The largest archipelago in the world with about 18,000 islands, Indonesia stretches along the equator for more than 5,000 km. Almost 60% of Indonesia's land is forested and it has more than 500 volcanoes - 12% of which are still active! The fourth most heavily populated country in the world after China, India and the United States with close to 250 million people, comprising some 300 ethnic groups who speak an estimated 600 languages and dialects.
Bali, appropriately called 'the island of the gods' is an excellent example of the religious and cultural diversity which exists in Indonesia, and consists predominantly of Hindu communities. By contrast the island of Java, where the capital Jakarta is located, is predominantly Muslim and the island of Flores (where we headed to later in our trip) is mostly Christian.
Indonesia to me was a slightly incomprehensible mix of a remarkably beautiful tropical paradise and danger; with communal troubles and civil disturbances, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, and earthquakes.
On December 26, 2004 a magnitude 9.3 earthquake shook the subduction zone along the India and Burma plates in the Indian Ocean, sending multiple walls of water--some as high as a hundred feet--racing toward Sumatra, Indonesia at a rate of nearly 600 miles per hour. The tsunami, which struck land, took the lives of more than 225,000 people and caused still-inestimable economic damage to the region. Survivors interviewed following the disaster almost unanimously relayed the same grim tale: minutes before the tsunami hit the animals were spooked and flighty and the beach water receded dramatically. Ignorantly, many people treated the receding waters as a spectacle and looked at the situation as an opportunity to venture out and collect stranded fish and shells. They were to learn too late the awesome gravity of the situation.