Day 44, Grand Asia 2018
Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018, Semarang, Indonesia:
For passengers, Semarang is the portal for Borobudur, the largest Buddhist monument in the Southern Hemisphere. For many of the Amsterdam’s Indonesian crew, it is home, or at least as close a cruise ships sail. It’s an opportunity for them to see their families.
While most passengers were exploring on land today, as many as a thousand family members came on board the ship. Many, such as the families of my cabin stewards, traveled three or five hours each way for the visit.
One of my room stewards almost choked up when he said in his 15 years with Holland America, it was his first opportunity to show his family where he worked. Most Holland America ships don’t sail in Southeast Asia, so their Indonesian crews don’t have this opportunity.
In order to give the crew time for visits, most passengers gladly insist that we need no attention from the stewards. We can make our own beds and hang our own towels. Last year this “movement” among the passengers was word-of-mouth. This year the hotel manager formalized the process by requesting that passengers complete a form indicating their wishes.
Some of the crew is from Bali, the next island we will visit, and so we will repeat the process then. It is an easy gesture on our part.
About eight buses left the port at Semarang as soon as we cleared customs to head to Borobudur, a crazy two-hour drive. I wrote about the experiencelast year. It is well worth going, but there was no reason to go again. So I joined five other passengers for an independent tour of Semarang, a city of more than 2 million. Dancers and musicians greeted us on shore.
The forecast for thunderstorms didn’t materialize, although I hear it rained with a vengeance at Borobudur. Still, the heat and humidity soared. I was glad there weren’t too many sights to see in the city, so we took a leisurely pace. My Kafka Kool tie from REI helped immensely — the hydrated crystals stayed cool all day around my neck.
Among our stops was Lawang Sewu, a landmark building that was the headquarters of the oldest train company in Semarang. It is a great example of how the Dutch built to survive the heat in the days before air conditioning. This was the first but not the last place where touring Indonesians asked to take their pictures with us. They are some of the friendliest and most outgoing people we have met.
The Sam Poo Kong Temple is where China’s Admiral Zheng He is believed to have arrived in the 15thCentury.
Later we visited Buddhagaya Temple, a Buddhist temple with the tallest pagoda in Indonesia. It was built in 2006 (not everything is old) and the pagoda has no access to the upper levels, at the request of the military, which owns a facility across the highway. No spying allowed!
We drove a long time to get to the Balemong Resort for our lunch, but our guide Mohammed Fabio (“call me Fabio”) said it was just outside the city. The resort in the hills was quiet and tempted me to come back for an extended stay in one of their cabins.
We dined on Indonesian specialties – Nasi Bakar Rempah (rice and chicken with condiments), Nasi Goreng (fried rice) and of course, Bintang beer.
Once we were back at the port, it was a long walk along the pier to reach the ship. The crewmember with the ice-cold wet cloths at the foot of the gangway was most popular.
I was on the top deck at 5:30 when the Muslim call to prayer resounded via loudspeakers across the city. A few minutes later, I heard a siren and looked out to see the police escort the buses back from Borobudur. It was the only way to get back to ship in a timely manner. The passengers looked tired from their long day as they slowly walked along the pier. I’m sure the steward with the cold cloths pleasantly surprised them, too.