After a day at sea we made today our second stop in Indonesia, on the island of Lombok. The ship docked at the port city of Lembar, where there is absolutely nothing to see, but we were provided with a shuttle that took us to the city of Mataram and dropped us off at the Mataram Mall, whose anchors are a KFC and a McDonalds. This was a mall fit for a third-world country, and after spending a few hours walking around another Indonesian city, it is clear that this country is deeply ensconced in the Third World and will not be leaving it any time soon.
Our visit began by taking a short cab ride to one of the few things that are interesting to see here, a site called the Water Palace. The Water Palace is a large basin covering perhaps an acre and filled with water that was the winter retreat in the 15th-16th centuries of Balinese Hindu kings. An ornately decorated covered wooden structure standing in the middle of this basin was where the kings received legations, while outside the basin another covered structure was where those waiting to see the kings waited until they were called. The water inside the basin contains fish; we saw a fisherman who actually caught what looked like a large perch, while we were watching him.
The grounds of the Water Palace have number of mango trees planted there (mangos are the most common fruit in this country), heavy with fruit. A legend associate with the water palace is that the entire area of the Water Palace used to be populated with many snakes, which made it dangerous for people to be in the area, but one of the Hindu gods brought a peacock to the grounds, and the peacock ate all the snakes. A statue of a peacock stands at the far end of the water basin to commemorate this event.
Also at the far end of the water basin is a Hindu Temple, with a number of altars for worship. When we were there, a couple of Hindu priests seemed to be sitting on a raised platform, next to where there was some repair and rehab work taking place.
We were told that this coming November 20th about 10,000 Hindus in Lombok from 10 Hindu villages will gather here for an annual worship and celebration; so I assume that the refurbishing of the temple structures is being timed to coincide with the festival (in India and Singapore Indian Hindus are presently in their 30-day Festival of Lights holiday called Diwali in India and Deepvali in Singapore). The Balinese Hindu temple decorations, complete with “scary” gargoyles “guarding” the temple, are similar to those in India but are different in that the Balinese decorations clearly seem to reflect Chinese influence. Our guide at the Water Palace and Hindu Temple on the premises was a young Catholic archeologist who said that the relationships between the religions on Lombok is good and when the Hindus are preparing for their holidays, other non-Hindus help them by acting as guides around the Water Palace; that he had been helping out for 3 months and that today was his last day.
I forgot to mention, when describing our visit at Borobudur, that people in shorts and/or sleeveless shirts were handed cloths to wrap around the waist to cover legs below the knees and to cover the shoulders, as signs of respect to Buddhism. At the Water Palace, which is the site of a Hindu Temple, we were given red pieces of cloth, kind of like sashes, to wear around our waists. In Hindu tradition, we were told, the top half of the body represents positive energy and thoughts, while the bottom half of the body represents negative energy. The red band (when we walked into another temple the band was yellow, and one was just cut out of some bathrobe material) is symbolically supposed to keep the negative energy from mixing with and spoiling the positive energy. I wonder whether the Chassidic garteldoesn’t have a similar symbolic function.
From the Water Palace we crossed the street with the intent of possibly visiting another Hindu temple, but after we went past the main entry gate and saw that this temple just looked like more of the same of what we had seen at the Water Palace, we decided to pass.
We then decided to walk about a kilometer to a handicrafts center we were told was there, and the walk took us through what I believe was a typical Indonesian neighborhood, which included both stores, auto repair shops, sidewalk food service.
Offerings in front of a Temple
We never did find the handicrafts center, and as we had walked 2-3 km off the beaten path and down these side roads, we decided to take a taxi back to the Mataram Mall where our shuttle bus had dropped us off. After about 15 minutes of waiting for a taxi to appear, which it never did, I flagged down a horse-drawn cart that seats either 500 Kg of rice in bags or (in this case), Nina, Ellen and me. It was kind of funny, first getting into the cart, which had only two wheels, and as the girls had gotten in first, it left me to sit on the outer edge of the cart, which changed the center of gravity, caused the horse’s harness to lift up, stretching its neck, and causing the driver to jump on the front of the wagon to offset my weight. A minute later both girls got off the wagon, I got on first, then the two of them alighted, and we were on our way. Greyhound used to have an ad that said, “Leave the driving to us.” The girls were very concerned (for the poor horse that had to drag our sorry A**es all around the town.. It wasn’t a Clydesdale that is for sure!!!!!) I (Nina) wrote that last bit!!!!that the driver had to turn the horse and cart around in the oncoming traffic, but I told them I was sure this wasn’t his first rodeo and to leave the driving to him. The turn-around went off without a hitch, and we were on our way back to the mall.
The roads, as I mentioned earlier, are very narrow and filled with traffic, mostly motor scooters (as many as 4-5 people may be riding on the same scooter), cars and trucks – with a few horse carts thrown in for good measure. Of course these carts are the slowest vehicles on the road, so traffic always backs up behind them until an opportunity to pass presents itself. I kept on waving to the backed up traffic, and many people waved back, showed off their children and had the kids wave back, and all of them either smiled or laughed – probably at the sight of an overweight, grey-haired man with a couple of (to them,) wealthy tourists riding in the back of a delivery cart. However, we made the journey of several km. safely and all returned to the area of the mall in one piece, with a fun adventure under our belts. We then took a quick walk through the mall to cool off in its air conditioning and afterward, after a quick look at the “local arts market”, got on the shuttle bus and returned to the ship.
That evening our table had dinner with Elliot Finkel, the son of 90-year old actor Feivish Finkel, who has appeared in many movies and TV shows. Elliot is a concert pianist, stands 6’6″ and had put on a great concert the previous evening. He was a delightful dinner companion and shared with us some of the life of a performer on cruise ships. He considers cruise ship work R&R for him, as in this case he boarded the ship in Singapore on October 27th and will be getting off in Brisbane, Australia on November 9rd. He will be flying home to Manhattan via Dubai on a 30-hour flight, will have 48 hours at home, then flies to Athens for another concert. He says this is easy compared to a concert tour, where every night after one concert you leave immediately for tomorrow’s venue, and this process repeats itself, more or less, for the length of the tour. Following dinner Nina and I returned to our cabin and headed for bed, as tomorrow we are going for what promises to be a once-in-a-lifetime “bucket list” experience, a visit to Komodo Island National Park in Indonesia to see the famous Komodo Dragons, the largest lizards in the world. I first read about these dragons as a kid when I got hold of old National Geographics from the 1920’s or 1930’s, where they were featured in articles (they were only revealed to Westerners in 1910), and so having the chance to see them is definitely something connected to some of my most vivid childhood memories. Can’t wait….