Bali is only a few hours from Java, but culturally, it is a whole world away. The people are primarily Hindu, so small baskets of colorful flower petals and incense—and the occasional cigarette—line streets, sidewalks, steps and cars’ dashboards as offerings to the gods. In Bali, I saw no mosques and heard no call to prayers. I counted five women wearing a jilbab. The skyline is adorned with bended penjor, tall bamboo poles decorated with leaves and a small cage attached at its end called a sanggah cucuk, that’s filled with offerings for the Hindu gods. Other Hindu shrines—both, large and small—spilling with the same offerings fill the gaps in the horizon. Stray dogs roam loose, roasted pigs hang upside down in front of restaurant windows, alcohol is advertised, women walk around scantily dressed—all unacceptable in Islamic Java. The Hindu influence of Bali makes “the Island of the Gods” even more breathtakingly beautiful, as pura, or Hindu temples, are often framed by giant sea green waves and an endless watercolor sky.
I regret that I only had time to visit one temple during my three days in Bali. Yet, visiting the Pura Luhur Ulu Watu—a temple honoring the gods of the sea and also one of the nine major directional temples meant to guard the island from evil spirits—and watching a sunset kecak, a traditional Balinese dance, interpret the Hindu epic Ramayana makes for my favorite experience in Indonesia so far.