All aboard for a sea-going Indonesian adventure aboard the Star Clipper
Guest writer Sue Bradbury sail into paradise aboard the Star Clipper
Erupting volcanoes, earthquakes, visits to communities who bury their family next to their doorstep, swimming in a caldera and searching for dragons – hardly the ingredients of a normal holiday.
But then, cruising around Indonesia in a luxuriously-appointed, four-masted sailing ship with ninety other passengers and 78 crew was never going to be anything other than extraordinary.
Eye-opening? Undoubtedly. Memorable? Certainly. Life-changing? Whilst it may sound like an exaggeration, I honestly think so, yes. Travelling with my two flat-mates from long-ago university days, the omens were good from the start.
After landing in Bali, spending one night in a tucked-away bed and breakfast delight that proved the epitome of warm, Balinese hospitality, we headed into the first of a succession of impossibly beautiful sunsets.
As the sails filled and billowed to the rousing chorus of Conquest of Paradise by Vangelis, we collectively felt a million miles away from daily chores and routines and were instead confronting the unknown and undreamt of.
Adventure, in relatively safe, companionable and very comfortable form. Indonesia is made up of thousands of volcanic islands in what is known, with good reason, as the Ring of Fire.
Look up at the flattened-out peaks that regularly hove into view and there are often a cluster of clouds above them, the only bubble of vapour in an otherwise clear blue sky. When our captain first pointed out what was happening, I found it hard to believe I was watching an eruption.
Not a violent one in that instance – just a steady discharge of steam. When the three of us later joined an excursion to Mount Bromo in Java, after a climb that started on horseback and ended with steps, we peered into a turbulent cauldron that last unleashed its lava-filled might three years ago.
Yet, beyond the sea of sand and swirling dust that surrounds the peak and its ominous active crater, farmers tend their land and families raise their loved ones. Death could be one shocking blast away, but life goes on regardless.
That sense of being in a place that experiences some of Nature’s more extreme moods was reflected in our changing voyage itinerary.
We were on a sailing ship – small enough to anchor in idyllic locations that no massive cruise-liner monster could ever hope to access but, when going ashore in a tender often meant disembarking into thigh-deep water and wading to the beach, weather conditions and currents had to be respected.
That was why, on our first day, we didn’t land on Gili Kondo – a tiny, uninhabited coral-reef island to the east of Lombok that promised wonderful snorkelling. The sea was unusually choppy, so our captain rightly decided we should view the low-lying, perfectly white-fringed sandy outcrop from our ship’s upper deck, rather than risk a boat transfer.
We still got our photos and, whilst we may not have been able to go diving in the impossibly clear blue water on that occasion, there were plenty of other opportunities to do so in similarly memorable places to come.
A highlight of our journey was always going to be Komodo National Park and it didn’t disappoint. Home to the world’s largest, heaviest and, by a long stretch, deadliest lizard, this was a land of dragons.
Our guides, armed only with what looked like a simple pitchfork, found at least five on a trek that took us into the island’s wild, untamed hinterland. Lying flat to the ground, legs splayed to the side, talons and tail inert, the individuals we discovered looked deceptively sluggish.
One bite from those shark-like teeth, however, and a venom is unleashed that kills within hours. As for being slow, those massive bodies, with their folds of snake-like skin, can run almost as quickly as a sprinting human.
Ruthless (they’re known to eat their own young), solitary (given their cannibalistic tendencies, hardly surprising) and full of silent menace, they tolerate visitors to their remote, untamed kingdom but there’s no question who’s really in charge.
Despite strict instructions to stick together, I unwittingly managed to switch the group I was in when we overlapped at an observation point.
Worried that my friends would think I’d been eaten (they weren’t!), I hung back when we reached the makeshift market at the end of our route, so I could reassure them I was safe as quickly as possible.
Gazing towards the path we’d just walked along and where my original group would shortly be appearing, I watched as a Komodo nonchalantly emerged from the undergrowth.
A much livelier beast than the ones previously spotted, it crossed the track in a purposeful manner - unaware of, or simply uninterested in, my presence. The moment passed but the impression left is indelible.
That’s equally true of our whole trip. Members of a generation that rarely took gap years but, motivated perhaps by our offspring and their tales of far-flung travel, we’re just as hungry to see, know and experience more.
I never thought I’d be welcomed into a community that still cooks on open fires, hangs dead chickens from the rafters to ward off evil spirits and reveres their ancestors by entombing them next to their thatched-roof home but I have now – and loved it.
Add to that the wonder of spending several hours on one of only seven naturally pink beaches in the world (coloured that way thanks to the microscopic animals that leave a red pigment on the coral reef); the fascination of meeting villagers on the north eastern tip of Sumbawa who still build ships without mechanical tools and entirely out of wood; the joy of snorkelling off a tiny uninhabited island formed millions of years ago by one of the largest, most devastating eruptions in human history and the huge sense of achievement felt having walked seven kilometres along a dirt track in searing heat to discover a magical waterfall – unforgettable moments bound together by shipboard camaraderie, delicious food, immaculately-presented accommodation, laughter, fun and fellowship.
Indonesia offers vast, stunning landscapes, primeval wildlife and dramatically different lifestyles. Sailing around it on the Star Clipper, the three of us forged new friendships, shared the buzz of exploration and re-discovered such youthful energy and enthusiasm that one of us climbed a mast, two of us swam in mid ocean and all three of us climbed a volcano.
A holiday? No, it was so much more than that.
The 10-night Bali to Bali cruise costs from £1,995 per person. For more information, visit www.starclippers.co.uk
Set sail with 10 new itineraries in Titan Travel’s new ocean cruise brochure
Cruise first-timers and enthusiasts alike can now choose from an even wider selection of cruise itineraries with escorted tour specialist, Titan Travel (0800 988 5873, www.titantravel.co.uk), as the operator launches 10 new itineraries in its new Ocean Cruise brochure for 2019 and 2020 sailings.
Working with some of the finest ocean cruise lines the enhanced menu reaches far and wide from the azure waters of The Seychelles, Maldives and Andaman Islands with Fred Olsen to the cool waters of Iceland and Greenland on the expedition style MS Ocean Diamond. A choice of new Azamara cruises combine an ocean cruise with time on land in Japan and on the Iberian Peninsula. Or for a special celebration the luxurious new Orient Express, Venice and a Deluxe Mediterranean Cruise starts with a journey aboard the iconic Venice Simplon-Orient-Express before gliding through the Mediterranean in five-star comfort with Regent Seven Seas.
Every Titan Travel holiday is expertly crafted to embrace the standout highlights of the region and unforgettable moments shared between travellers. Furthermore, guests of Titan can look forward to a host of added extras and benefits, including its renowned VIP door-to-door service which collects travellers from their home meaning their holiday starts as soon as they leave home.
Its luxury all the way on the ultimate rail and cruise experience combining a journey on the elegant Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, with its unique old-world charm before joining an all-inclusive eight-night cruise aboard the magnificent Regent Seven Seas Voyager. Sip champagne as you sail out of Venice with stops in ancient Ravenna and Split. See the historic city of Dubrovnik and the beautiful harbours of Kotor and Corfu. Then explore Taormina and the lemon scented Sorrento before finally arriving into Rome. Departs 11 July 2019, 12-days costs from £7,999 per person.
For island hoppers this 13-day cruise and tour on board Azamara Pursuit begins on the serene shores of Lake Garda and the bustling city of Venice before cruising along the Dalmatian coast to Greece. Sailing past the hundreds of beautiful islands that hug this dramatic coastline with stops that include Kotor, Pula and Korcula, before exploring the great city of Dubrovnik. Departs 07 June 2019, 12 nights cost from £2,849 per person.
Alternatively, join Azamara Journey for a relaxing 13-day cruise and tour of the Iberian Peninsula. Begin by following in the steps of Portuguese royalty with a stay in a 15th century palace close to Lisbon and the historic town of Sintra, before cruising along the coast, paying homage to the great explorers of the Age of Discovery, and discover the secret war time tunnels dug into the rock of Gibraltar. Round off the voyage with a traditional Spanish tapas as the ship reaches Barcelona. Departs 02 September 2019, 12-nights from £2,799 per person.
Further afield a new option in conjunction with Fred. Olsen combines three nights Phuket with a 14-night cruise on Boudicca where passengers can bask in the breath-taking beauty of the Indian Ocean and take their pick from a collection of world-class white sandy beaches along the way. Hopping between a string of paradise islands in the Andaman sea, there is also the opportunity to join a traditional Thai cooking class in Koh Yao Noi. Departing 13 November 2019, 19 days costs from £3,699 per person.
Alternatively, join Fred Olsen’s Boudicca for a 20-day cruise combining beautiful islands with the striking cities of Southeast Asia. Begin with three full days in Bali to enjoy picturesque beaches, ancient temples, sprawling rice terraces and exotic cuisine. Stare up at the great skyscrapers of Singapore; enjoy the tranquillity of Phuket’s temples and pale, tropical beaches and discover Buddhist relics hidden in Yangon’s gold-topped Schewdagon Pagoda. The cruise concludes Sri Lanka’s bustling capital and the calm of nearby Negombo. Departing 18 January 2020, 20-days costs from £3,999 per person.
As all eyes turn to Japan ahead of the Olympics get ahead of the crowd on an 18-day cruise and tour on board Azamara Quest. Soak up Japan’s incredible, cosmopolitan capital with two nights in Tokyo before circumnavigating the whole country on a two-week voyage, including a day in Busan, South Korea’s ambitious city. Each port allows for opportunities to experience the modern and the traditional with wonderful temples and castles, volcanic hot springs and beautiful parks, old-world tea houses, and delicious seafood and vast landscapes of mountains and skyscrapers. Departs 01 September 2019, 18-days costs from £5,099 per person.
Costs include flights, accommodation, transfers and excursions plus the VIP Door to door travel service while for more information on holidays from Titanm, see www.titantravel.co.uk or call 0800 988 5873.