At a latitude of 8° South, the climate of Bali is tropical. Hot, wet and humid, the vegetation seems to grow before your eyes. Every surface is covered with moss, and even brand-new stone walls and carvings take on a century-old patina in a few short months.
Away from the urban areas rice paddies and palms offer brilliant green vistas, with water dripping and running everywhere. In the markets there is a variety of tropical fruits, many of them unfamiliar to those from cooler climates: bananas, mangoes, jackfruit, mangosteens, pineapples, papayas, rambutans and durian. Unlike the rest of Indonesia, which is largely Muslim, the population of Bali is Hindu. Festivals are commonplace. Temples are always being decorated, street parades are a daily occurrence.
But the beauty in Bali is difficult. While colourful and bountiful, the climate is draining. The constant heat and humidity forces you to take everything slowly. Haste makes sweat.
More than 4 million people live on the island’s 5780 square kilometres, and these are joined by another 2.5 million tourists each year. Bali is seen differently by tourists from Australia and the rest of the world. For Europeans and North Americans, the island is exotic and remote. It is a magical land of trance dancers and magic, a belief in ghosts and spirits, of the sound of the gamelan and the legong, barong and kecak dances, of incredible scenery and rich in mythological belief. For many Australians it is a backyard playground, a convenient and exotic location for a holiday where accommodation, food and beer are cheap and the rules of home have little meaning.
This is not true for all Australians, of course. Despite the horrific bombing of Paddy’s Bar in Kuta on 12th October 2002 by fanatical followers of Jemaah Islamiyah (a terrorist group with links to al-Qaeda) a large number of Australian expatriates now call the place home, moving there for business or for a relaxed retirement.
It may be chaotic and noisy in Kuta and Denpasar, but move out into the countryside and it starts to look more like paradise.