Semarang, Java, Indonesia
From the Ships Navigator
Today we will embark the local pilot at 6:00am. Thereafter we will sail on a southerly heading towards our dock at Semarang, Java. The weather forecast for today predicts an outside temperature of 75 degrees and a moderate breeze blowing from the south- southeast with a force of 4.
Welcome to Semarang
Semarang is Indonesia’s fifth largest city, located on the north coast of the island of Java. Its history dates back to the 9th century, when it was known as Bergota; by the end of the 15th century, an Arab mullah with the name of Kyai Pandan Arand founded a village and an Islamic boarding school here. On May 2,, 1547, after consulting Sunan Klijaga, Sultan Hadiwijaya of Pajang declared Kyai Pandan Arang the first regent of Semarangk thus culturally and politically, on this day Semarang was born. In 1678, Sunan Amangkurat II promised to give control of Semarang to the Dutch East India Company (VOC) as a part of a debt payment and four years later, the Semarang state was founded by the Dutch colonial power. Beginning in the 1920s the city became a center of leftist and nationalist activism, particularly with the founding of the Communist Party of Indonesia. The Japanese military occupied the city, along with the rest of Java in 1942 during the Pacific War of WW II During that time Semarang was headed by a military governor from Japan and two five governors, one from Japan and one local. After Indonesian independence in 1945, Semarang became the capital of Central Java province.
Sunrise was at 5:12am so we were able witness the departure of a fleet of small fishing boats from the harbor. I imagine we were an awesome sight as we made our 180 degree swing around and slowly slid sideways into our berth with our bow pointed out to sea. Since a large numbers of our crew are from this area, families were waiting, behind a security fence, to see their shipboard loved ones. The ship has a liberal visitation policy so family members are permitted to come aboard for the day. Our room steward had not seen his wife and 15 month-old son for four months, so we made sure we were out of our room early so he could get his work done before visiting hours. Interestingly, since the ship had visited here four months ago, several of the wives of the crew we in their fourth month of pregnancy. Some family members (wives mostly I think) we permitted to stay aboard the ship until we arrive in Bali on Saturday.
Since the excursion we were booked on would take around 2 – 3 hours to reach the temple of Borobudur, we boarded our buses and left around 8:30am. Because of time constraints, we had heard that all tour buses from visiting cruise ships travel with police escorts, but we were totally unprepared for our next “wild bus” ride. If you have ever witnessed government dignitaries being rushed through traffic with sirens wailing and lights flashing then you have a bit of an idea of what we felt like. Here’s the picture: A mid-sized police car, lights flashing, siren wailing, followed by two 40 passenger tour buses, on mostly narrow two lane roads. Then throw in hundreds of bicycle, scooters and motorcycles, trucks of every size, buses and pedestrians and mix it all up at high speed. There were too many near misses to keep track, especially as motorcycles sped along on the left side of the bus (traffic direction is opposite of the states) or in between the buses, taking advantage of the policed escort. If the traffic slowed down or backed up in our direction of travel, we either used the center of the road or the right hand lane. Opposing traffic was just forced off the road! Traffic lights and turns onto other roads were no problem as traffic police were on hand to stop traffic until we passed. It was exciting and wild, almost like watching a high speed chase on TV. Some of us were exhausted when we arrived at the temple.
Being just a few degrees south of the equator, the heat was oppressive, but we were happy to be on solid ground. We parked about a quarter of a mile from the temple, so we had ample opportunity to view and photograph it before climbing the seven tiers of stone. While it is true that Borobudur is “the world’s largest Buddhist temple,” the size pales in comparison to the ingenuity in design and allegorical detail. The intricate carving reflects Javanese style, but components also evoke Persian – and even Greek design. These elements clearly indicate that talented experts and artisans were engaged from places as far flung as India (and Europe?) to work on the complex. What was most impressive for me was how much building material had to be hauled great distances, and then pulled up a fair size hill to the building site. There is also no evidence of any mortar being used to hold the stones together. There are seven levels of stones, and we were told that worshipers would start at the lowest level, which represented the lowest level in ones life, and as one walked around each level, life would improve, eventually arriving at the top level which represented “Nirvana” or Heaven. Above everything was a large bell shaped structure that contained an unseen Buddha. Other smaller bell shaped structures on the seventh level contained smaller statues of Buddha, which were visible through small diamond shaped holes. If one poked their arm through one of the holes on a Buddha that guarded the east gate of the seventh level, and rubbed the statue, good luck would follow. It must have worked as we were lucky to get back through the gauntlet of traffic on our return to the ship.
A real highlight of our return was a side trip to a local coffee plantation resort hotel and spa for lunch. All dining facilities in this large complex of massive wooden structures were open air, and subsequently black flies. The buffet meal was spectacular and we had plenty to time to walk the beautiful grounds and gardens before it was time to return to our buses. It seems that traveling merchants had been made aware of our location and were waiting for us as we crossed the parking lot to our buses. Several of our group succumbed to their “deals”. Barbara was able to resist, as she had already made her own deals back at the temple.
Jack and Barbara