Today’s shore excursion to Borobudur featured two attractions: the UNESCO World Heritage Buddhist temple compounds known as Borobudur; and traveling to and from Silver Shadow.
The travel component took us about 60 miles in each direction between Silver Shadow and Borobudur. It’s journey that would take less than an hour on America’s interstate highway system but one that can take several hours on Central Java’s chaotic roads. Upon seeing a traffic jam during rush hour Saturday afternoon, one couple from Southern California remarked, “Los Angeles is nothing compared to this.”
Imagine a four-lane road with two lanes intended for travel in one direction and two intended for travel in the other. In most countries, this system works well. In Central Java, however, cars, trucks, busses and motorbikes often use all four lanes for travel in the direction that they are going. That solid white line running down the center of the road? In other countries, the line indicates that drivers should not cross over it and into the other lane. Here, the white line is merely a suggestion — and one that is often ignored.
So how does a cruise company navigate three motorcoaches through the maze of traffic? Meet the police escort.
Silversea had arranged for a police escort to lead and accompany our three motorcoaches from the dock in Semarang to Borobudur and back. With their blue lights flashing and sirens singing, one police car led the way with our motorcoaches giving chase and another police car followed in pursuit.
For two hours on the way to Borobudur, our busses wove in and out of traffic, across white lines, around cars and trucks — and often toward oncoming traffic, which pulled off the road to allow us to pass. “My husband normally naps on these long bus trips,” one woman told me at the end of the day. “He didn’t this time.”
Indeed, the journey was one not to be missed. Motorbikes came daringly close alongside and cut between our bus and other vehicles, with what appeared to be only inches to spare. Just in the nick of time, oncoming transport trucks obligingly pulled off the roads as we used their lanes to pass traffic.
No anger, no road rage. Rather than resent us, many Javanese waved and smiled as we passed them. Nor did I get the sense that those on our busses feared for their safety. Quite the opposite. The experience was a bit like a thrill ride, a harrowing adventure along roads flanked by the busy life of Central Java and punctuated by beautiful rice terraces and tropical trees.
Even with the police escort, covering 60 miles took about two hours, with a 15-minute coffee, snack (included) and restroom break built in about halfway along the journey.
Eventually, the police escort brought us to an exclusive entrance at Borobudur where we could avoid the mobs of hawkers selling Javanese trinkets. We stepped off the busses and took sarongs that our hosts handed to us to wear around our waists, in reverence to the religious shrine we were visiting.
Over breakfast in La Terrazza back on Silver Shadow this morning I learned that I would not be the only one returning to Borobudur today seeking enlightenment. I met another guest who had come here as a young man 50 years ago. My trip here was nearly 30 years ago, two decades later than my newfound friend’s. Decades had passed since our visits, and yet we both remembered the impression that the 9th-century temple left upon us.
On the way here this morning, our guide Budi had presented us with the history and some facts about Borobudur, which I have related, in part, in the photos and captions in this post. As we approached Borobudur, he told us about the founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha (Buddha Gautama) and the path to enlightenment.
Budi mentioned Hermann Hesse’s book, also called Siddhartha. I had read it decades ago, the story of a spiritual journey of self-discovery and enlightenment. Here at Borobudur, we would get a chance to experience part of that journey for ourselves — and perhaps find enlightenment for ourselves.
The story of Siddhartha’s journey is told in the more than 2,500 reliefs at Borobudur. As we walked along, Budi paused in front of some of the more significant reliefs to tell us Siddhartha’s story , from birth to Buddha. We ascended the steep stairs at Borobudur and ritualistically walked three times around the top part of the temple to honor Siddhartha.
I can’t say enough good things about our guide Budi. His is a case where you can judge a book by its cover. Just take a look at his face in the photographs that accompany this post, and you can see that we had a gracious and knowledgeable guide, with a good sense of humor. His face was like the faces of many Indonesians I have seen on this trip — good humored and kind, warm and hospitable, patient and with a happiness that seemed to go deeper than ours in the Western world.
I felt the same today about the Indonesians as I did nearly three decades ago, and that is that they seemed to have achieved a sort of Nirvana. On my second visit to Borobudur, I felt as though I had come a little closer to achieving it myself. Indeed, being once again at Borobudur was a spiritual experience not only for me but also for a few others I spoke with. One lady from Australia said she had booked this particular cruise only because it included the shore excursion to Borobudur.
One other incident added to the enjoyment of today’s shore excursion, and that was groups of school kids who shyly approached us and asked for two things: if they could practice a few words of English with us and if they could take a photograph with us. They were exceptionally sweet and grateful, giggly when they succeeded in uttering a few good words of English. “Hello sir, my name is Iris,” said one girl, who stood with her friends. “How are you today?”
“Fine,” I replied. “And you?”
“I am doing very well, sir. Thank you for asking.”
I scored all who I encountered with the highest of marks, to the particular excitement of one girl who spoke exceptionally well. I had scribbled a plus mark beside the “A” I had inscribed on a card she was carrying.
“What do you think of Indonesia?” a boy asked. “It is beautiful,” I replied, “and the people are friendly.” He beamed a big smile.
Lunch, a shadow puppet show, and we were soon on our way back to Silver Shadow. The traffic was heavier this time, and even the police escort had trouble getting us through some gnarly stretches of congested highway. Three hours later, I saw the funnel stack of Silver Shadow in the distance. After a long but rewarding day, it was good to be back home.
|Day 1||Boarding Silver Shadow In Bali|
|Day 2||Riding Elephants In Bali|
|Day 3||Lombok, Indonesia|
|Day 4||Probollingo, Indonesia|
|Day 5||Surabaya, Indonesia|
|Day 6||Borobudur, Indonesia|
|Day 7||Semarang, Indonesia|
|Day 8||Jakarta, Indonesia|
|Day 9||Sea Day|
|Day 11||Disembarking In Singapore|