas Baechtold had us all thinking deeply about what we do and don’t do with our camera equipment with his excellent hands-on guide to Digital Photography: Stepping Beyond Automatic.

Thursday, March 25 - Islands of the Celebes Sea: Initially established as a dive resort, Sangalaki Turtle Sanctuary has been working since 2002 to save the green turtles that nest and hatch on the island. The rangers and volunteers who work here rely on donations from non-governmental organizations and the help from the Indonesian government. The volunteers collect the eggs that have been laid in precarious positions and take them to the hatchery until they hatch naturally and are big enough to have a sporting chance of survival. Only one percent of turtles make it to adulthood. Natural predators include monitor lizards, birds, and fish. Once hatched the babies are taken to the beach at dusk and released.

Kakaban Island has a crater lake in its center containing brackish water teeming with four different types of non-stinging jellyfish and sea cucumbers. The experience of floating through the water amongst these ethereal looking creatures is truly an out of this world experience. The short forest boardwalk from the jetty up and over the crater rim and down to the lake was also quite magical. Snorkeling and diving off Kakaban Island was excellent and to round off our up-close and personal encounters with nature, we returned to Sangalaki Island to see the green sea turtle babies being released into the sea by the volunteers working at the sanctuary. Natural instinct led them all in the right direction and a supreme effort ensued to make what is often their first and last perilous journey towards the water a safe one. Once they hit the water, however, they disappeared like torpedoes out of the shallows in search of the deep.

Friday, March 26 - Tarakan, Kalimantan, Borneo: Despite an early morning squall, everyone boarded local speed boats to make their way up the Kayan River to the Kenyah and Kayan Dayak transmigration village of Transbaru. Traditionally, these east Kalimantan Dayak groups would have lived further up river in longhouses set amidst the jungle. However, they have been encouraged by the Indonesian government to relocate further down river where they have greater access to schools and health care. The long house has been replaced with a large community hall next to the Christian church and the Dayak share the village with other ethnic Indonesian groups including the Bugis and the Chinese. The entire population came out to greet us. An impressive line-up of Dayak warriors in traditional costume with shields, spears, and blow pipes headed the greeting line, followed by ladies sporting brightly colored beaded skirts, collars, belts, hats, headdresses, and baby carriers. Some of the older ladies wore earrings in elongated earlobes weighed down with many metal rings as was once the traditional practice. The local band played a fusion of Dayak-style music featuring strings and pipes, together with wooden xylophones and the Malay community added drums. After shaking hands with hundreds of people, we were entertained with local dances of welcome, hornbill dances, and a harvest dance in which the women wore tall masks to frighten away evil spirits and finally a blow pipe demonstration.

All too soon it was time to speed back down the nipah palm- and mangrove-lined river banks to the oil rich island of Tarakan where the ship was anchored. It was also time to bid farewell to Leksmono of Remote Destinations, who makes visiting all these exciting places possible.

During our afternoon at sea, Rick Price enthralled us with Travels of a World Wildlife Photographer and Ron Wixman set the rural scene into perspective with Traditional Versus Modernized Agriculture in Southeast Asia. And, Kevin stole the recap show with his Mangrove Rap!

Saturday, March 27 - Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia: A very welcome morning at sea was spectacularly illuminated by Greg Homel’s presentation on Birding East and West of the Wallace Line in Indonesia, Brunei, and Malaysia followed by Kevin on Strange Tales of Island Life: Biogeography in an Insular World.

Our long anticipated visit to finally meet the legendary ‘man of the forest’ arrived and following a very informative DVD and briefing, we set off for the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center in Sabah. These wonderful primates, whose habitat and very existence is in dire jeopardy as a result of deforestation and increasing palm oil plantations, are dependent on such sanctuaries for their fragile survival. It is estimated that there are less than 30,000 left in the wild so the work of such rehabilitation centers that protect orphaned babies and homeless orangutan and prepare them for a natural life in a forest environment is so vital. There are currently three such centers in Borneo and one in Sumatra. The reserve at Sepilok covers 540 square miles and is home not only to the native Borneo orangutan, but also long tail, short tail, and pig tail macaque monkeys, all of which we encountered as we made our way along the boardwalk through the forest to the feeding platform. The close proximity of a huge bees nest dissuaded many, but not all, of the orangutan to come for fruit and milk so we still had our photo opportunity in the wild.

To round off such a wonderful experience it was time for afternoon tea, English-style, complete with cucumber sandwiches, freshly baked scones with jam and cream, and a spot of croquet on the lawn at the Agnes Keith House tea rooms, followed by a tour of the former home of the author of Land Below the Winds. During recap Craig delivered a highly creative hands-on fish identification program demonstrating the correct terminology which involved the entire expedition team and no small amount of red and brown chocolate! Everyone can now tell their juveniles from their adults and their bands from their stripes.

Sunday, March 28 - Expedition Stop: The early part of the morning was spent cruising the South China Sea and scouting for an expedition stop. Nancy continued our lecture series with a fascinating look at The Little People of Flores and we managed to squeeze in a beach landing and nature walk before lunch. In the afternoon, water activities at Mantanani Island included snorkeling, swimming, glass-bottom boating, and beach combing, punctuated with the arrival of the hotel department with homemade ice cream and rum punch. Not wishing to waste a moment Kim squeezed another lecture in before cocktails providing everyone with an armchair voyage and cultural introduction to Vietnam entitled Vibrant Visions of Vietnam.

Monday, March 29 - Muara, Brunei Darussalam: The birders and hikers set off early on what started as a dark, cloudy, and rainy day, but developed into a fine morning. Those taking the cultural tour made their way into the Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of Brunei, to the first stop which was the beautiful gold domed Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque, commissioned by the 29th Sultan of Brunei with 29 domes, 29 fountains, and 29 steps. We had a quick photo stop outside the main gate of the Sultan’s Istana Nural Iman palace, with 2,100 total rooms, 300 of which are bathrooms. At the Brunei Museum and Royal Regalia Building there was the opportunity to admire the Sultan’s magnificent personal collection of Islamic Art and hand-loomed gold threaded songket cloth at the handicraft center. The city tour continued to illustrate the wealth of this oil rich sultanate and also how the sultan has shared much of the nation’s wealth with its people.

Leaving the islands of Southeast Asia and the Malay Archipelago behind, we continued our education with Ron Wixman’s presentation on The Peoples and Cultures of Southeast Asia, and Greg’s Birding East and West of the Wallace Line continued. Following dinner, the crew entertained us with songs, dances, and skits—a perfect end to a thoroughly exciting and full day in paradise.

Tuesday, March 30 - At Sea: Today everyone enjoyed a leisurely day at sea continuing our cruise through the South China Sea. In the morning Nancy gave a very thought provoking presentation on The Illicit Trade in Antiquities and its Impact on the World’s Cultural Heritage and Ron continued his look at The People and Cultures of Southeast Asia focusing on the rise of the Chinese, Europeans, and new Islamic and Christian influences in this diverse region. All too soon it was time for final recap, the captain’s farewell cocktail party, and dinner, followed by a slideshow presented by Mike Murphy and Rick Price.

Wednesday, March 31 - Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam: Shortly after breakfast we entered the nipah palm-lined mouth of the Saigon River. Greg and Ron were on hand on the top deck to explain points of natural and cultural interest as the ship made its way towards the metropolis of Saigon renamed Ho Chi Minh City in 1976, but still affectionately known as and referred to as Saigon. This busy river and port was filled with cargo containers, ships, barges, tug boats, house boats, and little boats with fishing nets. Beyond the banks of the river are the rising residential condominiums of suburban Saigon.

After lunch it was off on a city tour visiting the Presidential Palace where we heard from our guides about the fall of Saigon in April 1975, then on to the History Museum with its fine collection of sculpture and art work. Here we also enjoyed a traditional Vietnamese puppet show finishing off with a short photo stop at the French Catholic Cathedral of Notre Dame, the 19th-century French colonial style post office designed by none other than Eifel himself, and finally a stop at the bustling Ben Than market. Many people opted to take the opportunity to dine ashore where they could choose from French, Chinese, and Vietnamese cuisine or wonderful fresh seafood for which Saigon and Vietnam is famed and, of course, take time out to support the local economy.

Thursday, April 1 - Ho Chi Minh City / USA: “A traveler never knows where they are going and a tourist never knows where they have been.” Not so with Zegrahm Expeditions. The expedition leader and team take care of where everyone goes and the photo journal provides a record of everywhere visited. The time had finally come for disembarkation in readiness for the long journey home or to continue with Natalia Baechtold for the culturally-rich post-cruise extension to experience the splendors of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.