Semarang: City of Jamu

The largest port city of Central Java Province in Indonesia with a population of more than 1.5 million, Semarang is the main producer of Jamu which is why it’s called City of Jamu. You may be thinking, “What is Jamu?” A traditional Indonesian medicinal tonic, Jamu is made from herbs, spices, and fruits. I didn’t know this, however, until we returned home. I could kick myself when I travel somewhere and find out later I missed something major like this. When I read it’s on menus everywhere throughout Indonesia, I was stunned. How had we missed it?

Then when I saw the pictures and description, it looked and sounded so healthy and tropical, I was determined to give it a try. Since it’s not on menus here or sold in stores, I’d have to make my own. After considerable research, I settled on a recipe which I revised to substitute turmeric powder for turmeric root. I have no idea where to get turmeric root and I have the powder on hand. I created the recipe below then reduced the proportions down by 75% so I’d have 1 cup of Jamu rather than 4 cups just in case we didn’t like it.

FYI: I used the plastic squeeze container of fresh ginger rather than grinding my own. With turmeric powder and the fresh ground ginger, I didn’t have to strain my Jamu after simmering either.

Jamu simmering for 25 minutes

When it was done, I tasted it, added more lime juice and more honey, and tasted it again. I added still more honey but it didn’t help. I gave Jim a shot glass full. He took a sip and was noncommittal but he was in no hurry to finish it which spoke volumes.


Apparently, the key word in the description was medicinal and I should have paid more attention to that word. It tasted strongly of turmeric with a hint of ginger. I didn’t taste much lime and I don’t think you could add enough honey to add sweetness. This concoction is widely used by Indonesians to maintain good health and I’ve read the medicinal properties are currently attracting even more attention as a preventative and/or remedy for COVID-19. Although there is no scientific evidence to support this view, anything that improves your immune system can’t be all bad–even if it tastes bad.

Jamu wasn’t the only thing we missed in Semarang. We missed much more because we hadn’t done enough research in advance. One port of many on a 19 day NCL cruise aboard the Norwegian Jewel, we hadn’t booked an excursion in Semarang. The excursion to Borobudur, the largest Budhist temple in the world, appealed to us but the travel time on the bus was 2 hours each way and the cost was around $150 per person, neither of which appealed to us. It’s always a risk to book a private excursion even though the cost is lower since the cruise ship makes it clear they won’t wait for you if you’re delayed for any reason. Instead, we opted to explore the Old Town (Kota Lama) of the city on our own.

View of Semarang from the Norwegian Jewel
Containers, mosque, and refinery welcomed us to Semarang

Not realizing we couldn’t just walk from the ship, we were unhappily surprised to learn the cruise line had a deal with local taxis to drive us to Old Town. The cost was $40 for the four of us to go one way and round trip was an additional $40. We weren’t sure how long we would want to stay and we didn’t want to commit to meet the driver at a pre-arranged time so we declined the roundtrip option. The guy who worked the deal assured us we wouldn’t find a taxi later to return us but we decided to take a chance.

The driver, who spoke no English, dropped us at Blenduk Church in Old Town. Built by the Dutch in 1753 and remodeled in 1894, this Protestant church is the oldest in Central Java. The hundred year old pipe organ is still used in church services today.

Blenduk Church
Interior with pipe organ
Interior of Blenduk Church

The garden in front of the church provided welcome shade for tourists including these school girls.

Garden in front of Blenduk Church

As we looked around wondering which way to walk to see more of the Old Town, we decided to follow other tourists thinking they might know where they were going. We walked and walked in the heat and humidity but saw nothing which looked like Tawang Railway Station or Lawang Sewu, Thousand Door Building, the two historic sights we had hoped to see. We asked several locals along the way showing them our map but no one spoke English.

When we reached busy streets, we realized we’d left the Old Town and, rather than turn around and go back, we abandoned our plan to see more there.

We saw a western-looking hotel and decided to stop in for cold drink and hopefully, a wifi connection. Although no one in the New Metro Hotel spoke English, we were able to communicate our needs and soon we had a Bintang with wifi for a little over $3 each including tax and service.

Lobby in New Metro Hotel
Esqure Lounge at New Metro Hotel

Following our refreshments, we managed, in spite of the language barrier, to convey our need for a taxi to the staff at the front desk, no small task considering we also needed to obtain local currency to pay the taxi driver. Thankfully, the staff were very kind and helpful and before long the taxi appeared and returned us to the port. Amazingly, the return trip cost about $3 for the four of us.

We later talked to a young couple from Wisconsin onboard the ship who had booked a private excursion which broke down on the return. The bus from the cruise line’s excursion stopped to pick them up because the passengers on board chanted, “Pick them up, pick them up” until they stopped. They never would have made it back in time if that bus hadn’t stopped. What a great adventure story with a happy ending!

While we didn’t see much of Semarang, we did experience the bustle of a busy Asian city and the friendliness and helpfulness of the Indonesian people. Until next time, terima kasih (thank you).

Based on events from March 2019.

Categories: cruise, Indonesia, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Suksma Bali

We had arranged for a private tour on day 2 in Bali with Bali Paradise Tours as recommended by Toni and Brad, the delightful Australian couple we met in Darwin, Australia. Since we prefer to book directly with local providers, we were happy to learn about this independent tour operator.  The owner and guide, Wayan Yasa, was there to meet us as arranged and helped us narrow down our interests to use our time most efficiently. Although the island is small, the traffic is challenging and we didn’t want to spend the majority of our time in the vehicle. In the end, we left it up to Wayan’s best judgment and we were happy with the results.

We took off in Wayan’s large, comfortable, air-conditioned vehicle and headed first to the iconic Garuda Wisnu Kencana (GWK) Cultural Park. Completed in August 2018 after 28 years of construction, this collossal monument of the mythical bird and national symbol of Indonesia, Garuda, ridden by the Hindu God Wisnu is decorated with kencana (gold), hence the name GWK Cultural Park. Taller than the Statue of Liberty and visible from many locations throughout Bali, the monument stands 121 meters (397 ft) tall and is reportedly the third tallest statue in the world.

GWK statue from a distance

After we purchased our tickets for 125,000 rupiah each ($8.46), Wayan loaded us onto a golf cart for the ride to the statue. I’m not sure how far the monument was from the entrance to the park but the golf cart was a welcome relief in the blazing hot sunshine accompanied by high humidity. We didn’t complain about the heat but sunscreen, a hat, and water were absolutely essential!

Jim, Lori, Wayan with our golf cart
Lori, Jim, and me in front of the GWK statue
GWK statue

Notice the use of black and white buffalo check fabric called Saput Poleng in the photo below indicating balance to create harmony according to the philosophy of Rwa Bhineda. (You can read more in my previous post here.)

Interior of the monument
Decorated entrance to the elevator

It’s possible to take the elevator up into the monument for a view of Bali from the top but the sign at the elevator indicated it was closed for maintenance during our visit.

The enormous cultural park also includes venues for events, an amphitheater, daily cultural performances, restaurants, and shopping but we were ready to move on.

Leaving GWK Cultural Park

As we drove, Wayan told us he was the oldest child in his family. In Bali the oldest male or female is always named Wayan, Putu, or Gede; the second-born is Made, Kadek, or Nengah; the third child is Nyoman or Komang; and the fourth is always Ketut. (You may recall the Balinese medicine man in Eat Pray Love was named Ketut.) If the family has more than four children, they simply begin the rotation again. That information explained our experience upon disembarkation from our cruise ship. A number of guides offered us tours to which we responded, “We’re looking for Wayan; we booked with him.” Many laughed and reponded, “My name is Wayan” which, in retrospect, was probably true. We got quite a chuckle out of that.

I asked Wayan why we saw so much discarded rubbish everywhere. He responded that it’s actually much better than it used to be and it’s an issue of education. The people need to be taught not to discard their garbage on the roadways which is an effort the government is working on. In fairness, we did see many motorcycles carrying large loads of plastic bottles for recycling so there is an outlet for recycling. I mention this not as a criticism of Bali but to prepare other tourists. I’m always disheartened when I visit areas where the environment seems neglected and I was happy to hear about the government efforts in this area.

We stopped next at Lumbung Sari Coffee Plantation for a tour and a free tasting. Even Jim, who is not a coffee drinker, enjoyed several of the coffees, teas, and cocoa.

Tasting area at Lumbung Sari
Coffee beans at Lumbung Sari
Woman roasting luwak coffee beans
Assortment of coffees, teas, and cocoa for tasting

Lumbung Sari also serves the famous Luwak coffee which required a fee to taste but we were game to try it for a mere 50,000 rp ($3.40). Luwak coffee is made from partially digested coffee beans defecated by the Asian palm civet. Think “cat-poo-chino.”

Asian Palm Civet resting in a cage

Reputed to be the most expensive coffee in the world, it, honestly, didn’t taste any better (or worse!) than any other coffee but the idea of coffee made from poop is kind of a turn-off regardless of its reputation or cost. The employee accompanying us explained that the civets, which are nocturnal, roam freely around the coffee plantation and forage for coffee berries during the night and rest in the cages during daylight. When I later read treatment of the luwak (civet) is considered unethical because they are confined to cages and their diet is restricted to coffee berries to produce more of the kopi luwak (civet coffee), I was glad we didn’t buy any to take home. We did help the local economy, however, by purchasing another Bali coffee, mango tea, and cocoa to take home to our children.

Shop at Lumbung Sari
Lori and Jim shopping at Lumbung Sari
Kopi Luwak (civet coffee) purchased by another cruise passenger

We told Wayan the one “must see” on our list was a beautiful Bali beach. After all, isn’t that what Bali is known for? He took us to Padang Padang Beach which was also featured in the movie, Eat Pray Love. For a nominal fee of 10,000 rupiah ($.67) we entered the beach while Wayan waited for us in the parking lot across the street.

View from street level to the beach

As we descended the stairs to the beach, we were charmed by an added bonus, long-tailed macaques everywhere.

Lori descending the stairs to beach
One of many log-tailed macaques we saw as we passed through the temple on the descent

When we reached the beach, it was even better than the view from the street. Padang Padang, also called Pantai Labuan Sait, exceeded my expectations with the surrounding cliffs and jungle giving it a feeling of seclusion and intimacy. Reportedly one of the better surfing areas, no surfers were in the water while we were there, but the board rentals confirmed surfing was an option.

Padang Padang Beach
Looking at the street level bridge from Padang Padang Beach
Jim and me at Padang Padang Beach
Lori at Padang Padang Beach

We’ve visited many beautiful beaches around the world and I would place Padang Padang among the best. As we headed back up to the street level, we couldn’t resist more photos of the macaques.

Jim made a new friend
The climb tells you this was not a handicap accessible beach

After the heat of the beach, Wayan was waiting for us with cold drinks and aircon. What could be better than that?

Bintang break

We had an enjoyable day with Wayan. He was knowledgeable and personable and shared lots of interesting tales about his experiences as well as tidbits of his personal wisdom such as “No money, no honey,” meaning nothing is free. He also taught us a little Balinese language which is different from Indonesian. Suksma means thank you and mewali is you’re welcome.

Wayan and Jim

After Wayan delivered us back to the port, he called to ask Jim to come back for something he’d forgotten. Jim went out to meet Wayan and returned with a gift. Wayan presented him with the traditional male Balinese headgear, an udeng. Jim was surprised and thrilled.

Jim says suksma for his udeng

While we had only a small taste of Bali, it was a good first experience. I’ve read many tourists visit Bali only for the weather, beaches, and parties and never leave their hotel grounds. We experienced so much more than that. For all we experienced, Suksma, Bali. (Thank you, Bali.)

Based on events from February 2019.

Categories: Asia, cruise, Indonesia, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

Finding Balance in Bali

Prior to our visit, I pictured Bali as a serene South Pacific paradise with stunning beaches, volcanic mountains, lush jungles, fragrant tropical flowers, historic rice terraces, and Hindu temples. Honestly, I pictured something like Hawaii on steroids at a fraction of the cost. Admittedly, my expectations were influenced by the movie Eat, Pray, Love in which Elizabeth Gilbert, played by Julia Roberts, rode her bicycle along peaceful roads bordered by verdant, palm-covered landscapes, swam in inviting turquoise waters, and generally enjoyed life in a tranquil Shangri-la. As it turned out, some of my preconceived notions were confirmed but by the end of our brief 2-day visit, we were better educated.

Bali is actually in the Indian Ocean rather than the South Pacific. It is one of 6000 inhabited islands in the nation of Indonesia, the largest archipelago in the world comprised of a total of 17,508 islands. In terms of population, Indonesia is ranked number 4 in the world with 267 million people dispersed throughout the islands and 4.2 million of them reside in the province of Bali. The island of Bali is the 11th largest in Indonesia measuring 230 miles (370 km) in circumference or 95 miles (153 km) from east to west by 69 miles (112 km) from north to south. It is roughly half the size of the Big Island of Hawaii. Of the 147 volcanoes sprinkled throughout Indonesia, 76 are active and 2 of those are located on Bali.

As our tender boat delivered us from the Norwegian Jewel to the cruise port in Benoa, Bali, we were immediately confronted with massive pollution in the bay.


I was disappointed to discover Bali was not the pristine paradise I imagined. Seeing the debris reminded me of the television commercial for 4ocean, an organization started by two young surfers who saw the extensive plastic washed up on the shores in Bali and decided to do something about it. Although the organization has recovered 8,693,079 lbs worldwide since 2017, there’s plenty more where that came from. Go to their website and help if you can.

Fortunately, our poor first impression was countered by the traditional Balinese dancers who welcomed us to Bali. Following their performance, we were excited to experience more of this exotic culture on our bus tour to the Bali Terraces and Ulun Danu Temple.

Indonesia is the largest Islamic country in the world. In Bali, however, 83% of the population is Balinese Hindu, which is a blend of Indian Hinduism, Buddhism, and pre-existing local beliefs including animism, the belief that everything has a soul or spirit. Throughout our tour, we observed how religion permeates all aspects of Balinese life and culture.

As we departed from the port and entered the city, we observed exotic architecture obscured by electrical wires; lots of signs, many of which had to do with the upcoming election; more debris; statues of Hindu gods; offerings to the deities; and congested traffic accompanied by roaring motors and blaring horns. Bali was, from beginning to end, an island full of contrasts.


Balinese architecture


Signs, traffic, and the ubiquitous KFC

The Titi Banda Statue on the outskirts of Denpasar was only one of the magnificent statues we admired. Rising 10m (33 ft) above the junction of several main roads, this massive monument depicts the mythical epic Ramayana in which Prince Rama rescues his wife, Sita, held captive by Ravana in Lanka.  Rama, aided by his monkey troops built the Titi Banda (stone bridge) to Lanka to mount the rescue attack. The photo below taken by my friend, Lori, from the bus is only a portion of this enormous monument.


Titi Banda Statue along the road on the outskirts of Denpasar


More statues along the roadway


Debris along the roadside

From the windows of the bus, we saw Balinese offerings everywhere. Expressions of gratitude to the gods, these offerings vary in size from a grain of rice on a banana leaf to ornate towers of fruit, flowers, and sweets. The small daily offering called canang sari and banten are placed on small shrines or even on the ground. The shrine in the photo below held offerings to both the higher and lower spirits to ensure harmony and balance.  IMG_7559

Tall decorated poles, called penjor, also contained offerings. When I spotted an assortment of plain bamboo poles, I knew they must be the undecorated version waiting for ornamentation. The poles are decorated with coconut leaves, fruit, grain, and flowers for festivals or religious holidays and placed outside homes and businesses. Partway up the pole is a basket or platform where an offering is placed.


Bamboo poles




Penjor and offering

We noticed black and white buffalo checked fabric called Saput Poleng on umbrellas, wrapped around trees, and draped on shrines. The Balinese philosophy of Rwa Bhineda or balance is similar to Yin and Yang. It holds that in order to maintain harmony all things must be in balance. So white balances black, good balances bad, right balances wrong. The black and white of Saput Poleng embodies the essence of Rwa Bhineda.


Saput Poleng

To break up the drive to the rice terraces and Ulun Danu Temple, we stopped for an unexpected tour of a traditional Balinese home compound where we learned about Balinese family life from our guide, Murya. Extended families live together and when sons marry, their wives move into the husband’s home. (My daughter-in-law can be grateful we’re not Balinese!) In such a warm climate, most living occurs outside so there are few walls but roofs keep out the frequent rain showers.


Our guide, Murya, telling us about the family compound (notice the penjor behind)


Balinese home


Murya and family shrine


Family members with drying rice in foreground


Ceremonial pavilion


I was looking forward to seeing the Bali rice terraces, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Unfortunately, we didn’t stop for photos and I was disappointed that all my photos were through the windows of the bus. The entire sustainable system of irrigation called the Subak System has UNESCO designation so all the rice terraces in Bali are included. A cooperative water management system of irrigation dating from the 9th century, Subak is based on the philosophy of Tri Hita Karan, which is to create harmony between man and god, man and neighbor, and man and nature.


Rice Terraces


Rice Terraces


Rice Terraces

Nestled in the mountains surrounding Lake Bratan, Ulun Danu Temple is regarded as one of the most beautiful of the 20,000 temples in Bali. Erected in 1663 to honor Dewi Danu, the goddess of water, the temple consists of two small pagodas seeming to float on Lake Bratan. The mist rising over the pagodas added to the mystical quality of the experience.


Entrance to Ulun Danu Temple


Grounds at Ulun Danu


Grounds at Ulun Danu


Larger pagoda at Ulun Danu


Two pagodas at Ulun Danu


Lake Bratan

Following our visit to Ulun Danu, we stopped at Secret Garden Village for a typical sweet Balinese snack with tea.


Balinese treats


View from Secret Garden Village


Trompe l’oeil at Secret Garden Village 

Most of us were quiet and sleepy during our return to the ship. I did take a brief video of the drive, however.

I admit I suffered from a bit of culture shock in Bali. Metaphorically, I expected a serene yoga retreat and got that plus a lively Zumba class.  In the end, the philosophy of Rwa Bhineda summarizes my experience. Finding your balance between rain and sunshine, noisy streets and contemplative temples, clear aqua waters and plastic pollution, will result in a harmonious visit. And above all, express gratitude.IMG_7943

For so much more in Bali including Balinese dance and a personal day tour with Wayan, check back here.

Based on events from February 2019.

Categories: Asia, cruise, Indonesia, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Here Be Dragons: Komodo National Park

The old phrase “Here be dragons” historically indicated dangerous or uncharted territory and Indonesia’s Lesser Sunda Islands with giant Komodo dragons roaming freely are dangerous indeed. Before our stop at Komodo National Park on our Norwegian cruise, we were warned of the dangers posed by the largest species of lizard. Stay with your group; don’t wear red; don’t visit during your menstrual period as they will attack the scent of blood. Although attacks on humans are rare, if provoked, the dragon can run up to 12mph and the venom from a bite can be deadly. By nature somewhat of a scaredy-cat, I approached this excursion with some trepidation.

In 1910, having heard sailors’ tales of large fire-breathing dragons, Lieutenant Steyn van Hensbroek, stationed on the island of Flores in the Dutch East Indies, visited the island, killed a specimen, and took it back to his headquarters for further research. In 1912, the newly discovered species was identified and named and by 1915 the endangered Komodo Dragon was protected by the Dutch government.

Although the Dutch colony declared its independence in 1945, it wasn’t until 1980 that the Republic of Indonesia established Komodo National Park consisting of Komodo, Rinca, and Padar Islands along with a number of smaller islands. The park was originally established to protect the Komodo dragon but its mission has expanded over the years to protect the entire biosphere. In 1986, the park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today the national park is home to the remaining 5700 dragons living in the wild along with around 4000 human inhabitants who make their living mostly by fishing and tourism.

Our tour took us to Komodo Island but I understand national park tours are also available on Rinca Island. As we approached Komodo Island, the first of three ports we would visit in Indonesia, we were struck by the serene beauty confronting us.



As we walked ashore, we were further stunned by the crystal clear water and colorful coral visible from the pier which explains why this area is also popular for diving.


Coral visible from the pier at Komodo Island


Sea Turtle visible from the pier

Tourists arriving on cruise ships can book excursions through their cruise line or independently from purveyors onshore but they must be booked in advance. No one is allowed to leave the ship without proof of a pre-booked tour of the national park. Taking no chances, we booked through the cruise line and met with others in group 4 as instructed.


Entrance to the park


UNESCO World Heritage Site


Sculpture of Komodo Dragon at Komodo National Park


One of our guides trying to round up group 4


Rofinus, our lead tour guide, and our third guide

We had 3 guides for our group; the lead guide provided commentary about the vegetation and other animals on the island in addition to the dragons; the other 2 guides carried large forked sticks which I assumed were for our protection if necessary. (I admit sticks didn’t provide me a great deal of comfort.)

It wasn’t long before we saw dragons. Fortunately, they seemed pretty lethargic in the hot sultry morning and I was grateful to have my fear somewhat assuaged.



Komodo Dragon

When one of the dragons started to move, albeit slowly, guides went into action to make sure they stayed between the animals and tourists.


Komodo dragon


Dragon left of Jim

The Komodo dragon eats both live animals and carrion along with the occasional unfortunate hatchling dragon. Years ago, inhabitants of the island left the remains of their hunted deer for the dragons as a kind of offering. The adverse effect of this custom, however, was to draw the dragons closer to human-occupied areas. Today, hunting deer is prohibited (although poaching persists) and deer, as well as dragons, roam freely.


Komodo Dragon


Dragon on the left


Dragon behind Rick and Lori



Timor Deer

Following our guided walk, one of our guides directed us to the stalls of local vendors selling souvenirs, recommending one especially. Our friend, Rick, bought a souvenir but we stuck with tipping our guides as we’d brought limited cash from the ship.


Souvenir stalls

Adorable children also flocked to us selling trinkets or asking for tips for photos. Who could resist them? Confronted with obvious need, we wished we had taken more cash ashore.

IMG_7462 2

Children posing for photos



View of Komodo Island as we depart

Our visit to Komodo Island was one of many highlights on this cruise. I survived the experience but came away with my respect for these powerful beasts intact. By summer 2019 we were even happier we had chosen this excursion when I read the park would close to visitors by 2020 because of poaching and so many tourists were affecting the behavior of the dragons. Then by October 2019 the closure was revoked but limits would be placed on the number of visitors allowed in the park and the cost of admission would increase dramatically (some reports said $1000 but I haven’t confirmed this).

In yet another twist, as of this writing on 23 April 2020, the park remains closed for cruise ships until at least 29 May 2020, due to COVID-19.


Based on events from February 2019.

Categories: Asia, cruise, Indonesia, National Parks, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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