For most of us, when we think of Indonesia—well, let’s face it, most of us don’t think of Indonesia at all. The last time memorable news made it from Indonesia to the Western Hemisphere was in 2004, when a gigantic tsunami with waves up to 30 meters (100 feet) high inundated the island country and several of its neighbors. Before that, you’d have to go back to 2002, when a series of terrorist bombings in Bali killed more than 200 people, mostly young folks on holiday in the erstwhile tropical paradise. That said, Indonesia deserves broader recognition in the world, and certainly acknowledgement for things other than disasters, whether acts of God or of man.
For starters, Indonesia is the fourth most populous country on Planet Terra, behind only China, India, and the US. Some 250,000,000 people are packed into a land area approximately the size of the US west of the Rocky Mountains (and not counting Alaska or Hawaii). And at any given time, ninety percent of the population appears to be on the road.
The country measures 5271 km (3275 miles) east to west, about the distance from Seattle to Miami (or for my European readers, roughly the distance from Scotland to Afghanistan!). It spans three time zones, and straddles the equator, making it one of comparatively few countries with three hemispheres to its credit (Eastern, Northern and Southern). The climate runs the gamut from very hot to even hotter, punctuated by epic deluges that the infrastructure is in no way geared to handle.
All of this conspires to make Indonesia quite a green place, with gradations of verdancy that make, say, Ireland appear downright beige by comparison.
Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world, although it must be said that they practice a rather more laid-back version of the religion than their Middle Eastern cousins. Think of the Middle Eastern folks as Pentecostals and the Indonesians as Presbyterians, and that will give you an idea of the gradation.
And then there is Bali, a primarily Hindu enclave smack in the middle of the archipelago. About 93% of the Balinese are Hindu, perhaps the most celebration-oriented religion on the face of the earth. There is a good chance of seeing (and taking part in) a Hindu ceremony of one sort or another even on a short holiday to Bali. In fact, if you were unable to find a ceremony within a day or two, you might consider applying to the Guinness Book of World Records.
Remarkably, the Hindu and Muslim populations seem to get along very well with one another, unlike their counterparts in India and South Asia, and the general attitude seems to be one of bonhomie and good cheer.
There are about 4 million people in Bali, which gives the island a population density akin to a Tokyo subway car at 7:30am. Interestingly (to me, at least), my home province of Prince Edward Island, Canada, is almost identical in size to Bali (5632 sq km for Bali, 5683 sq km for PEI), but there are only 140,000 hardy souls (thus a population density similar to Yellowstone Park, minus the bears). Two islands of similar proportions could scarcely be less alike!