Bali: Morning of the World

Bali: Morning of the World

Bali, that tiny island in the sprawling archipelago of Indonesia, is consistently rated one of the top vacation spots in the world. Yes, Bali is back after the tragic bombings back in 2002 and at record numbers, and yet what is Bali and what is it about Bali that draws almost 2 million foreign visitors each year?

Bali. For some people the name says it all - warm seas, soft sands, cold beers, vibrant colors, exotic sounds, friendly people, broad smiles, laughing children, a multitude of inexpensive small hotels and homestays, not to mention a wide choice of 3, 4, and 5 star hotels and resorts.

Bali is particularly popular with Australians, Europeans, and Asians. For Aussies, Bali is a relatively short flight over to a world which is different, but not too different, in order to taste something of the exotic and leave inhibitions behind in Perth, Sidney, Melbourne or Cairns. Europeans, particularly the Dutch, may have read of Bali in school books or heard stories of Bali at the knees of their grandparents, or in the case of some of my friends, spent their early years there in the days of the colonial government. For Asians, Bali is relatively close and far cheaper than vacationing in their own countries. Bali is particularly popular with Japanese visitors.

Despite common misconceptions about the actual location of Bali, it is not located in the South Pacific. Indonesia sits securely in the Indian Ocean quite a way from the South Pacific. But for those of you who have had a swim in the sparkling waters of the Indian Ocean, you know the refreshing pleasures that a short dip provides.

Bali. A land of wonder and magic set in the warm waters of the Bali Sea and the Indian Ocean. Bali. The tourist-ruined, money-soaked island sucking in foreign dollars for the Indonesian government. Hand planted rice, homemade religious offerings, vibrant cloths used in ceremonial costumes. Noisy motorcycles, howling dogs, pesky sellers, a glut of guides speaking broken English. Gamelan orchestras practicing in the warm nights under a brilliant moon, fishing in a traditional prahu chasing tuna and tongkol, the mystery of a wayang kulit in a village with the children laughing, the men gambling, and the women making comments on their husbands' performances or lack thereof. A busload of drunken tourists on a bar hop in Kuta puking out the bus windows, cheap gold and silver trinkets, more cheap watches than you could wear in a lifetime, the inevitable Bali Belly. A quiet walk through luxurious ravines teeming with birds and butterflies, the hypnotic chant of the village priest, the cry of the jamu seller in the tropical morning, the aroma of sate sizzling over charcoal-filled grills.

Bali. Which one of these is it? The answer is that there is no answer - it all depends on what you bring to Bali and where you take it. There are foreigners who have come to Kuta, the bustling center of the tourist industry, and never left. The excitement, opportunity and midnight rush have seduced them into finding a way to build a life there. Sanur, a twenty-minute ride from Kuta, is a more relaxed village catering to generally more upscale tourists. Then, too, there are the tourists who come and drink, dance, spend and flee looking for one more country or island to "do." Come up to the north and you might find boredom or bliss. Quiet sunsets on Lovina or Anturan Beach, serene walks in scenic villages. Try Ubud, the fabled center of Balinese culture, and you may find fantastic artists and musicians, thrilling performances of ancient dances and plays, or you may find mangy dogs, muddy pathways and cold showers.

Have the Balinese sold out? Depends on what you mean. They like motorcycles and TVs and t-shirts and jeans. Western music is quite popular but so is dangdut, Indonesian pop. The Kuta cowboy singing the latest MTV hit is going to know a few good gamelan tunes as well. Is Bali pristine? Is Chicago or London or Phuket? It's a real place in real time with real people who generally want the little pleasures of modern life. Even in the village where I first settled nineteen years ago, they now have electricity and television and a paved road.

Take a trip around the island, get away from the tourist centers, and visit with folks in the local markets and fishing villages. You’ll be welcomed and appreciated.

morning in bali

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