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South East Asia
At the end of February 2016 Wendy and I took a package deal to visit Bali. These days almost everyone knows that Bali is a smallish island off the east tip of Java in the Southern Indonesian archipelago, just south of the equator. Longitudinally it's just to the west of Perth, not a huge distance from Darwin. The whole Island chain is highly actively volcanic with regular eruptions that quite frequently disrupt air traffic. Bali is well watered, volcanic, fertile and very warm year round, with seasons defined by the amount of rain.
Aspects of Bali
I had not been to Bali since 1973 and it has changed remarkably. Back then Bali was low on the tourist agenda and the only tourists we saw there were fellow travellers from the ship we were on - the P&O steamship Orion, on our way from Sydney to Singapore. There was no wharf for cruise ships, so we moored in jungle lined harbour where there was a small jetty and used the ships boats to come and go. We were the biggest thing to hit the island for some days or perhaps weeks. A collection of motorbikes with side cars and what are today generically called tuk-tuks met each boat arrival and took us off to see temples and to Ubud and Denpasar where chooks (chickens) ran in the street and colonial buildings decayed.
The main local tourist oriented enterprise, apart from the motorbike guys, were perfume sellers who each had several litres of each popular scent on a little wagon that they decanted into smaller bottles when a selection was made: 100 ml of Chanel No5 - that will be $5. At Ubud we bought a primitive carving of a fertility god that was given the name Ubud and went the rounds of friends who thought it might help in their quest to fall pregnant. Like a borrowed book, eventually Ubud was no longer returned but is out there still, either gathering dust or having his/her belly stroked by another generation.
Suddenly here, the culture was Hindu blended with pre-Hindu animist religion. There was also a smattering of Muslim Indonesian officials and a few European expats to make things a bit more complicated. We didn't know much about anything. We took some photos that I can no longer find of tablecloth clad statues. But my memory of a rainforest interspersed with rice paddies serviced by narrow roads and inhabited by charming small dusky people who seemed to have a great deal of time on their hands for what seemed to be endless religious parades, festivals and observances. Back in 1973 the total population was less than half that of that today and to naive travellers like us it was an apparent paradise. Yet appearances are often deceptive, as you will read later. Less than a decade earlier those same rainforests ran with blood of one of the greatest mass murders of the century and in 1963 the screams of those killed by volcanic pyroclastic flow, similar to that which destroyed Pompeii, echoed down these valleys.
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