A small island (5,632 kilometers2) in the Republic of Indonesia. It's full of fantastic stuff. My best friend spent the greater part of a summer in Bali, studying Gamelan and living. She told me she knew she was someplace different when she saw two cops (male) walking down the street holding hands.
She sent me a postcard of fruit, with all of the names in Balinese. This is how i learned that the Balinese for strawberry is stroberi. I have that hanging in my cube.

I also spent a recent summer taking art classes (including gambelan) in Bali and had some of the most amazing experiences of my life. There is so much to say I can't even begin, but one teeny tidbit of information I would like to contribute to possible travellers is this: spend most of your time elsewhere on the island but be sure to end your trip in the southern surfing town of Kuta. It is there that magic mushroom omlettes are sold legally for the equivalent of $4. Eat one on the beach and you will have the most amazing out of mind experience ever.

Bali is one of the more than 13,000 islands of the Indonesian archipelago. Of all the islands it is probably the most popular one with the tourists, both foreign and domestic.

Where's that again?

Bali lies in what the Dutch1 call de Gordel van Smaragd (which roughly translates in English to the Emerald Girdle2), between the main island Java and the less well-known island Lombok.
Most foreign tourists fly directly in and out of Bali via the Ngurah Rai airport near Kuta, which is a shame, because most of these tourists never see the true beauty of the island. I recommend manoeuvring yourself into a position near the eastern tip of Java at Banyuwangi and there hop onto one of the regular ferries that cross the small channel between the islands. Then, on arrival at the other side in the middle of nowhere called Gilimanuk, get your hands on transportation to your preferred destination. I would like everyone to not go to Kuta, as that is my preferred destination and I like to keep it as free from tourists as possible3...
Okay, now for some statistics and other trivia:

  • The capital of the island is Denpasar
  • Other major cities are Gianyar, Kuta, Klungkung, Singaraja
  • Main airport is Ngurah Rai
  • Covers about 6,000 square kilometres
  • In contrast to the predominantly Muslim rest of Indonesia4, Bali is mostly Hindu
  • There's more to it than beaches, shops, good food, braiding hair, massages (WANT ...5), one-week tattoos, surfing, diving, drinking, soft-drugs and all the rest I don't have room for here

Look mama! No landing strip!

Which is what I imagine a rather smart toddler would yell while the plane descends on final for Ngurah Rai airport6. The final few moments before it touches down do indeed give the impression that the crew of your aircraft think they are Jesus and therefore capable of pulling off a walk on water. This comes from the fact that the strip was built projecting some distance out to sea, giving the impression that the plane is about to land on water. Pretty fun experience if you get a window-seat.

Hey! I said: off limits

You'll probably end up in Kuta somewhere along your stay on Bali anyway7, so I can just as well point out the fact that the beaches around Kuta feature the best sunsets anywhere in the world. Just take my word for it. When you're there, go to the beach before half past five and make yourself comfortable. Together with the thousand other tourists that share your stretch of the beach, but soit. The more the merrier, right?
Anyway, have your camera ready and be sure to have enough film left, because you're going to want to use it, believe me. One of the things you should try to sample while enjoying those last few moments before sundown can be found a bit farther back from the surf. These are the steamed peanuts some of the vendors offer. They are prohibited from venturing too near the beach, so you'll have to go to them to get it (which goes for all of them, by the way, including those that offer hair braiding and massages on the beach).


Poppies has legendary status in Kuta, and probably in Bali and - dare I say it? - the rest of the world as well. If someone tells you that they went to Bali, question them about Poppies. If they fail to come up with a satisfying answer, severely doubt whether they've been on the island at all.

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1 In the colonial heydays
2 Look at a map and use your imagination - the key is to remember its mostly lush green sawahs and rain forest
3 Tough luck: summer 2000 showed me that was vain hope
4 In general; some other islands also deviate from this average
5 Go to a beach there... you'll know what I mean
6 I knew you wouldn't follow my advice...
7 See above...

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Mythic King (Hindu)

Bali was a mighty god-king with quite an impressive pedigree—son of the mighty king Virocana, and grandson of the demonic Hirayakashipu, who had been a very powerful monarch himself, before being defeated by the god Narasinha, who was an avatar or incarnation of Vishnu.

This mighty nobleman's fame spread throughout the world, causing quite a bit of a hubbub amongst the gods. This upstart was becoming more famous than even the great god Indra! Something had to be done.

Enter the mighty god Vishnu—always a clever and tricky sort of fellow. He assumed a dwarfish form and went to see Bali. Calling himself Vamana, the cunning runt went before the great king and begged him for a plot of land three paces wide. Not even suspecting a trick, Bali agreed.

Now, I don't know whether Bali was naive, stupid, or if he just got so many requests for land from magical midgets that he just wound up rubberstamping them without another thought, but this seems like seriously boneheaded move to me. Which, of course, it was. Note to all mythical beings or prospective mythical beings out there: if someone offers you a task or asks you to do something that seems way too simple, such as "Hey, betcha can't lift this tiny kitten!"—this is invariably a trick, and probably won't end in your favour!

But Bali granted little Vamana's silly request (what's he gonna do with a piece of land three strides across, make a very small bowling lane, perhaps?). At that point, the little man revealed himself in all his godly glory, and paced off the entire earth and sky in two mighty strides. He left that third pace for the underworld, and that is exactly where the dim and defeated Bali retreated to.

Bali may have been a sky god in the pre-Vedic times, his worship supplanted by Indra, Vishnu and that crowd. The story of Bali seems to have been told as a sort of humourous tale of the Vedic gods' conquest of this mighty guy (and pretty much his entire family): "See, our god can beat up your god."

Much of this information has been gleaned from a (self-published) book on mythology I have written and am constanly in the process of revising.
Jordon, Michael, "Encyclopedia of Gods" (Facts on File, New York, 1993).

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