Brunei to Bali

Published on Monday, July 15, 2013

  • Sultan's Mosque, Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

  • Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

  • Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia

  • Tarakan, Kalimantan, Indonesia

  • Tarakan, Kalimantan, Indonesia

  • Tarakan, Kalimantan, Indonesia

  • Kakaban Island

  • Kakaban Island

  • Kakaban Island

  • Toraja, Sulawesi Island

  • Toraja, Sulawesi Island

  • Toraja, Sulawesi Island

  • Toraja, Sulawesi Island

  • Toraja, Sulawesi Island

  • Toraja, Sulawesi Island

  • Selayar Island, South Sulawesi

  • Selayar Island, South Sulawesi

  • Selayar Island, South Sulawesi

  • Selayar Island, South Sulawesi

  • Selayar Island, South Sulawesi

  • Selayar Island, South Sulawesi

  • Selayar Island, South Sulawesi

  • Selayar Island, South Sulawesi

  • Komodo Island

  • Komodo Island

  • Komodo Island

  • Sumba Island

  • Sumbawa Island

  • Sumbawa Island

  • Sumbawa Island

  • Sumbawa Island

Wednesday & Thursday, February 13 & 14, 2013 - Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam / Embark Clipper Odyssey: We left the grandiose marble lobby of the Empire Hotel and Country Club after a lovely breakfast and boarded our buses. We photographed the impressive gold domes and graceful blue stairways of the Sultan's Mosque, Asr Hassanil Bolkiah, and toured the diverse artifacts and gifts of the Royal Regalia Museum, including its immense hand-drawn coronation chariot.

A chance to refresh and lunch at the Radisson Hotel was a welcome break to our sightseeing, after which we continued our exploration of the city. In addition to a stop at the Brunei Museum, we paused for photos on the river bank where we could see the unusual outline of the current Sultan's Palace in the distance. The highlight of the day was a tour of the water village, by way of local boats. These unique settlements are part of the long prehistory of those who settled in southeast Asia. They were sea people who preferred to stay near or on the water, building their homes on stilts with ready access to the boats and water upon which they depended. Today their descendants continue to prefer to live suspended over the water in long houses connected to each other through a network of raised walkways.
 
Then we drove through the countryside to Muara where the Clipper Odyssey was waiting for us to board. After a mandatory safety drill and introduction to the ship and Expedition Staff, we went down for dinner and a much needed sleep.
 
Friday, February 15 - Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia: This morning we had a choice of two tours. The city tour traveled through the capital city of Sabah, Kota Kinabalu. Driving through the city one could be forgiven for thinking they were driving through any western city with neat roads, street lights, roundabouts, and shopping malls. We even passed through an industrial center, indicating that the planning and layout of the city was well thought-out. We saw the Mosque, the University of Sabah, and explored the lovely Heritage Village.
 
Those on the mangrove tour drove through the city and along the coast into the rural coastal fringe of this northwestern part of the island. Views were dominated by the 13,435 feet-high peaks of Mt. Kinabalu. After a 45 minute ride, we arrived at the village of Batangan where people sat engaged in various daily activities such as making crab traps, repairing fishing nets, and weaving mats. Local refreshments were available for us to taste, including fried sweet potato and bananas as well as a fried batter with a slightly sweet flavor. Blow-pipe demonstrations enticed some of us to try our luck while others took to batik painting. Finally we boarded small boats and explored the inlet fringed by mangroves. We sped along towards a Bajau water village a couple of miles along the waterway. Here we saw on one side the traditional houses built and passed down from one generation to another, while on the other side the Malaysian government had constructed new housing, no longer positioned on the water, hoping to entice the Bajau to relocate.
 
We then had a sumptuous first lunch aboard the Clipper Odyssey. Shirley Campbell started our ‘onboard university’ with her presentation Peoples of Borneo followed by Jonathon Rossouw and his presentation, Orangutan: The Old Man of the Forest.
 
Captain Allan McCarty welcomed us at cocktails and we enjoyed a wonderful welcome dinner before retiring for the night.
 
Saturday, February 16 - Sandakan: Today we began our morning with either a tour of the Puh Jih Syh Buddhist Temple or a walk, high into the canopy of the rain forest. The temple is set high on a cliff overlooking Sandakan, the second largest city in Sabah. The views were breathtaking as was the temple, beautifully adorned with golden effigies of Buddha, stone friezes, sculptures, and tapestries.
 
Those on the latter option drove into the hinterland towards the rain forests and gently climbed up into the canopy. The rain forest, full of layered growth, displays each species of plant exploiting its niche within the ecosystem. Our goal was to spot the Bornean bristlebird and much to our delight, we had excellent sightings of these gorgeous birds with their red throats and pantaloons.
 
We all met up at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center and just as we were getting off our buses, the rain began. Undeterred, we had the privilege of observing the morning feeding of these orphans, watching with amusement as they, like us, tried unsuccessfully to keep parts of their bodies dry in the downpour. Six orphans came out of the forest to the feeding station where they were given milk, vegetables, and fruits. We returned to the pavilion where Zegrahm made a formal donation to the center.
 
In need of a warm cup of tea and hot scones, we drove to the Old English Teahouse, appropriately situated next to the Agnes Keith Museum and house. We explored the reconstructed home of Henry George and Agnes Keith, the original destroyed by the Japanese in World War II. Henry George was appointed the Conservator of Forests in 1934, however his wife, Agnes Keith, is the more well-known with her famous book, Land Below the Wind, describing her experiences in this once remote outstation of the British Empire.
 
Returning to our ship for lunch, we enjoyed an afternoon of sailing with a presentation by Mark VanBaalen entitled, Surf and Turf: The Struggle for Resources in the South China Seas, followed by Jack Grove and his presentation, Marine Fishes and a Look into Future Oceans for Shellfish Reasons.
 
Sunday, February 17 - Tarakan, Kalimantan, Indonesia: We enjoyed a leisurely morning before Peter Zika provided mental breakfast with his lecture, Rain Forests. Later in the morning Ron Wixman provided much food for thought with his presentation, The Geopolitics of Spice, as he traced the involvement of this part of the world in the maritime spice trade. After lunch we boarded local boats and enjoyed a thrilling ride from Tarakan Island to the mouth of the Kayan River, cutting right into the center of Borneo. We sped up the river, an exhilarating 35 miles to a village of 6,000, Tanjung Selon, where we were met by an enthusiastic multitude of Kenyah Dyaks. They constructed a specially built pier to enable our boats to dock and, as we walked along the pier, we had a welcoming line of women, men, and children, all eager to shake our hands as we made our way to the village hall.
 
Inside we were welcomed by the mayor in both Kenyahnese and Bahasa Indonesian, translated in perfect English by a woman who works as a teacher for the village. We were treated to a range of traditional dances featuring both young and old villagers, as well as samples of delicious foods, including pounded taro wrapped in banana leaves, sweet potato, and freshly cooked corn on the cob. We had time to shop around the array of goods that were available for purchase, some locally made by the villagers and others imported from abroad. However, many of us were besieged by villagers with their mobile phones all wanting to have pictures taken of themselves with us. After exchanging pictures and emails, we boarded our boats and sped back down the river in the increasing shadows of the dying day.
 
Monday, February 18 - Sangalaki Island / Kakaban Island: Many began the day with an onshore exploration of the local island with Peter and Jonathan, where they saw megapodes and water monitors looking for scrubfowl eggs. Others joined Shirley for a snorkeling refresher before graduating to the snorkel platforms with Jack. The snorkeling was wonderful with lots of soft and hard corals and a plethora of fish. We swam with purple and yellow tunicates, fox-face rabbitfish, and lots of blue sea stars.
 
During lunch the ship repositioned to Kakaban Island, renowned for its resident stingless jellyfish gently pulsating in the island’s lake. While the elegance of both the moon and upside-down jellies was mesmerizing, the equally fascinating pearly-white anemones were waiting for any unfortunate jelly to become entangled within their tentacles and eaten. Off to the edge of the lake, there was a whole new world of underwater mangrove habitat, where Jonathan found sea snakes intimately engaged in the procreation of their species!
 
From the lake we discovered the underwater life outside the island. The visibility was incredible as we snorkeled over a huge drop-off, some 600 feet from the surrounding reef flat. A fabulous, and more importantly, healthy, coral garden of both hard and soft corals featured an abundance of various species, including a green sea turtle and ten species of butterflyfish.
 
The divers explored an incredible wall that ran from one side of the beach to the other, completely covered in magnificent hard and soft corals, which was dominated by huge gorgonian fans and barrel sponges. Hundreds of different fish species, fusiliers, jacks, surgeons, butterflyfish, white-tip sharks, and two green turtles made for an absolutely incredible dive, ten out of ten!
 
Tuesday & Wednesday, February 19 & 20 - At Sea / Pare Pare / Toraja, Sulawesi Island: Though Tuesday morning came early, those that made the effort were treated to an experience few can claim. With the rain coming down hard, we cruised in our Zodiacs to the northern hemisphere where we splashed into the water and swam across, not only the Equator to the southern hemisphere, but also across the Wallace Line, the most important biological division on the planet, separating Asiatic flora and fauna from their Australian counterparts, by a 1.3 mile trench. Fellow explorer among us, Howard Fields commented, “I have always loved the ocean, but this morning, getting into it at the Equator, it felt like it loved me.”
 
The rest of the day we soaked up knowledge from our lecturing staff. Mark began with his tantalizing presentation, A Brief History of Water, followed by Jonathan’s bottomless bucket-list presentation, Blood Suckers and Flying Frogs: The Wildlife of Indonesia. In the afternoon we were introduced to the Toraja by Shirley’s presentation, Village of the Circle of the Moon, Land of the Circle of the Sun: The World of the Toraja.
 
On Wednesday we headed into a rural, rice growing habitat. Here the typical Bugis housing of Malay-style, the Toragan tongkonan, was evident in wooden dwellings raised high above the ground on stilts. As we climbed higher and higher, suddenly, everything came to a halt—a truck had blocked the road, causing significant traffic backed up on both sides. After much excitement and anticipation, the truck was pulled off the bank so that traffic could pass. Although potentially a major threat to our plans, the excitement cheered us and gave us a chance to thoroughly stretch our legs for the remaining journey to our hotel, the Toraja Heritage Hotel.
 
After a quick lunch we set off to see what we could of this fabulous cultural region. We visited Ke’te Ke’su, a designated Heritage Village where people still live and are renowned for their woodcarving skills. Behind the village there are some hanging graves, a communal tomb, and the final resting place of the village chief. We also visited Bori where deceased infants were placed into the trunk of the tallest trees so that their souls could soar to the sky where the Creator God, Puang Matua, looked after them. Tombs built into the limestone rock face were the highlight of Suaya Village. Back at the hotel, we enjoyed a Torajan dinner followed by a cultural performance featuring bamboo instruments played by school children.
 
Thursday, February 21 - Toraja / Palopo, Sulawesi Island: Our morning tour included Bori where huge megalithic stones were erected, some over 15 feet high. Sacrificial buffalo were tied to these during rituals, while all around were tombs carved into hard granite boulders. Pallawa Village featured a row of classically placed tongkonan facing north, their rice barns opposite. Wonderful cloth and carvings were available to buy and we made the most of this shopping opportunity. Sa’dan Village is the center of Torajan ikat production and we took advantage of the very reasonable prices for these intricately dyed and woven textiles. Lemo Village also had lots of handicrafts for sale, but the limestone cliffs were the main attraction with galleries of tau tau, or effigies of the ancestors looking over the rice fields, benevolently providing fertility to their descendents. We all converged on a funeral in its third day, where we joined a procession of mourners from another village and walked across the ceremonial ground where trussed pigs, our gift among them, had been offered to the grieving family, later to be sacrificed. We had an official reception by the close relatives to the deceased, all wearing traditional costumes of vivid reds, oranges and pinks in stark contrast to the mourners who were all dressed in black. We were served hot sweet coffee or tea together with sweet biscuits and cakes before we were led out of the reception pavilion to make room for the next village of mourners and their donations of pigs and water buffalo. This was the ultimate Toraja experience!
 
Returning to the hotel for lunch, we prepared to leave Tana Toraja, ‘land of the mountain people.’ We stopped at the nearby village for a short walk to enjoy the local market and shops and to soak up our remaining moments with the Toraja. Finally it was time to head out of the highlands down a very windy and steep mountain to the coastal plains below where our ship awaited us. The views were stunning, the hillside periodically broken by waterfalls cascading down and where small villages clung to the near-vertical drop. We arrived back at the Clipper Odyssey and sailed south.
 
Friday, February 22 - Selayar Island, South Sulawesi: Due to weather circumstances, Little John announced that today would be an ‘Expedition Day.’ We had a relaxing morning before Peter’s enchanting lecture, Orchids: Liars and Cheaters. He was followed by Ron’s presentation, Religion and Syncretism.
 
While we were having lunch, the expedition crew was out searching for a suitable underwater playground to enjoy. Boy did they come up with a doozy! The snorkeling was superb in warm, clear waters—we saw pristine table corals with plankton-feeding damselfish and a diversity of fairy basslets. A banded sea-snake was the highlight, moving effortlessly through the water in search of a meal.
 
The divers were also lucky with good visibility and both hard and soft corals, as well as barrel sponges, gorgonian fans, and plenty of schooling fish—bannerfish, black surgeons, snappers, another ten out of ten!
 
Saturday, February 23 - Komodo Island: We started our morning excursion early and we all enjoyed good views of reptilian giants, the Komodo dragon. These prehistoric ‘monsters’ can swim and sprint, albeit short distances, up to 16 miles per hour; we kept a wide gap between us.
 
During lunch we repositioned around a little corner to Pink Beach, were the emerald green of the island was even more stunning and the turquoise of the water was breathtaking. We were able to wander along the beach, speckled with tiny bits of red coral that made the sand shimmer pink, or swim to the snorkel boats and enjoy a wonderful array of hard and soft corals and more fish than we could imagine. So much so, that the quote of the day was, “I have never seen so many fish before in my life!” The glass-bottom boat also had people completely engrossed.
 
Mike Murphy took the divers just off Pink Beach where they saw skunk, Clarke's, and several other anemonefish. The water was teeming with reef fish, schooling fusiliers, jacks, and large snappers. The wall was covered with the most beautiful feather stars and turnicates of every imaginable color. A fantastic dive with the best corals and marine life—can it possibly get any better?!
 
Sunday, February 24 - Sumba Island: On Sumba Island, we drove into the highlands, meeting Sumbanese horsemen along the way, both horse and rider colorfully dressed and decorated with bells and headdresses. Once at the village, featuring traditional Sumbanese houses of thatched peaked roofs with leaves that totally obscured the verandas, we were welcomed by the chief and led into the center of Prai Iging Village. As this was an important day for the community, the priest had to read the heart and liver of a sacrificial pig whose blood had to spill onto the ground to enhance the fertility of the land. People danced before the sacrifice in anticipation and after in celebration while we watched village life unfold before us. Once the formal proceedings had been completed and the priest was satisfied that there were no dangerous omens in the heart and lungs of the pig, we were invited to enjoy the village at our leisure. The houses typically had four posts standing majestically in the middle to support the enormous roof. In the upper reaches the household valuables are stored and the area is restricted to men only. We were given dried betel nut to honor us as visitors to the household.
 
Back in our buses we drove to the pasola, a ritual joust between men showing their horsemanship and their ability to throw a spear while galloping towards their foe. The pasola is enthusiastically anticipated as an island-wide event with the arrival of the sea-worm at the end of February or early March.
 
We returned to our ship in the afternoon for a late lunch and a relaxing afternoon while our chefs busied themselves preparing a magnificent Indonesian rijsttafel, or rice table.
 
Monday, February 25 - Satonda Island / Sumbawa Island: We began our day in the water snorkeling or diving, or staying dry on the glass-bottom boat. Many of us enjoyed a short nature walk to the island’s lake, a remnant caldera of a submerged volcano. The snorkelers were lucky enough to see tomato clownfish that Jack was ecstatic about photographing.
 
At Sumbawa Island we had a formal welcome into the village and watched an array of diverse dances from Bima, Bali, Lambock, Sumbawa, and Flores. This village is populated by many different cultures as a result of trans-migration, a policy first of the Dutch colonial administration to diffuse the over-crowding of Java, and then continued by the independent National Government in the 1960s to spread Javanese culture throughout the archipelago. While we watched the dances we were served delicious local coffee, peanuts, and corn on the cob.
 
After the dance, several boys tried to ascend a greased pole to reach the array of presents at the top. Initially they used a variety of methods to win individually, but in the end they relied on teamwork to get one up to the top to send the gifts raining down. While this was going on six young boys were circumcised, marking a very important rite of passage for young Muslim boys. Despite the pain they must have felt, several boys managed to keep a bold front and endured the ceremony stoically.
 
All too soon however, it was time to leave the shared experience we had with the villagers and brave the daunting embarkations of our Zodiacs before farewell cocktails and dinner with Captain Allan McCarty aboard the ship.
 
Tuesday, February 26 - Benoa, Bali / Disembark / Ubud: Packed and ready to leave our floating home, we bade farewell to all the ship’s staff and boarded our busses for a drive to Ubud. Along the way we could see the beautiful and characteristic Balinese stone carvings on the houses and temples. We first visited Ubud Palace and then the beautiful gardens and collection of the Agung Rai Museum. We enjoyed lunch at Lake Leke where delicious Balinese cuisine featured a well-seasoned duck together with salad, satay, and a variety of shrimp crackers. From our luncheon location we could walk to the sacred monkey forest where macaque monkeys are looked after as they roam freely over the old temple grounds. We had an interesting visit to a traditional Balinese compound housing a number of families descended from an ancestral pair. We were served coffee or tea together with fruit while we watched children dance traditional Balinese dances accompanied by a small gamelan orchestra. Some elected to head straight to our hotel, the Sanur Beach Hotel in Denpasar, while others ventured to the craft market to see what their remaining rupiah could buy.
 
Relaxing at the hotel, we had a wonderful final meal followed by a performance of Balinese dances before off to bed. In the morning we would all be heading in our various directions and bidding our friends fair winds until the next time.