Sunday, September 19, 2010

Around 150000 British nationals a year visit Indonesia, and the chief lure is Bali.

Travel: Bali, Indonesia
Published Date: 20 September 2010
By Wendy Gomersall

The little clinic of Balinese healer Wayan is already full of perfectly fit-looking foreigners by the time we arrive mid-morning. "God gave me special gift," she explains to us while plastering leaves all over a bod with earache.
Helpers deliver trays of vegetation to the assorted people sitting around. A healthy-looking Australian girl who hasn't enough cash for the treatments she wants is directed to an ATM around the corner.

A steady trickle of impressionable tourists,

particularly Americans, has been making the pilgrimage to the town of Ubud in central Bali ever since Wayan's friendship with writer Elizabeth Gilbert featured in the American's autobiographical book, Eat Pray Love. An endorsement from Oprah Winfrey considerably boosted the book's sales.

Now, with the imminent release in UK cinemas of the big-screen version of the story, starring Hollywood mega-celebs Julia Roberts as Gilbert and Javier Bardem as lover Felipe, the flow of clients seeking Wayan's help - and no doubt the number of other healers setting up shop hereabouts - is likely to escalate.

Wayan, and indeed the rest of the people on this idyllic Indonesian island, will surely welcome the interest. The after-effect of terrorist attacks in 2002 and 2005 severely reduced the numbers of tourists, thus bringing economic hardship for all the islanders who rely on visitors for their living.

Around 150,000 British nationals a year visit Indonesia, and the chief lure is Bali. With its livid green rice terraces and fields of crops, humid forests, massive volcanoes, serene, smiling people and more than 20,000 temples and shrines, no wonder it's called the Island of the Gods.

Most of Indonesia's population are Muslims, but 93 per cent of Bali's residents practise Balinese Hinduism, an intriguing blend of Indian Hinduism, Buddhism and animism. It is this exotic, intoxicating mix that draws the spiritually curious, including Elizabeth Gilbert.

In Eat Pray Love, after a painful divorce and love affair (and having secured a book advance), Gilbert runs off to Italy for the food (eat), India to meditate (pray) and Bali for "healing" (love). On the Indonesian island she meets the Brazilian she's now married to - and she's written another book about that.

In her search for self-knowledge and physical and spiritual healing, she latches on to a few characters she hopes will help do the job for her, Wayan included.

But seriously, why put yourself through all that navel-gazing when all you have to do on Bali is enjoy…

Eight degrees south of the equator and just 153km wide and 112km north to south, Bali is a laid-back playground with a diversity of attractions, from diving and sports galore, to arts and crafts; from sun, sea and sand, to captivating culture and souvenir shops, bars, clubs, restaurants and all the tourist trappings in the main towns.

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