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Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Discovering the Remote Islands of Indonesia

Written by Roger Marks
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The more remote islands of Indonesia had always been on my travel bucket list but eluded me for many years because there were no cruise ships plying the vast expanse of these islands. In recent years there was a legitimate concern of piracy on the waters surrounding certain areas of Indonesia, and these personal safety concerns likely explains the scarcity of cruise ships in the region. Then, one day before we were about to book a privately guided trip to Mongolia, I stumbled upon a National Geographic/Lindblad expedition cruise titled “Indonesia Odyssey: Bali to the Great Barrier Reef”. While I expect my travel to esoteric destinations to continue for many years to come, I told my wife that if we had only one trip to choose from for the remainder of our lives, this was it. After reading the day to day itinerary, we immediately signed on for the trip—and in jumping to the conclusion of this article, it did not disappoint! In fact, this journey through Indonesia definitely ranks as one of our top trips ever.

 

We started our trip in Bali where we spent four glorious full days seeing magnificent temples, rice fields and traditional dances with a very knowledgeable, well-organized private guide with a passion for his island. We then boarded the National Geographic Orion, a luxurious, state-of-the-art expedition ship where we slept comfortably and ate delicious food served by the experienced staff.

 

Sumbawa Island

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Cruising from Bali, our first destination was Sumbawa Island. The island is volcanic, as are most of the islands we visited in Indonesia. We disembarked at Badas, a small port which lies at the foot of a large volcano that exploded in 1815. We climbed into small buses that carried us into the interior dry hills of the island to the village of Pamulung. As soon as we arrived, we encountered the friendly, welcoming nature of the people. In a small courtyard, we saw a demonstration of the traditional method of making rice flour, pounded by hand in large wooden pestles. We also saw weaving and beautiful textiles for sale for which this island is deservedly famous. We observed a simulated but very colorful wedding procession. We then took a bus to another location which was one of the highlights of the trip—traditional buffalo racing. Each rider stands on a thin stick platform attached to the yoke of a pair of buffalo and races down a long muddy pool and tries to knock down a figurine placed in the mud at far end of the pool/pond.

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On the way back to the ship, we stopped at a 1940s Dutch administrator’s home—which had been made into a museum displaying many beautiful articles of Indonesian culture from the past century--and a beautiful wooden sultan’s palace from the late 1800s (barren of furniture but very interesting exterior and interior architecture). Later in the day, for those interested there was an introduction to expedition photography. Since the ship was a joint venture between Lindblad and National Geographic, there were several National Geographic photographers on board who, during the course of the voyage, would hold photography workshops.

 

Komodo Dragons

 

The next day we visited Komodo National Park on Rinca Island and did a two hour roundtrip hike of 1&1/2 miles. We viewed many Komodo dragons. They are the largest species of lizard. They can grow to an average length of 6 to 10 feet and weigh over 150 pounds. Although Komodo dragons eat mostly decaying flesh of dead animals, they will also hunt and eat live birds and mammals. We took photos of these rare creatures with great caution as the park rangers instructed us to keep our distance as they can reach speeds in excess of 12 miles per hour. Komodo dragons have been known to occasionally attack and kill humans with their poisonous venom. We spotted the dragons in several locations and they reminded me of the creatures that roamed the earth during the dinosaur age. During our hike, we also came across the Timor deer and wild buffalo.

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In the afternoon, Zodiacs went ashore for snorkeling at Pink Beach on Komodo Island. In these pristine waters, we saw many colorful tropical fish and beautiful corals. Upon our return to the ship, we also did a glass bottom boat tour where we saw a giant hawksbill turtle and large green sea turtle swimming under the glass, as well as numerous fish.

 

Flores Island

 

Our next destination was Larantuka, the capital city of the island of Flores. It is somewhat surprising to find this bustling town located in one of the less-developed regions of Indonesia. The settlement developed as a Portuguese colony in the 16th century, and was established here in order to control the valuable trade in sandalwood. Today, even though it was under Dutch control for more than two centuries after the Portuguese first settled, it still retains a distinct Portuguese flavor with both its language and the Catholic religion. Many of the “old people” still speak Portuguese, but this is being lost with the younger generation, as everything official is now written and spoken in Bahasa Indonesi.

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We visited the village of Mudakeputu where we were welcomed by the village elders and led in a traditional procession ceremony to the center of the village. Here, speeches were made and we were officially greeted by some rather fierce-looking warriors and their womenfolk who were dressed in resplendent woven ikat attire. Ikat is a dyeing technique resulting in an “Impressionistic” pattern to the textile and is unique to this region. After several local dances and chanting, they set up several interesting demonstrations to show us life on the island. They demonstrated how they process corn into chips and cornmeal and their weaving techniques for the famous ikat cloth. We made a short stop to visit the local market and the Catholic Cathedral which was a gift from the Dutch to the Catholic residents. It was rebuilt in 1992 after an earthquake.

 


Eruption of Volcano and Alor Island

 

When we returned to the ship before sunset, we received word that the nearby volcanic island known as Komba has been active recently and in keeping with the nature of an expedition cruise (where there is a spirit of adventure and flexibility by the captain and crew to sail to locations not on the itinerary), the decision was made to cruise over to this island after dinner. This turned out to be a very good idea as the main vent suddenly let loose with a magnificent eruption that sprayed red glowing rocks and boulders down the slope all the way to the water. This proved to be an intermittent display that occurred every five to fifteen minutes, and we spent nearly two hours in the vicinity. Watching continuous bursts of flames from the vent (making for a very loud sound) and the stream of red lava cascading down this uninhabited island (contrasted against the dark night sky) made for a spell-binding scene. The professional photographers on board who worked for National Geographic noted this was their first time witnessing a spontaneous volcanic eruption. We were mesmerized as we watched the volcano continuously erupt. We therefore could not pull ourselves away to retrieve our camera to capture these scenes, particularly since we didn’t know when the eruption would end.

 

The next morning we arrived in Kalabahi, the only town on the island of Alor. The local farmers cultivate vanilla, almonds and other nuts and tamarind. They also grow sandalwood. There are over 15 native languages spoken on Alor. As we disembarked, the local people performed a greeting dance. We made stops at a local market and then a museum that displayed ancient Vietnamese bronze Dongson drums, dating back to 1,000 BC.

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Our vehicle followed the coast line and then climbed a steep road into the rugged interior to Takpala Village. Here, we were met by indigenous Melanesian people wearing traditional clothing and we were led to the village site where we were treated to a traditional dance. Once a head-hunting culture, the warriors are the real deal, chewing beetle-nut and giving us “the look”. We saw several traditional ceremonies and the ikat tapestries. Against a backdrop of thatched-roof houses, there were photographic opportunities in every direction. We were able to view the inside of their simple wood houses that were open on the first floor (where they would cook) and ladders that went to an enclosed second floor used for sleeping.

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In the afternoon, we enjoyed snorkeling in the reefs around Alor. Our local guide on the island informed us that two ships per year come to Alor Island and other nearby Indonesian islands.

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Snorkeling and Dinner with Dr. Lawrence Blair

 

Our expedition cruise sailed in the Banda Sea, passing isolated coral reefs and atolls. The Lucipara islands lie isolated in the midst of an azure sea. Steep walls of a volcanic atoll arise thousands of feet from the dark depths. Corals, both hard and soft, flourish on vertical walls. In the morning, we saw presentations on The Story of the Spice Trade and Underwater Exploration. While crossing the deep blue waters of the Banda Sea and having lunch on the outdoor deck, we saw the world’s largest animal, the blue whale. The behemoth’s life breath stood tall for the length of a sigh before vanishing into the hot tropical sky. The ship’s course was altered so that all of us could take in this unique sight. In the afternoon, we went snorkeling off of an anchored snorkel platform (tethered to two Zodiacs) where we saw giant barrel sponges and an abundance of tropical fish.

 

We received an invitation to have a private dinner with one of the guest speakers on the ship, Dr. Lawrence Blair (and his wife and 3 other passengers). Dr. Blair is particularly known for creating and producing (with his late brother) the internationally acclaimed series Ring of Fire, which aired on PBS in the US and BBC in the UK and won two Emmy awards in 1988. He has spent much of the past three decades exploring and making films in Indonesia and his lectures/slide presentations on the ship were always spell-binding, including his theory on the loss of David Rockefeller who was collecting art in West Papua. We had the honor of having a private dinner with him twice while on the ship. The private dinners with guests were held outside on deck rather than in the dining room. The first dinner included a spaghetti dish as an appetizer, Tasmanian salmon and apple tartan with vanilla ice cream.

 


Banda Islands a/k/a the Spice Islands

 

We entered into the Banda Caldera in the early morning before breakfast, and everyone immediately noticed how lush and green the islands were. The Banda Islands, also known as the Spice Islands, are the source of two lucrative spices, nutmeg and mace. Our ship was escorted in to the wharf by one of the dragon boats. It was interesting to see (and hear) that the paddling cadence by the local inhabitants was maintained by bronze gongs rather than the more familiar leather-covered drums. It is very melodious and pleasant. We were then welcomed to the historic old town of Banda Neira by a troupe of beautiful young ladies performing a dance, accompanied by the ever-present gongs, on the wharf alongside our ship.

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The morning was spent exploring this very photogenic colonial town. The ship’s passengers were split into groups to walk with local guides. It was easy to discern that this place was quite resplendent in centuries past but many of the beautiful buildings are now in disrepair and crumbling abandonment. The locals probably don’t have much desire to maintain and utilize buildings that hold such bad memories of the violent and oppressive regime that once controlled the lucrative spice trade in nutmeg and mace.

 

We visited the old Dutch Protestant Church, the Government House, the ruins of Fort Nassau down by the waterfront, Fort Belgica high on the hill overlooking the harbor, and the Banda museum.

 

For many of us, the highlight was walking into a nutmeg grove and seeing the attractive trees loaded with nutmeg fruits ready for harvest. There was a time that the nutmeg tree did not exist anywhere else in the world except for Banda. In the mid-1600s, the Dutch were triumphant and dominated the production and traffic in nutmeg. Their monopoly lasted for nearly two centuries. It is almost inconceivable to us now that the control of this spice trade led to warfare, international maneuvering, political intrigue, murder, treachery and vast fortunes made and lost over several centuries. But consider the fact that before the age of refrigeration and hygienic techniques of canning and pickling foods, spices were necessary to make foods palatable and safe to ingest. The spices were valued for their preservative qualities, used in some religious rituals and served as important medicines against diseases such as the bubonic plague.

 

In the afternoon, we snorkeled among coral gardens. We enjoyed crystal clear water as we swam along the slope of the drop-off. My underwater camera endured a heavy workout given the abundance of colorful corals and vast numbers of tropical fish.

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Triton Bay

 

We set sail later that afternoon headed for Triton Bay, in West Papua. Papua is the largest province of Indonesia. Geographically it comprises the western half of the island of New Guinea. This area was once known as West Irian Jaya until it was renamed in 2007. Marine biologists have concluded that Triton Bay contains more fish and coral species than anywhere else in the world. The area was not scientifically investigated until 2006 where 14 new species of fish were discovered and 330 species of reef fish were found on one dive site alone.

 

In the morning there were various presentations by guest lecturers; however we took advantage of the time to sleep in and have a leisurely breakfast. Triton Bay is a stunning landscape filled with towering limestone pillars and karst cliffs. The jungle-clad mountains are home to a wide variety of birdlife. From the ship, we took Zodiacs and snaked our way through the many small passages amongst the beautiful seascape. Around every turn, another incredible vista was to be seen. We saw a couple of families living along the coast in very primitive houses, with fish as their primary food source. All of the Zodiacs ended up on a small beach where, as a complete surprise to the passengers, cocktails and appetizers were served by ship staff. This was a nice touch to the end of a very scenic day.

 

Kajumera Bay

 

We disembarked at 6:00am on a Zodiac cruise around Kajumera Bay. We were searching for wildlife and photo opportunities. No other expedition ship has ever explored the waters of this beautiful bay/island. We cruised alongside the limestone cliffs and thick tropical forest hugging the shore. While we saw some birdlife, we also did an exploratory snorkeling expedition. While visibility in the water was not at its best, that did not stop us from discovering a very beautiful little reef garden where jewel-like fish hovered among the branches and crenellations of a wonderful variety of colorful corals.

 

Late morning we departed for the Asmat tribe, spending the day at sea. We saw a very spell-binding presentation by Dr. Blair on headhunters, cannibals and Michael Rockefeller. His comments were a sobering recognition that not long ago, the tribe we were to visit over the next couple of days engaged in cannibalism and is presumed to be the tribe that engaged in the disappearance and cannibalism of Michael Rockefeller in 1961, who was in the region collecting tribal art and happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

 


Asmat Tribal Greeting and Traditional Ceremony

 

Just after sunrise our ship anchored in Flamingo Bay. Crossing the river bar at the high tide was crucial, as we had only 3 meters under the keel. The Asmat region is located in one of the largest mangrove swamps on earth. Houses are built on stilts and raised boardwalks connecting the community.

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The Asmat people are perhaps the most feared headhunters on Earth. They are also cannibals—or at least they used to be. There is speculation that cannibalism occurs today in more remote areas. The Asmat, numbering approximately 70,000 today, did not have regular contact with outsiders until the mid-20th century.

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As we approached the village of Syuru, our fleets of Zodiacs were met by dozens of dugout long boats with hundreds of Asmat warriors paddling, standing up and chanting in unison. At first they were hiding along the river bank, but after the chief signaled to them, they paddled out and surrounded us. It was an overwhelming sight, and an amazing photo opportunity. Both men and women paint their bodies on ceremonial occasions, which was the case when they came to greet us and escort us to their long-house. Once on shore, we gathered near the long-house for a ceremony that dates back centuries, and maybe even thousands of years. The Asmat people, at the time of first contact, were a stone-age culture, but they are really people of the forest and they consider themselves the “tree people”. The ceremony we witnessed dates back centuries. The war canoes gathered at the river mouth, where the warriors worked themselves into a frenzy before storming ashore. We saw many men with pierced noses, wearing wild boar tusks. Some of the women were bare-breasted. In earlier times, before the missionaries infiltrated the island, the Asmat wore very little clothing, if at all.

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As part of the ceremony that we witnessed, the Asmat men carried a fresh cut tree from the forest, which was to be carved into a Bisj Pole, which honors the dead. Traditionally, a cycle of revenge ensues, ending in the ceremonial killing of an enemy. After a lot of dancing and chanting and a reenactment of “revenge” among the people, we are invited into the long-house to view and purchase wood carvings. We were certainly glad that we were honored guests and not enemies. The long-house was very crowded, filled with tourists from the ship and locals displaying their goods. The floor was made of matting from leaves. At some point, one of my legs went right through the flooring as I fell on and through the matting. Fortunately the matting was soft and did not cut my leg. Some locals and tourists helped me get up and then I decided to head for the nearest exit. I was lucky both legs did not go through the matting and I did not drop to the dirt ground which was perhaps 10 feet below the long-house. We returned to the ship for lunch and a leisurely afternoon aboard.

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Visit to the Asmat Village & Special Dinner

 

The following morning, we took the Zodiacs ashore and had a guided walk around the capital of the region, Agats, to see the markets, mosque, churches and monuments. We also visited an Asmat Museum which had an enormous and amazing collection of Asmat art and artifacts. In fact many renowned museums around the world have collected Asmat art. We had the opportunity to purchase art works at a local gallery. We saw some beautiful wood carvings at the gallery, each for around $1,000. But the shipping cost was around $4,000 since the shop only shipped in containers rather than on the individual item so we had to forego purchasing any Asmat statues.

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The entire town of Agats is built on stilts and as the tide comes in, everything around is flooded. Motorcycles have arrived to this part of the world, but luckily they are all electric and very quiet. The market was interesting, especially in view of the limited amount of crops they are able to grow. Many different kinds of local fish were on display. We walked along some of the board walks passing houses and a playground area where teenagers were doing traditional dances. We boarded the ship late morning, and in the afternoon, we did a Zodiac ride, exploring one of the mangrove tributaries for an hour and a half, looking for more birds and wildlife. We saw a number of parrots, and mudskippers lined the muddy banks and were entertaining as they skimmed the mud.

 


Dinner was a “Ring of Fire” barbeque buffet which was superb. The cold buffet included items such as fresh fish marinated with ginger and spices, marinated seared baby octopus and scallops, rice paper rolls with crab/coriander/vegetables and a dressing, garden greens and a selection of cheese. Fish soup was prepared with tamarind, local greens, butternut pumpkin and lime leaves. The hot buffet included stir fried vegetables, chicken with coconut and exotic spices, Thai barbecued beef short ribs, Australian banana prawns, whole roasted suckling pig with Balinese flavors and a dessert buffet which included an ice cream bar with toppings, and platters of fresh seasonal fruits. As it was my birthday, we invited some friends to join us at our table and my wife ordered a passion fruit cheesecake as my birthday cake. It was delicious and the six of us had no problem devouring the entire cake. The dining staff always congregated around any table celebrating a birthday to deliver a special dessert with candles and sang Happy Birthday.

 

The Orion had visited the Asmat in 2012 and 2010 and so our voyage was the third time within a five year period that the Asmats had outside tourists. We were informed by our local guide in Agats that no other cruise ships visit West Papua.

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Two Days at Sea

 

The next two days were at sea. We were cruising through the Afafura Sea which is notorious as a breeding ground for tropical cyclones. Fortunately the cyclone season did not coincide with our visit. Seabirds were scarce, but on a few occasions passing groups of ducks and shorebirds hinted at the large scale migration that was underway as birds depart the northern hemisphere and head south to avoid the onset of winter.

 

We spent the day on deck reading and indulging in the afternoon tea, and taking a half-hour tour of the galley to see the kitchen and how it is organized to produce three meals a day. Almost all of the food for this cruise is refrigerated from the beginning of the trip so the boat did not need to pick up food supplies along the way. At lunch, there was a whale sighting. Before dinner, there was a cocktail hour on deck to raise awareness (and funds) for the Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic Fund in support of the Pristine Seas project, which is focused on marine conservation issues.

 

In the evening, we listened to one of the staff colorfully recall tales from his many years as a guide traveling with Lindblad. As the staff continued to ply him with drinks from the bar, he revealed increasingly more graphic, colorful stories behind the scenes of Lindblad. He was an excellent storyteller and we ended up buying his book, as well as Lawrence Blair’s book relating to his encounters with the Asmat, both sold onboard in the gift shop.

 

We sailed through the Torres Strait that lies between Australia and New Guinea. We spent another relaxing day reading, eating and attending presentations by guest lecturers and had occasional sightings of dolphins and several schools of small tuna.

 

Thursday Island, Cape York & the Great Barrier Reef

 

After breakfast, all passengers cleared Australia Immigration through officials that boarded our ship. We then took Zodiacs to Thursday Island which is 1.4 square miles. After landing on this sleepy island, we took a leisurely stroll around the sights. We visited the Cathedral with brilliant stain-glass artworks. We then ascended the road to Green Hill fort where we were rewarded with spectacular panoramas of the surrounding islands. The fort was built in the 1880s to defend against Czarist Russia. We visited the museum in the lower level of the fort. We then visited the local culture center which has many interesting exhibits, including artworks by the local Torres Strait Islanders.

 

In the afternoon, we went ashore to Cape York, the northernmost point of the Australian Continent. We did a natural history walk (around 1 mile on a rocky trail) and then we walked along the pristine beach before returning to the ship by Zodiac. For dinner, we were served an Aussie barbeque on the outdoor deck. The cold buffet included items such as smoked kangaroo, smoked emu and smoked crocodile, blue swimmer crab and roasted fish and seafood chowder. The hot buffet included lamb cutlets, tropical crayfish and grilled barramundi fillet, a carving station that included roasted leg of pork and apple sauce, and desserts such as lemingtons, mud cake and pineapple pie. This was one of many superb dinners aboard the National Geographic Orion ship.

 


The next day was spent in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. We did both morning and afternoon snorkeling excursions. The Great Barrier Reef stretches for nearly 1,500 miles along the coast of Queensland, comparable to the length of the U.S. West coast. In the morning excursion, we encountered a number of larger schools of parrotfish. We snorkeled among some of the most beautiful sea corals—a real underwater garden—and saw lots of tropical fish.

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In the afternoon, we did three drift snorkels which were spectacular. The Zodiac cruised some distance in the ocean from a small sand bar. The waves of the ocean effortlessly carried us toward the sand bar standing alone in the vast expanse of water with no sight of land. This bar continued to diminish in size as the tides moved in. We snorkeled just above the area where there was a wall that dropped to great depths. We saw a white tip reef shark and a green turtle. On one excursion, we reached the sand bar but only a few square feet of it were now standing above the water surface. We quickly gathered up our gear and barely made it on board the Zodiac as we watched the sand bar completely disappear under water.

 

The next day we visited Lizard Island, a granite island about four square miles in size. Named by Captain Cook in the late 18th century on account of the number of lizards Cook and his crew found here, Lizard Island is now known for its proximity to what are some of Australia’s greatest underwater experiences. We decided to skip the hike on the island and research station and opted instead to go snorkeling from the beach. We saw giant, colorful clams which came in various brilliant colors and impressive sizes. They can weigh more than 400 pounds and measure as much as four feet across. Interestingly, these enormous clams have an average lifespan of 100 years. Colors of the clams included bright purples, reds and blues. After lunch, we snorkeled again at another location and saw more giant clams, along with many coral and tropical fish. The reefs close to shore were bursting with colorful fish life. Our ship ended its journey in Cairns. From Bali to Cairns, we traveled 2,900 nautical miles.

 

Kuranda and Cairns, Australia

 

Early the next morning, we did the Kuranda day tour, the final excursion organized by the ship, which included travel by coach, railway and sky rail, exploring the quaint mountain town of Kuranda. We first boarded a train for an hour and 45 minute journey through the rainforest. We then got off the train, walked for a half hour through a mini-rainforest and then we took a tram for five miles (with two stops along the way, where we hopped out and explored the forest floor on boardwalks, and an interpretation center) and finally we arrived by cable car to the town of Kuranda. We then took a bus to the old section of town where we walked around the streets.

 

We stumbled upon an Aborigine art gallery and, unexpectedly, we ended up buying a large painting by the famous Aboriginal artist, Billawarra. It was acrylic on canvas and titled Rainbow Serpent. The dreamtime story behind the painting is that the Rainbow Serpent invited two brothers seeking shelter from a storm to sleep in his mouth. A tribe looking for the missing brothers came upon the serpent and knew he had devoured the boys. They cut the serpent’s stomach open to look for the boys and discovered the serpent had transformed the boys into parakeets. The two birds flew out of the serpent’s stomach. The painting is filled with all sorts of Aborigine symbolism.

 

We had a wonderful seafood dinner in Cairns at the restaurant Dundees.

 

On our last and final day of the trip, we explored the town of Cairns. We walked along the sea front, had a relaxing lunch at another seafood restaurant, Barnacle Bills, and then took a taxi to the botanical gardens where we spent a couple of hours walking through beautiful gardens. We returned to the city and walked down a street where the trees were filled with bats. In the late afternoon/early evening, the bats awaken and fly into the mountains and return at dawn to nest in the trees in the heart of the city. We passed some historical buildings in town and briefly stopped in the old library building. We visited a modern church known for its beautiful stained glass windows. We sat on the balcony of our hotel room and watched the native white cockatoos fly by.

 

Our trip to Bali and cruising through the islands of Indonesia ranks among the very best of our 30+ years of travel to different parts of the world. Exploring the island of Bali with a private guide and driver, the comfort of the National Geographic Orion ship and its daily excursions, and the amazing meals served aboard the ship all made for the ultimate vacation.

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©Roger Marks

 

 

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Luxury Boutique Expedition Ship

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The National Geographic Orion was a state-of-the-art expedition ship. There were 75 passengers on the ship and approximately the same number of crew. The ship can accommodate 102 guests in 53 cabins, each with oversized picture windows facing the ocean, ensuite bathrooms, internet access (for an additional fee) and a flat-screen TV where one could watch the presentations/lectures from the comfort of one’s cabin (although in most cases we preferred to attend the live lectures) as well as documentaries related to Indonesia. Public areas include an outdoor café and bar for dining in the balmy air or under the stars, an indoor lounge and bar, a sundeck, a state-of-the-art lecture theater, a library, a boutique shop, a fitness and sauna room, spa treatment rooms and a small hot tub/plunge pool, and a centrally located elevator. The ship is outfitted for both snorkelers and divers with snorkeling gear for all guests and dive gear for up to 24 guests. It carries 24 kayaks and a fleet of 14 Zodiac motorized landing craft. It also carried a glass-bottom boat.

 

The cabins were situated on 3 floors with cabins on the top floors having, in some cases, balconies, and a separate bedroom and living room. Our cabin was located on the lowest level. All of the cabins had king size beds, beautiful wood trim and plenty of drawers and closets to stow one’s travel gear. Bathrooms had a roomy glass-walled shower stall and were stocked with bath products and robes. A personal safe, hairdryer and mini-refrigerator were also in each room. The house-keeping service was very good and we always were able to get extra towels or soap when needed. Included in the price of the trip were all shore excursions, use of snorkeling equipment, meals and soft beverages. Alcoholic beverages, gratuities, spa treatments, scuba diving excursions, internet and phone, and laundry were not included. The cost of our expedition (with one of the least expensive cabins) was $16,620/person. This does not include airfare, travel insurance, any alcoholic beverages on board as well as tips to the ship staff.

 

Breakfast and lunch were served buffet style. Breakfasts included a selection of fruit and yogurts, freshly baked breads and pastries, omelets to order and many other items. Lunch included several cold and hot dishes as well as a homemade pasta dish each day, and a dessert buffet. With a few exceptions, dinner was served based on selections off of a menu. The dinners were truly superb with several evenings featuring a theme such as an Aussie barbeque, a seafood buffet and grill, and a lavish Indonesian buffet (with cold and hot selections, as well as several entrees from the barbeque and a chef’s carving station which included a whole roasted suckling pig). There was also a very fancy degustation menu one night. Dinners from the menu typically included an appetizer, a soup, salad and a choice of a choice of two entrees, and a choice of several desserts including assorted chocolates & French pastries, a fresh fruit platter, a bowl of ice cream or sorbet and a selection of cheeses. Periodically I would indulge in more than one dessert. After a full day exploring and/or snorkeling, we always looked forward to the gourmet dinners. Breakfast and lunch were generally served outside with dinner served in the dining room—with the exception of a few of the buffets served on the open deck. Every day there was also high tea in the late afternoon which included cookies, cakes and pastries. Most of the time we were either on island excursions or snorkeling in the water and therefore skipped high tea—just as well given 3 full meals a day. Dress for dinner was informal. There was open seating, allowing one to choose where to dine and table sizes ranged from two to twelve persons.

Last modified on Friday, 02 September 2016