By Carla Sue Broecker
Aboard the Seven Seas Voyager, we sailed northward along the eastern coast of Australia from Cooktown through the Torres Strait. Then, we sailed on through the Arafura Sea (never heard of that one before!) on our way to Darwin, the capital city of Australia’s Northern Territory. Timing is everything – they had just had a cyclone the day before and were in the process of mopping up. We were treated to a clear, sunny day, and the town was almost normal considering they were expecting another cyclone three days later.
Darwin sits on the Timor Sea and has a population of about 120,000, making it the largest and most populated city in the sparsely populated Northern Territory, but it is the least populous of all of Australia’s capital cities. Remember, the entire country only has 28 million people and geographically it is as big as the United States.
It is a modern and multicultural city that acts as the “Top End” regional center. Its proximity to Asia makes it an important Australian gateway to countries such as Indonesia and East Timor.
The region, like the rest of the “Top End,” has a tropical climate with wet and dry seasons. It gets heavy rainfall during the wet season and is known for its spectacular lightning.
The original inhabitants of the Darwin area are the Larrakia people. In 1839, the HMS Beagle sailed into Darwin harbor during its surveying of the area. A member of the crew named the region “Port Darwin” in honor of their former shipmate and famed scientist Charles Darwin.
Darwin has been almost entirely rebuilt twice, once due to Japanese air raids during WWII and again after devastation by a cyclone in 1974.
The next day, we crossed the Timor Sea on our way to Komodo Island. I have mixed emotions about Komodo. It is a tiny island belonging to Indonesia. Few people inhabit the island, but loads of Komodo dragons live there. The dragons can be as big as 12 feet long and they make alligators look cute. Thick, slimy saliva drips out of their enormous mouths, and their legs are about 12 inches long. However, those little legs can carry them up to 40 mph over short distances. Yuck!
The island’s population lives a very primitive life. There is one souvenir area in the one village. Their major income comes from natural pearls, which are farmed in the nearby waters. The baroque pearls are lovely and come in white, golden yellow or blue-gray. Cruise ships dock a mile offshore and use their tenders to take curious passengers to the island. There they take guided tours to see the dragons, and you can purchase long strands of the pearls at modest prices. Husband Brad made the trip over, but not the trip around the island this time. He went straight for the pearls and came straight back to the ship in time for a Bloody Mary by the pool.
Then, we were on to Bali, Indonesia, for the next two days. I know – we were there last month. This cruise is peculiar. It is actually a series of short trips Regent strung together and you could pick and choose where you wanted to go. Since we wanted to go around the world again, that sometimes means seeing the same place twice. We enjoy it all and doubling up is not so bad.
I loved the terminal on the pier where we docked in Benoa, Bali. It is old-fashioned with lazy ceiling fans and open doors. Inside there is a row of old fashioned wooden chairs. You can plop down in one of those and the owner of the “gift boutique,” who looks like she is straight from “South Pacific,” comes over and for only $10, she will prop up your feet on a stool and give you a 30-minute foot and leg massage. The next day, Brad took me back and treated me to a karate-style thumping back massage. It was heavenly.
The ship’s literature on Bali told us it has a population of four million, is 95 miles wide and is religiously different from the rest of Indonesia. Most Balinese are Hindu and every village has its own temple. To the Balinese, every living thing has a spirit. When they pick a flower as an offering to the gods, they first say a prayer to the flower.
The interior of the island is mountainous and lush. They have a variety of ecosystems for wildlife such as mouse-deer, monkeys, dolphins, giant turtles and more than 300 species of birds. All of Indonesia itself has a population of 238 million people, making it the fourth largest country in the world.
The sacred volcano of Gunung Agung, the dwelling place of the higher gods and ancestral spirits, was quiet. In 1969, Mount Agung erupted for six months. “They” say that was the expression of the gods displeasure at President Sukarno’s bloody coup of 1965 and rule in the capital city of Denpasar.
After two fun and relaxing days of cruising the Java Sea, we landed in Semarang in Java, Indonesia. It will never be remembered as the highlight of our trip, especially since we had been there less than a month before. However, to be sure nothing was missed, we took a brief “highlights” shore excursion by bus. The highlights included a modern mosque, Sam Poo Temple and a renovated government building that now serves as a school and Indonesian railway museum.
On the next sea day, the ship had a “white elephant” sale to benefit the crew emergency fund. In the past, it included donated souvenirs that passengers had bought “by mistake.” This time, all of the items for sale were the creation of the ship and its crew. For instance, one of the ship’s musical performers donated a private lunchtime concert to the highest bidder. We were lucky enough to be invited to the concert, which was purchased by some friends from Colorado. It was fun, exciting and intimate since only about 15 guests were invited. After being served some lovely champagne, we were treated to six numbers from Broadway shows.
We made a unique purchase at the sale that was most fun. We bought the right to host two members of the ship’s security department to dinner in the elegant Compass Rose Dining Room. That is not a place any of the crew eats except by special invitation. We are quite fond of two of the female security officers who check us in and off the ship as we come and go. We know them as Jo and Joyce and they came in their best dress uniforms. We told them to order everything on the menu that looked good, and we weren’t surprised to see them order big steaks and red wine. We were served by Risky, our favorite server, who is from Jakarta.
Our next port was Kuching in Malaysia, another repeat stop from the month before. Then, we were off to Maura, Brunei. The current Sultan of Brunei is the 29th Sultan and is a direct descendant of the first sultan, whose reign began in 1368. This sultan’s reign as the head of state and absolute monarch began in 1967 after the abdication of his father. A guest lecturer on the ship – who gave a marvelous background speech before we arrived – told us his full name, which would fill a whole column.
The sultan has many titles and serves as the self-appointed prime minister. He is exceptionally benevolent and sees to it that everyone in the country has economic, medical and educational benefits causing everyone – including our tour guide – to sing his praises.
He is said to be worth in excess of $20 billion. Much of his and his country’s wealth comes from oil and gas reserves, which are expected to last another 40 years or more. Our lecturer told us about his car collection, which is supposed to include 232 Mercedes Benz, 224 Ferraris, 245 Bentleys, 150 BMWs, 165 Jaguars, 125 Porsches, 130 Rolls Royces and 20 Lamborghinis. The sultan also owns an Airbus A340 with gold-plated furniture. His palace reportedly costs over $350 million dollars and is home to a 545 carat, facet-cut diamond.
With this to whet your curiosity, there will be more about our one-day visit, which included the Royal Polo Club, next week. VT