INTRODUCTION TO BALI, INDONESIA
WHERE IS BALI?
The island of Bali is part of the Republic of Indonesia and is located 8 to 9 degrees south of the equator between Java in the West and Lombok and the rest of the Lesser Sunda Islands (Sumbawa, Flores, Sumba and Timor) in the East. Flying time to Jakarta is about 1.5 hours, to Singapore and Perth (Australia) 2.5 and 3 hours, to Hong Kong about 4.5 hours, and to Sydney/Melbourne about 5.5 to 6 hours.
The island of Bali has an area of only 5,632 square kilometers (2,175 square miles) and measures just 55 miles (90 kilometers) along the north-south axis and less than about 90 miles (140 kilometers) from East to West. Because of this it's no problem to explore the island on day tours. You can go wherever you want on the island and return to your hotel or villa in the evening.
Located only two kilometers east of Jawa, Bali's climate, flora and fauna are quite similar to its much larger neighbour. The island is famous for its beautiful landscape. A chain of six volcanoes, between 1,350 meters and 3,014 meters high, stretches from west to east. There are lush tropical forests, pristine crater lakes, fast flowing rivers and deep ravines, picturesque rice terraces, and fertile vegetable and fruit gardens. The beaches in the South consist of white sand, beaches in other parts of the island are covered with gray or black volcanic sand.
The wide variety of tropical plants is surprising. You'll see huge banyan trees in villages and temple grounds, tamarind trees in the North, clove trees in the highlands, acacia trees, flame trees, and mangroves in the South. In Bali grow a dozen species of coconut palms and even more varieties of bamboo.
And there are flowers, flowers everywhere. You'll see (and smell the fragrance of) hibiscus, bougainvillea, jasmine, and water lilies. Magnolia, frangipani, and a variety of orchids are found in many front yards and gardens, along roads, and in temple grounds. Flowers are also used as decorations in temples, on statues, as offerings for the gods, and during prayers. Dancers wear blossoms in their crowns, and even the flower behind the ear of your waitress seems natural in Bali.
Elephants and tigers don't exist any more in Bali since early this century. Wildlife, however, includes various species of monkeys, civets, barking deer and mouse deer, and 300 species of birds including wild fowl, dollar birds, blue kingfishers, sea eagles, sandpipers, white herons and egrets, cuckoos, wood swallows, sparrows, and starlings. You can watch schools of dolphins near Lovina, Candi Dasa, and Padangbai. Divers will see many colorful coral fish and small reef fish, moray eels, and plankton eating whale sharks as well as crustaceans, sponges, and colorful coral along the east coast and around Menjangan Island near Gilimanuk.
You can expect pleasant day temperatures between 20 to 33 degrees Celsius or 68 to 93 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. From December to March, the West monsoon can bring heavy showers and high humidity, but usually days are sunny and the rains start during the night and pass quickly. From June to September the humidity is low, and it can be quite cool in the evenings. During this time of the year, you'll have hardly any rain in the coastal areas.
Even when it rains in most parts of Bali you can often enjoy sunny days on the "Bukit", the hill south of Jimbaran Beach. On the other hand, in Ubud and the mountains you must expect cloudy skies and showers throughout the year (this is why the international weather reports for "Denpasar" or "Bali" mention showers and rain storms during all times of the year). In higher regions such as in Bedugul or Kintamani you'll also need either a sweater or jacket after the sun sets.
Bali's population has grown to over 4 million people the overwhelming majority of which are Hindus. However, the number of Muslims is steadily increasing through immigration of people from Java, Lombok and other areas of Indonesia who seek work in Bali.
Most people live in the coastal areas in the South, and the island's largest town and administrative center is fast growing Denpasar with a population of now over 500,000. The villages between the town of Ubud and Denpasar, Kuta (including Jimbaran, Tuban, and Legian, Seminyak, Basangkasa, etc), Sanur, and Nusa Dua are spreading rapidly in all directions, and before long the whole area from Ubud in the North to Sanur in the East, Berawa/Canggu in the West, and Nusa Dua in the South will be urbanized.
This southern part of Bali is where most jobs are to be found, either in the hotel and tourist industry, the textile and garment industry, and in many small scale and home industries producing handicrafts and souvenirs. Textiles, garments, and handicrafts have become the backbone of Bali's economy providing 5000,000 jobs, and exports have been increasing by around 15% per year to over US$400 million. Textiles and garments contribute about 45%, and wood products including statues, furniture and other handicrafts 22% to the province's total income from exports. Silver work is ranked third (4.65%) with 5,000 workers employed. Main buyers are the US and Europe with 38% each, and Japan with 9%.
Important agricultural products besides rice are tea, coffee, tobacco, cacao, copra, vanilla, soy beans, chilies, fruit, and vegetable (there are now even vineyards near the northwest coast). Bali's fishing industry and seaweed farming provide other products which are important exports.
The new free-trade regulations will create some problems for Bali's exporters as they do not allow to employ children. Most children here work for their parents, and this is part of the process of acquiring professional skills and kind of an informal education which has been very important in the Balinese society for centuries.
WHAT MAKES BALI SO SPECIAL:
There is the combination of the friendly people, the natural attractions, the great variety of things to see and do, the year-round pleasant climate, and the absence of security problems. And then there is Bali's special "magic", which is difficult to explain.
As soon as you step off the plane you might sense the difference. In the villages you'll notice the quietness and wisdom in old people's faces, and the interest and respect in the young's. Old men sit at the road side caressing their fighting cocks. Beautifully dressed women walk proudly through rice fields and forests carrying offerings on their heads to the next temple. There is the smell of flowers, and in the distance you hear the sound of gamelan music.
Gods and spirits have been an important part of Bali's daily life for hundreds of years. Gunung Agung – Bali's holy mountain – is internationally regarded as one of the eight "Chakra" points of the world. This may be more than an coincident. Watch out, the moment you feel the magic of this island, you're addicted for the rest of your life.
To quote the "BALI travel FORUM" contributor "Si Badak" who posted the following message on September 4th, 2000:
"The intricate patterns of Batik. A walk on the beach at low tide,near where a stream flows into the ocean at, for instance, the bottom of Jl. 66 in Seminyak, will show you where some ideas originate. Because of different coloured minerals in the sand, swirling patterns are intermingled by the action of the tide meeting the out-flowing stream very reminiscent of Batik design. For many years it was forbidden to depict human or animal forms so that people had to look to other natural forms for ideas. It would be good to hear on this from the real experts.
Shining delight upon the faces of newly arrived visitors, "baru datang" to local people, as they forge ahead into the great unknown that is Bali. Confronted by a sea of golden faces, the visiting children are the first to smile and reap emotional profit as they are cosseted and cuddled by every Balinese woman or man they meet : sale or no sale, children are all adored as spirits newly returned from the after-life. Giving a happy smile in the direction of Balinese children is a very rewarding pass-time also ; the proud Mum or Dad are only too willing to stop for a chat, even without a language in common !
Boys and girls who are there to Party, Party, Party ! These are no different to the Party Animals to be met on the Costa Brava, in Baja California, at Blackpool, Bondi or anywhere people go for a good time. Doesn't matter which nationality, although loud they are seldom obnoxious unless you attempt to impose your ides of decorum upon them. A smile and a snippet of badinage works well. Even WE were young ! Do you remember ?
An erect old lady on her 1940s bicycle, pedalling through traffic while carrying 1000 eggs, in cartons 60cm square, balanced precariously we think, upon her head of old, honorable grey. Thoughts of very large omelets pass through tourists' minds but seldom has one of these ladies of remarkable poise been seen to provide entertainment by falling over. Carrying heavy buckets of water on their heads, from an early age, has given them a balance and strength to be envied by olympic gymnasts.
Pairs of men on motor-bikes who deliver newly made, wooden beds on their heads and shoulders from town to country. Sometimes they can be seen carrying as many as three mattresses in the same way, or even a bundle of pillows larger than themselves, buffeted by the slip-stream of passing trucks : the man on the pillion is responsible for load security while the driver controls the bike and attempts to keep them both steady. One wonders if this merchandise gets tested along the way, maybe at about 2pm ?
The "8 Ps" are not often in evidence ON this blessed isle, i.e. "proper prior planning & preparation prevents pathetically poor performance". How many more time are we to see the streets of Kuta being excavated for the installation of yet another public utility ? To date we have had : drains at roadside dug and covered up, asphalted a week or two later : footpaths to be paved and raised above drains : excavations for telephone lines followed 6 months later by excavations for more cabling and each time asphalting carried out when the pot-holes have been allowed to mature to their full, axle-shattering width and depth : oops ! Then ? "The drains are not deep / wide enough, let's do it all again !" Town planning ?
Early morning on the beach at Legian towards Seminyak. A light breeze wafts aromas of the morning's rice to the fisherman, sarung and basket tucked up near his waist, casting his net into the surf in the hope of some extra food for his family. Old ladies and gentlemen appear for a bath, cautiously dipping into the water, fully clothed, at its shallowest. Tourist joggers and power-walkers come thundering sweatily along, ( to the amusement of locals from a less punishing lifestyle), to be joined by a few enthusiastic dogs, barking happily, who add to the fun by companionably running between their legs.
Gunung Agung can be seen raising his mighty head above his vassal clouds to see what his subjects are up to. Having made his ritual inspection he draws his court around him and, usually, hides for the rest of the day: he doesn't go away, the Balinese people know he is still there, unseen but all-seeing as he ponders upon the doings of everybody, even the stupid tourists!"
Thank you, Si Badak. Contributions like your's make running our forum worthwhile!