Dani and Gregory Churchill's household staff in Jakarta.
Gregory Churchill [right], Dani, and their niece vacationing at Borobudur several years before our visit.
Wednesday, December 27th. Today we flew to Jakarta, Indonesia to visit with Gregory Churchill and see some of the country. On the flight, a young Indonesian man named Omar explained to me that Bangkok was a much more dangerous city than Jakarta. We didn't find Bangkok to be so scary, but then every foreign city looks relatively threatening when you see it as a foreigner. The sea near the coast of Java is five different shades of blue and I can see oil tankers down below. We arrived at beautiful Sukharto airport and Greg's driver, YoYo, met us at the airport and chauffeured us to Greg's law office in downtown Jakarta. Clyde had some problems getting a cash advance, but we finally managed at an ATM that Greg had suggested. Greg and Dani have a splendid mansion outside of town with a household staff who took our bags in for us and greeted us on this hot day with glasses of ice water.
This setting is a real symphony for the ears: Dani has cages of tropical birds in the back that make a variety of calls and songs, accompanied by a neighborhood rooster, with tropical insects humming in the background together with chants five times per day from several local mosques. Combine that with the radio news and the sounds of motorbikes in the distance and your ears never get bored for long. Greg has invited his other expatriate friends, Jed and Dean, to dine with us, and his cook, Kardjo, prepared a wonderful meal for us. As there is no dusk to speak of, night falls very quickly, and the geckos start their familiar barking.
Thursday, December 28th. Greg provides us with a driver, Darmin, who takes us to the National Museum which has a huge bronze elephant out front (a gift from the King of Thailand).
Friday, December 29th. We went to an amusement theme park today called "Little Indonesia" (Taman Mini Indonesia Indah) which is centered around a map of the Indonesian archipelago in a lagoon, and has an aviary and exhibits about different islands. It's much more than we can see in one visit, but we have a good time. Not much is spoken or written in English in Jakarta - even at the theme park - so we get in the habit of hunting and guessing to find our way around. I look up at the birds and Clyde's the one who notices a rat or two scurrying beneath the tree. We see different things when we travel. There are birds that sound like the cartoon Roadrunner and huge cassowarys from Irian Jaya, as well as Victorian Crowned Pigeons which are about as impressive as a pigeon can get.
The Imax theater housed in the Giant Snail building was a high tech pleasure, but my favorite exhibits were the "typical" Protestant and Catholic churches which must have looked quaint to the Moslems. The Catholic exhibit had its pews in disarray due to cleaning, at least one person was praying quietly and in earnest. The Protestant church had a small electric organ up front and a "Praise the Lord" banner. It's a great park and not as expensive or commercially relentless as American parks. We saw a number of "majik benge" shops on the way back to Greg's home, where you can get your automotive repairs accomplished by the right magic spells and incantations.
Saturday, December 30th. Greg has gone to Thailand today and we're catching a train to Yogyakarta. We rested around Greg's house today, researching Yogyakarta, Bali, and Cebu. YoYo [pronounced JoeJoe] took us to Gambir Rail Station around 5:00 p.m., but none of the signs on the platform were in English to tell us which train to board. I got into a conversation with an Indonesian man who was curious about our marital status and spoke enough English, German, and French to carry on a sort of Esperanto conversation and direct us to the right train. I don't know how we wind up traveling on New Year's Eve, but we did get the $12.00 night train - a nonstop 2nd class non-sleeper (unless you count the aisle) across Java with local stops for vendors to get on and offer their wares for anyone likely to buy a box of chocolates at 2:00 a.m. Javanese seem to dislike drafts and want the windows shut even when someone is smoking. At 2:00 a.m., Clyde reopened the door between the cars anyway to let in some fresh air. We were relieved to roll into Yogyakarta that morning about 7:00 a.m.
Sunday, December 31st. After our rail trip, we settled on the Ambarukmo Palace Hotel - a 4-star hotel near the airport, especially since the 4-star Hotel Garuda was booked. We listened to the gamelan orchestra in the lobby and enjoyed the Olympic-sized outdoor pool where Clyde suns himself like a gecko and swifts swoop and dive overhead. We booked our flight to Bali for $53.00 each. We tuned in the local TV and saw the Charlotte Hornets playing the Bucks - a little touch of home. We watched some Javanese dancing and a Wayang Kulit shadow play. At sunset, we sat on our balcony watching white herons roosting in the trees as the evening prayers were chanted. The swifts vanished into the trees and small bats took their place diving for insects. Some of the insects have a low-decibel whirling kind of call, so we call them "phaser bugs". No firecrackers, but still a fine way to spend New Year's Eve.
Monday, January 1st. In Jakarta, only the poor people walk. Others drive, even when the roads are congested with traffic. But "Yogya" is a college town, so there are lots of students walking around too, and loads of street stalls open for the holiday.
Greg and Dani's niece vacationing at Borobudur several years before our visit.
Tuesday, January 2nd. The Ambarukmo keeps an army of groundkeepers busy with brooms so that the place is tidy. There is actually a Sultan who is the titular head of Yogyakarta, so we visit his palace and then roam through the thousand year-old Prambanan temples.
Martin is wondering why Kali's temple is bigger than his.
Not all of the temples have been put back together (or Clyde is as dangerous as the biblical Samson).
Wednesday, January 3rd. Today we got up early to catch our plane to the island of Bali, just east of Java. It was a smooth Garuda flight to Denpasar above the clouds and volcanoes. When we landed in Bali, and, instead of going to the beach, we caught a taxi to the mountain village of Ubud, and the taxi driver (from Java) helped us locate an inexpensive inn with a pool and breakfast. The craft shops and orchards by the misty mountain roads made me think of the Smoky Mountains. We got settled in and found a laundry service in town. We went to a local fire dance and explored the woodworking shops. Everyone here seems to be pleasant and easy-going. But I saw some local teenagers get into an argument in a store and they looked pretty fierce. I sense something spooky and a little scary under the surface in Bali, but the surfaces are delightful all the same.
Thursday, January 4th. It's a cloudy day, but we go for a walk and discover there is no such thing as a lack of affordable cafes and restaurants in Ubud and that it's impossible to get a bad or boring meal.
Friday, January 5th. We take a tour up to the north coast of Bali today, and Clyde and I are the only passengers in the minivan.
We found a good restaurant for dinner, but noticed a larger than usual gecko on the ceiling which I hoped wouldn't fall on us.
Clyde sampled the local Bintang beer but didn't rate it any higher than Bud.
Saturday, January 6th. Today is a national holiday, Kuningan Day, to honor ancestors, so the roads in all the towns were lined with poles decorated with woven palm fronds. I took a tour with a French couple who quickly find out that I speak French.
Sunday, January 7th. We rested and did some writing today. I don't know which is stranger - that I haven't heard any news from the USA or that I don't care whether I do. This place has that effect. One could stay here forever. We talked with the hotel staff about the U.S. and life in Bali. We went to a women's gamelan ensemble concert that evening. The ladies wore orange and blue uniforms and obviously loved to perform. I was concerned that the traffic in this area might drown out the music, until they began - nothing on earth could drown out a Balinese gamelan ensemble. They also accompanied a children's dance troupe which did a rabbit dance, warrior dance, and other bits of choreography which would put any American children's dance recital to shame. We had dinner at an open-air cafe (every Balinese restaurant is "open air") and walked home under the full moon, listening to the frogs in the rice paddies.
Monday, January 8th. It was sunny and hot today and some Japanese and Dutch guests moved into the inn. We went out window-shopping and end up at the Gayardi restaurant, where we perched on the top balcony and relaxed while watching the other tourists down below. In the evening, we attended the Legong Dance at the Ubud Palace. An old man nimbly climbed the stone temple before the performance to light torches, using a bottle of oil. As the gamelan orchestra began to play, a few musicians glanced nervously at the sky when a few drops of rain fell. But it never rained in earnest, so the show continued as a dog wandered through the audience scratching at fleas in time with the music.
Tuesday, January 9th. It's hard to leave Bali, but we caught a flight to Brunei on Tuesday morning. Brunei is a small enclave on the north central coast of Borneo which is very Moslem and very rich. When we arrived at the sparkling new (and mostly empty) Brunei airport, we noticed with interest that almost all the other passengers exited for connecting flights to other destinations. We're apparently the only ones who've chosen the city of Bandar Seri Bagawan as a travel destination. This gives us some pause. In theory, we needed a visa to visit this place, but customs inspector waves us through. Because this is prayer time, nothing much in the way of service is available in the airport, but we did manage to reserve a room at the Terrace hotel (which is the refurbished Ang Hotel). The slow-moving Otis elevator with its glowing floor numbers reminded me of the one I knew as a child in the Doctor's Building in Charlotte, North Carolina.
This mosque is fully air conditioned, has stained glass windows, and is the only mosque in the world with an escalator.
Continue with Second Trip/Borneo continued, The Philippines segment
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