Mapping Bali: The Approach
Until the modern era this is what Bali looked like to its visitors, the shoreline from the south. It is an enticing image of a fertile place that may have lured some sailors in for a closer view, and perhaps a premature death. A prudent sailor would have stayed a healthy distance away to avoid being caught in the strong currents and entangled in the dangerous reefs that ring the southern coast.
But the earliest visitors were probably not sailors at all, they were more likely to have been wandering groups of people from the Asian mainland, hopping down between these islands as early as 50,000 years ago. The first sailors arrived much later, about 3000 years ago. These were the legendary Austronesian seafarers who covered an amazingly large area of the Pacific Ocean in their explorations.
There may have been some true explorers among Bali’s first visitors, people with a curiosity for all things that lie over the horizon. But these people were rare. Most explorers who would have visited Bali were traders, commerce was the major motivation to undertake these dangerous and uncertain journeys. Eventually other interested parties tagged along with the merchants, introducing new political systems and spiritual beliefs from around the world to this isolated place.
This is how most people first see Bali today, from the window of a plane. Depending on your point of departure and the wind direction, you will either arrive from the west and traverse the western mountains or approach from the east and pass over a mangrove ringed shore, the trademark of many Indonesian islands.