March 29, 2012
We have now arrived in Asia! We will be spending over three months of our 14-month journey visiting this diverse continent, the largest and most populated in the world. Our first stop was in the country of Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populated country, with about 238 million people.
Yesterday we spent a day in Indonesia visiting the island of Bali. It is an island of contrasts, starting with its culture: although Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim state, the island of Bali is 90% Hindu. Religion is an integral part of life on this island. The temples and shrines number over 10,000 and Bali has the nickname of “Island of the Gods”. The most popular Hindu deities here are Shiva and Ganesh. The island is mountainous with the highest point being Mount Agung, at 10,308 feet (3,142 meters). This is an active volcano; it had a major eruption in 1963 after 120 years of inactivity. There are about 130 volcanoes throughout Indonesia.
During our short time in Bali we did not have the opportunity to visit a volcano but, instead, were exposed to a combination of its culture and nature. After docking at the south side of the island, we were driven about 30 miles (50 kilometers) toward Bali’s center. Traffic can pose challenges on the island so we kept away from the bustle of Bali’s capital city, Denpasar. As we drove down shaded roads we observed everyday life while our guide pointed out areas of interest. All villages have temples and an assembly hall, usually located on a square and used for festivals and markets. Each family lives in its own compound with earthen or stone walls. The inner courtyard is usually divided into three sections, comprised of rice granaries and cattle sheds, sleeping quarters and kitchen and the house temple.
Several businesses that we passed by had large displays of Hindu deity statues for sale. We saw children walking to school and playing in the school yard. As we moved into more rural villages, we saw rice paddies and workers tending to them. Rice is a principal crop and yams, sweet potatoes and corn are also grown. We continued to drive through narrower streets which took us into less populated areas. Finally, after taking just over 90 minutes to cover the 30 mile distance, we arrived at the Ayung River.
We chose to take a rafting trip down the Ayung River, which is one of the longest rivers on the island. We paddled about five miles (eight kilometers) in a five-man raft with a guide and two others. The river flowed through dramatic gorges with several waterfalls crashing down the sides. We also saw Hindu shrines and rock carvings beside the river. There were several challenging rapids and we were soaked by the time we completed our two-hour trip.
After our rafting trip and a late lunch, we retraced our route back to the ship. The traffic was much worse and we made slower progress. However, there were plenty of things happening outside our vehicle’s window as we made our way south. In front of a business we watched a woman making an offering at a small Hindu shrine. We observed a group of young women holding small brooms and walking toward their temple to clean it. There were many motorbikes on the road, as well as a few cars.
Before we boarded our ship in the late afternoon we were able to enjoy a performance of Balinese dancers and musicians. Dancing and music are an important part of the culture. A Balinese orchestra is called a gamelan and consists of various percussion instruments, flute and two-string violin. Every village has some type of group. The music and dancing were beautiful to hear and see.
This morning we could see Bali’s neighboring island, Java, in the distance. Only one mile (1.6 kilometers) west of Bali, Java is one of the world’s most densely populated islands with over 100 million inhabitants. Indonesia’s capital city of Jakarta is located here. In all, there are about 17,000 islands throughout the country, making it roughly the size of Australia.
Soon the coastline faded away as we headed north through the Java Sea. We thoroughly enjoyed our short time in Bali and our exposure to its culture, as well as the natural beauty we witnessed while river rafting. We are looking forward to our other destinations in Southeast Asia.