Friday, August 28, 2015

Bali: Indonesia’s magical island paradise

Temples abound in Bali making it an exotic and enticing place to visit  (wikipedia)
BALI How can a traveler go wrong visiting a place known as the “Island of the Gods” or the “Island of a Thousand Puras (Temples)”? If Bali comes to mind, you nailed it. In fact, Travel and Leisure magazine gave it the Best Island award in 2010.

The reasons were convincing; “because of its attractive surroundings (both mountain and coastal), diverse tourist attractions, excellent international and local restaurants, and the friendliness of the local people.”

Lest you believe it was a fluke, BBC Travel ranked Bali second only to Santorini, Greece among its World’s Best Islands in 2011.
Rice terrace in Ubud where much of Eat, Pray, Love is located (wikipedia)
Having said all that, chances are pretty good that Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir Eat, Pray, Love, a best-selling book in 2006 followed by a popular movie in August, 2010, didn’t hurt Bali’s identity since much of the story took place in Ubud and Padang-Padang Beach on the island.

Even so, the island home of much of Indonesia’s Hindu minority in an archipelago that is mostly Muslim, has a personality all its own that can stand the test of even the most discriminating travelers.

Situated just two miles east of Java and 8 degrees south of the equator, Bali is part of the Coral Triangle where more than 500 reef building coral species can be found. That translates to nearly 7 times as many as the entire Caribbean.

Map of Bali (wikipedia)

Despite its proximity to the equator, Bali has a relatively even year-round climate although there are usually heavy rains from December to March during monsoon season.

In its earliest history, Bali was influenced first by the Portuguese and later the Dutch until Japan occupied the island during World War II. In 1949, after the Dutch had regained control, Bali received its independence on December 29th.

In recent years, the island, which is only 95 miles wide and 69 miles long, has become a tourism favorite, especially for Australians, Chinese and, now, a growing number of Americans who are beguiled by the mountainous terrain, the white and black sand beaches, thatched roof houses on stilts and the exotic far-awayness Bali offers.
Get your feet wet at TanahLot Temple in Bali  (wikipedia)
Tourism began to thrive in the 1930s when anthropologists Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, artists Miguel Covarrubias and Walter Spies and musicologist Colin McPhee “discovered” what they called “an enchanted land of aesthetes at peace with themselves and nature.” Tourism evolved and the rest is history.

Until the early 20th century, Bali was home to at least three large mammals: the wild banteng, leopards and the Bali tiger. Since that time the banteng can be found, but only in domestic form. Leopards now roam in nearby Java, but not in Bali, and the Bali tiger no longer exists.
Mt. Rinjani on Lombok in Indonesia  (wikipedia)
The last record of a Bali tiger is listed in 1937 when one was shot. It is believed, however, that a subspecies survived until the 1940s or 1950s. Perhaps the most interesting fact about the native tigers of Bali was that it was the smallest and rarest of all tiger species. So much so that it was never captured on film or exhibited in a zoo.

Bali is a mountainous island surrounded by magnificent beaches. Several peaks reach just under 10,000 feet while “Mother Mountain”, or Mount Agung, which is an active volcano, has the highest elevation at 9,940 feet.

Balinese women hard at work in Bali  (wikipedia)
At approximately 50 miles, the Ayung River is the longest waterway. Bali has no major river routes but the Ho River is navigable by small sampan boats.

Rice is a staple of the Balinese diet, as is fish or meat which is almost always served with sambal or chili paste. Since Baili is primarily non-Muslim, a dish called babi guling (roasted suckling pig) is a specialty along with smoked stuffed duck wrapped in bamboo. The natives call it, bebek betutu.

Most of Bali’s tourism is focused in the south near the capital city of Denpasar. Kuta is known for its beach, while Ubud, in the center of the island, became popular thanks to Elizabeth Gilbert, who was portrayed in the film Eat, Pray, Love by Julia Roberts.

Travelers seeking a bargain, if they can endure the long day’s journey into night getting to Bali, will discover great value for their money thanks to a drop in Indonesia’s currency which occurred in the latter part of 2009. The 30% decline has made Bali a shopper’s paradise ever since.

There are no trains in Bali, but a coastal road circles the island and there are three major two-lane roads crossing the central mountains. Motorists should remember to blow their horn when rounding mountain curves because it is common to drive in the middle of the road.

Mt. Butur is one of many volcanoes on the island of Bali  (wikipedia)
Take note, there are many one-way roads in Bali, so if you miss a turn it may be a long drive before you can turn around.

Then again, enjoy yourself. It’s a small island and it won’t be long before you come to a magnificent beach.