December 1996 – January 1997
Bali is an island of great variety. It sports several mountains, one of them – Mount Agung – more than 3.000 metres high, and some active volcanoes. The weather on top of the mountains is quite a bit cooler; on the other hand, there are beaches, rainforests, rice fields, food and vegetable farming, etc.
Bali is a rich country which is obviously able to feed its people. That is already a great deal. Imagine an island with an area of only about 2.200 square miles, or 5.600 square kilometres, a width of 200 km and a length of 130 km with more than 3 million inhabitants – and the population density is very high, as about 1/8th of the island is still covered by rainforest.
The inhabitants call their homeland the »Island of the God«, and it is covered by thousands of temples. The Balinese mixed the Hindu and the Buddhist religions, although Hinduism is the dominant one, thus creating a mixture of its own. The same is true of other cultural influences: their mixture has created very specific regional cultures. During the last century, Bali was still divided into ten kingdoms, each one with its own traditions, depending on its landscape and the possibilities that nature conferred on its inhabitants.
There are only two seasons in Bali: winter, with high temperatures and lots of rain, and the dry summer, from April to October.
The Balinese people are very friendly; they usually smile at you and greet you whenever they see you. The shopkeepers and sales personnel are very keen on selling; you can bargain, as they lower their prices, and they even follow you to make you buy their products.
The Balinese people are – as everything in this country seems to be – a rich mixture of races and colours. They are known for their beauty. They love to dance and play music, traditionally the Gamelan music which uses bamboo instruments.
Traffic seems chaotic – for non-English people, anyway – as there is left-hand driving, a lot of motorcycles, which in fact comprise the majority of the traffic; bicycles, pedestrians, cars, lots of little lorries, all overtaking on the left or on the right, making a great deal of noise and not seeming to be afraid of any accident. Not to mention the kids, chickens, dogs, and other living beings, all delighting in being as close to the road as possible, obviously because everybody loves to communicate, to sell, to see what’s going on. As a driver, you have to have a lot of confidence and experience in order not to feel completely burnt out after a few minutes.
In the bigger towns and cities, traffic is a big problem which has to be solved, I think, because all the motorcycles driving everywhere and all of these cars are very noisy. Besides, the air is extremely polluted, so that people inevitably will become ill as the air circulation on the small roads in the towns is not at all quick – although the people do not seem to bother, they behave as if they do not notice any of these nuisances.
The beaches in Nusa Dua where our hotel was located are wonderful, the luxury of the hotels is perfect, the service is of high standard. But it is a tourist ghetto. And imagine: an average waiter or waitress earns less than $100 per month, and that is the price for one meal for two to four persons in the Nusa Dua area. What a difference!
The Balinese people will shape their future well, I am convinced of this – if they are allowed to do so. And it seems that they have the freedom they need already. And the right direction, sending their children to school in their school-uniforms and communicating without aggression, but with pleasure. That’s the future, isn’t it?