Continuing to circumnavigate the world (by plane), Jill and I finally arrived in Indonesia, the largest archipelago in the world. Indonesia consists of 17,508 islands (6,000 inhabited) and straddles the Equator between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. The country shares a land border with Malaysia to the north, East Timor and Papua New Guinea to the east and is situated in close proximity to Australia to the south and Palau, the Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore and India to the north. We are now in the Southern Hemisphere where Monsoon season is a bit behind schedule but more on that later.
Flying from Singapore to Denpasar, our hotel captain greeted us at the airport with fresh cold towels soaked in lavender. An hour drive later we stepped out of our car into paradise. The Oberoi lives on the shores of the Indian Ocean in a town called Seminyak. Here is a tropical climate where heat and humidity exist year round and you cannot really hide from it. We settled into our humble abode (a spacious thatched hut a mere 30 feet from the ocean) for a four-day retreat.
According to the latest census in 2010, Indonesia’s population of 238 million makes it the fourth largest populous country in the world. It is expected to grow to 265 million by 2020. The Indonesian economy relies heavily on tourism and exportation of its natural resources such as rice, fruits and vegetables, crude oil, natural gas, tin, copper and gold, plywood, rubber and textiles. The places most likely to receive these products and major importers of Indonesian goods are Japan, Singapore and the United States. The World Trade Organization lists Indonesia as the 27th largest exporter in the world.
Indonesia has always been an important trade route. The Muslim traders arrived in the 13th Century spreading Islam and then the Portuguese in the 16th Century bringing Christianity and finally the Dutch arrived in the 1600s. We are staying in Seminyak on the Island of Bali—Island of the Gods—where 93 percent of the population practices Balinese Hinduism, which is a combination of local customs and Hindu influences from India. This is the only place in Indonesia where Islam is the minority. Hindu temples are spread throughout the island and people present offerings (marigold flowers) in front of stores, hotels, restaurants, statues of gods etc. Balinese Hinduism seems to be a mix of Indian Hinduism and Buddhism with a local mix of spirituality, art and ritual. In other words, their religion represents their way of life.
Tourists from all over the world visit Bali with the Australians, Chinese and Japanese preferring Indonesia shores over most. There is an enormous expatriate network of people who visit Bali and never leave setting up restaurants and shops along the way. Seminyak and Katu are such places as modern stores and restaurants have washed away the local influence. People are buying multi-million dollar villas on ocean front property and calling Bali home. We have met many shop owners and a few hotel managers (ours included) who took a trip to Bali and never left. Paradise is appealing.
Bali is known for its handcrafts, arts and dance. If I had a truck that I could drive across the ocean, I would fill it with all the beautiful woven furniture and carefully crafted woodcarvings. That includes some of their brass jewelry and stone carvings. It’s not a shoppers dream but it’s fun to see the various goods produced here and the influence history and religion play.
While we mostly lounged near the pool and ocean, dodging mosquitoes and harmful UV rays, we have experienced a bit of the local culture but decided we needed to venture out beyond the 10-block radius. Sweating like one sweats in a steam room, we visited the Uluwatu Temple, one of Bali’s nine key directional temples and an hour drive from Seminyak (at the far southern end of Bali). This is a scenic spot where the land ends and mountainous cliffs greet the Indian Ocean. The views were stunning and reminded me of seeing Cape Point in South Africa where the Atlantic Ocean and Indian Ocean collide.
After skirting the crazy monkeys for a temple view, we watched the Kecak and Fire Dance. The Kecak is a traditional Balinese dance known as the Monkey Chant. Basically, 100 men sit in a circle waving their arms and chant “cak…cak…cak,” while various ornately costumed characters dared in and out of the circle. It’s supposed to represent a type of battle where a monkey-like Vanara helps Prince Rama fight the evil King Ravana. Others believe it may be some sort of exorcism dance.
Now back to the Monsoon – and no I did not forget. It’s sort of hard to ignore when each day around 2pm the skies turn an eerie dark blue, the ocean waves swell and the rains arrive. Blame it on global warming or the gods, the Monsoon season normally from September to November in Indonesia is ever present. Jill typically more adaptable than I am most days does not appreciate the rains as much as I do. It provides me with amble time to chill and enjoy Mother Nature.
Since we do not live in a Monsoon area/climate, I thought I would share some of my Wikipedia/ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration findings:
- Monsoons are actually sea breezes, which occur when the temperatures on land are warmer OR cooler than the temperature of the ocean.
- The imbalances are caused because the ocean and land absorb heat in different ways (water is able to maintain a high heat capacity).
- The sunlight heats the land and ocean during summer months (Bali) but the land temps rise much faster. With warm land temperatures, the gases expand and a low-pressure area develops.
- The tricky part is that the ocean has a more moderate temperature and therefore these sea breezes blow from ocean to land and bring rain.
- Air rises to a higher altitude over land and then flows back to the ocean. When the air rises over land it then cools and decreases it ability to hold water causing more rain over land.
- In colder months, the cycle is reversed. Since the land cools more quickly than the oceans then the air over land has higher pressure, thereby causing sea breezes at the surface, which flow from land to the ocean. When humid air rises over the ocean (to complete the cycle), it begins to cool, causing precipitation over the oceans.