Day 2 – Riding Elephants In Bali

Port of Benoa
Our Elephant Safari Adventure departed from the cruise terminal at the Port of Benoa in Denpasar. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

“Depart the pier for a scenic drive through the verdant countryside … “

Are you familiar with the term “scenic drive” when it applies to cruise line shore excursions? It’s often a term used to describe tours requiring considerable travel to get between the ships and the staging venues where the shore excursions take place.

How else can operators persuade someone to endure a two-hour transfer by motorcoach between the ship and a shore excursion than to promise a scenic drive?

The term suggests to less-informed participants that they are getting something in addition to the shore excursion itself, a bonus as it were, some icing on the cake. It is as if to say: “Not only are you going to make authentic guacamole and learn to salsa, but you’re going to get a beautiful drive to boot.”

In my experience, the drives are rarely as scenic as the scribes imagined them to be. If they were honest, they might write that the “trip to and from the staging venue is a long one, but not to worry, you can nap along the way in our comfortable seats.”

Indeed, many of the scenic drives that I’ve experienced induce naps and day-dreaming — and a longing to be back on board the ship.

Not so today. Our two-hour transfer to Taro took us halfway across the island of Bali and back. Four hours of driving, and the experience we had on our Elephant Safari Adventure, can be summed up in one word: Wow!

For our excursion, we would travel more than halfway across Bali — and back — to ride elephants. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

The Drive

Rice fields
We passed patchworks of rice fields along the way. My camera was glued to the minivan’s window. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

“Depart the pier for a scenic drive through the verdant countryside, and past the village areas of Celuk and Taro. Stop for refreshments in the village of Celuk where you can observe the intricate workmanship of the gold and silver workers. After continuing through landscapes of lush greenery and rice fields, the road then climbs and descends before arriving at what is thought to be the world’s best elephant park.”

It was an accurate description. Yes, we did stop in Celuk to watch gold and sliver workers, which was interesting, and a few people purchased items, but this was technically a bathroom stop. The real adventure was ahead of us.

Silver and gold in bali
We stopped at a silver and gold shop along the way. No pressure to buy, and the clean bathrooms were much appreciated. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

Only about a dozen of us signed up for the “Elephant Adventure Safari,” and as the description of the tour suggested, we were indeed rewarded with a scenic drive that was a veritable feast for the eyes.

We drove past patchworks of beautiful rice fields and terraces, with farmers working in the shallow water hydrating the plants. We motored through small villages with beautiful temples; along rural roads, where the drum of everyday Balinese life beat on. We saw school kids, dressed in blue and white uniforms, huddled under a shelter in the afternoon rain. And along one stretch, we passed miles of men with shovels, standing alongside the road and vying for work to unload passing dump trucks full of sand or rock. From the large windows of our minivan, we were witnessing real life in Bali.

Scenic Bali Road
Life along the road to the Elephant Safari Adventure in Taro. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

Where there were no gas stations, we saw bottles of fuel shelved three high and six across in front of small, family-operated stores. These liters of “petro” were sold to fill some of the more than 3 million motorbikes on this island of around 4 million people.

We looked out on columns of coconut trees as well as banana trees, jackfruit trees, durian trees — and saw beautiful hibiscus and other exotic flowers.

Seated behind me, a well-traveled woman accompanied by her husband, was snapping as many photos as I was through the minivan window. It was all so beautiful and so serene. Later, when we talked, she told me she was surprised by Bali, despite having read so much about it before the trip.

Unlike most of Muslim-majority Indonesia, around 85 percent of Balinese are Hindu, according to Wikipedia, and that has some influence on the ritualistic behaviors that give the island so much of its color.  Their religion is deeply interwoven with art and ritual. Religion pervades nearly every aspect of traditional life; thus, the Balinese have become famous for their graceful and decorous behavior.

The Balinese believe that gods and goddesses are present in all things. They believe that every element of nature possesses its own power, which reflects the power of the gods. A rock, tree, dagger, or woven cloth is a potential home for spirits whose energy can be directed for good or evil.

The Balinese practice a Hinduism in which gods and demigods are worshipped together with Buddhist heroes, the spirits of ancestors, indigenous agricultural deities and sacred places. With an estimated 20,000 puras (temples) and shrines, Bali is known as the “Island of a Thousand Puras” as well as “Island of the Gods.”

Gods & Goddesses
Gods and goddesses are everywhere in Bali. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

The visual impressions are so strong that Bali is not a place you will likely forget — even after decades have passed. I still remembered Bali from being here nearly 30 years ago. Bali had changed, and so had I, but the spirit of what I remember was still present and still just as strong in Bali as it had been when I visited as a 26-year-old backpacker traveling on $5 per day. Like many others, I had gone to Bali in search of paradise and something soul-stirring.

Eat, Pray, Love & Elephants

Certainly, Bali appears as paradise, and nowhere more so than in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book “Eat Pray Love,” which was made into a movie starring Julia Roberts. But as Gilbert learned when researching her book, Bali is a fragile paradise.

The island has a history of mass rapes, slavery, wars and the week in 1965 when 100,000 were slaughtered during a political convulsion. Following the Bali bombings in 2002 and again in 2005, travel to Bali slowed considerably. American travelers are slowly coming back to Bali, which explains Silversea’s presence here, not only with Silver Shadow but also with its new expedition vessel, Silver Discoverer, which begins operations in March.

Our guide for the Elephant Safari Adventure. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

As we made our way to Taro for the Elephant Safari Adventure, our guide mentioned “Eat, Pray, Love” and the fact that some of the movie had been filmed in Ubud, which we were passing through while he talked. Like everyone I’ve encountered in Bali during my short time here, our guide appeared kind and caring, easy to smile (I’ve never seen so many smiling people as in Bali). Humble, yet confident in his delivery, he had our attention for the duration of the tour by feeding us manageable spoonfuls of information about Bali. He had a sense of humor too. “Cremations can cost 2,000 U.S. dollars in Bali,” he said at a point when he was telling us about Hindu traditions. “That’s why no one wants to die. It’s too expensive.”

In talking with him later, I learned that he was a freelance guide, hired because of his knowledge and English skills. He had gotten up at 4 a.m. to ride his motorbike from the farm where he lived to the Port of Benoa, where the glistening Silver Shadow was tied up alongside. The journey had taken him 75 minutes. He would do the same trip back to the farm after delivering us to Silver Shadow. No ships were due to dock in Bali tomorrow. What would he do? Go back to helping his family farm. I thought it was particularly nice that our guide was not only an authentic Balinese but also knew and understood the land and the way of life, because he lived the life of most Balinese people.

Elephant show
At the Elephant Safari Adventure © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

I discovered that the family structure is strong in Bali. Nick, the handler for the elephant I rode today, said he lived with 18 family members, including parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters and cousin. It was a bit crowded, he conceded, and he longed to get out and discover the world. At 24, he had been working with elephants for five years, moving up from being a caretaker to escorting guests on elephants.

elephant
Nick, my driver; Madeleine, a Sumatran elephant; and me. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

“How are you today sir?” he asked. Fine, and you? “I am fine, but my elephant — her name is Madeleine — doesn’t always obey me,” he said, looking back at me smiling as he sat comfortably on the elephant’s shoulders. “Don’t worry, though, we’ve been together for five years now.”

Our elephant ride spanned around 30 minutes and into the jungle. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

The Elephant Safari Park is home to 27 rescued Sumatran elephants, reads the description of Silversea’s shore excursion literature. “Nothing can quite prepare you for this rare opportunity to get up-close and personal with these gentle giants at the Elephant Safari Park,” the literature continues. Indeed, although I had seen elephants like these decades ago in Thailand, seeing them again was quite a spectacle. Fortunately, getting on top of the elephant was not.

Mounting the elephant, in fact, was easy. Standing on a raised platform flush with the elephant’s back, I needed only to slide onto a wide wooden seat atop the elephant’s back. The elephant didn’t flinch as I positioned all 220 pounds of me on the seat. The Sumatran elephants, I was told later, are the most docile of elephants. How would I know better? They seemed friendly enough to me.

We trekked through the park and into jungle as Madeleine lumbered slowly from side to side. At the end of the ride, she followed the other elephants to wade in a large pool. Though photographs were sold, Silversea had arranged for one of the park staff to take photos of us with our own cameras, which we handed over near the bank of the pool.

We had time to touch and feed our elephants. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

Following our rides, we enjoyed an elephant show, where we watched elephants kick soccer balls, dunk a basketball, raise a flag and perform other feats. We also had time to be photographed again near our elephants, feeding them and posing with them. Afterward, we sat down for a delicious buffet lunch (included for Silversea guests) in an open-air restaurant nearby.

Elephant Show
After our ride, we enjoyed a short elephant show. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

I have been on a lot of shore excursions in my more than two decades of cruising. Today’s ranked as one of the best I’ve done. It wasn’t only the chance to ride on the backs of pachyderms but also a promise that for once was delivered: a scenic drive on one of the world’s most beautiful islands, a little icing on the cake, indeed.

Elephant
Nick, my driver, and Madeleine, the elephant. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

Silver Shadow, Bali To Singapore

Day 1Boarding Silver Shadow In Bali
Day 2Riding Elephants In Bali
Day 3Lombok, Indonesia
Day 4Probollingo, Indonesia
Day 5Surabaya, Indonesia
Day 6Borobudur, Indonesia
Day 7Semarang, Indonesia
Day 8Jakarta, Indonesia
Day 9Sea Day
Day 10Singapore
Day 11Disembarking In Singapore
Top Ten Highlights Of My Cruise