Looking to escape winter?

The nasty weather of last week made me dream again of travel to one of the warm and beautiful places – any place. Unfortunately, a lack of spare cash strangled my wander-thirst, so I began reading travel chronicles of trips once taken.
The account that grabbed me began like this: “Bali, Indonesia. Selamat Pagi from the ‘Isle of the Gods.’ As I sit writing this in a shaded portico a few steps from a fabled beach, the temperature hovers at 30 degrees Celsius. The buildings and grounds of the Putri Bali Hotel surround me in heavenly grandeur, but despite all this perfection, I feel I must make a confession. I am gloating. Just before beginning to write this, I called home to find Ontario’s back bent and shivering under a load of ice and freezing rain.”
What memories. They call that place The Isle of the Gods, not because its paradise-like setting makes a perfect home for the gods, but because the gods of Hinduism migrated there en masse many centuries ago.
Although Muslims make up the largest part of Indonesia’s nearly 200 million people, Bali contains 95 per cent Hindu adherents. Wherever I went, I saw stone gods. They waited at every corner of the city, in front of every business and household, and even within the grounds of the hotel.
People had set out food and floral offerings in front of each one in an attempt to invoke the god’s blessing. I walked carefully to avoid stepping on offerings placed in front of businesses, even in places that had no stone god.
When I took my eyes off the gods and looked at people I saw rare beauty. The description, short, dark-haired, and very pretty describes almost every Indonesian woman, regardless of age. All Indonesians make effective use of the trademark of Indonesian culture: the explosive, brilliant, disarming smile.
Indonesian culture reaches back centuries to roots in India and elsewhere. One evening I witnessed dancers performing the Indonesian version of the Ramayana, an epic tale of people and gods dating back almost 2,000 years. It tells of Rama, ousted from his throne, and his faithful wife, Sita, abducted and carried away to an island kingdom. The monkey god, Hanuman, intervenes and brings the couple back together again. I saw only a small sampling of a performance that could last for days.
Indonesians have their own way of presenting the Ramayana. They may have invented the earliest form of motion picture projection, in which puppets danced behind a screen, only their shadow images visible to the audience. Using this technique, they present the great legends to the music of the gamelan, an orchestra using mostly percussion instruments with a tonal scale unfamiliar to the western ear.
Today human dancers replace the puppets. The performers imitate the two-dimensional motion of puppets – as you watch them you can imagine strings working their arms and legs. Beautiful people, carved masks, liberal make up, bright clothing, and eerie sounds from the gamelan make the performance highly entertaining.
Beyond Bali’s hotels and tourist traps, lie the green tropical countryside, terraced rice fields, and villages. Alongside the common folk of Bali live colonies of artists and craftsmen whose skills equal or excel those found anywhere in the world. Bali seemed to have something for everyone.
I have seen a few other places equally as exciting as Bali: Hawaii, Thailand, Singapore, and South Africa. If you can do it, by all means vacation in one. If you can’t, like me you will just have to quit pouting and enjoy a good old Ontario winter.

Ray Wiseman