Bali : A Lost Paradise ?

Indonesia is one of the 18 Megadiverse countries in the world harboring majority of Earth’s species.

The megadiverse countries

On our journey through southeast Asia our first stop is Indonesia. The tiny island of Bali in Indonesia is also known as the island of gods and it is a cultural paradise with its ancient Hindu temples and Bio diverse flora and fauna with volcanoes, pristine white sand beaches and the coral reefs.

The white sand beaches of the Coral Triangle

Since 1980s Bali has moved from an economy based on agriculture to one which is based on tourism. Now more than 80% of the regions revenues are generated by tourism. Since the turn of Millennium the cultural tourism of Bali is now turned into mass tourism. The Tourism board of Bali has targeted an influx of 6.5 million foreign tourists to arrive in the year 2018.

Ambitious targets like these can only be achieved when the desires of the “tourists” are satisfied, which means the island has undertaken construction of mega projects with massive villas on hill tops or on beaches having a commanding view of the ocean and private pools, chain of luxurious hotels, resorts, spas and Golf courses. These measures have not just taken a toll on the local culture and heritage but also on the fragile Ecosystem.

The resources on the small island are limited and these high end hotels or golf courses consume colossal amount of water per capita and at the same time produce enormous amount of waste which cannot be handled by the island’s present infrastructure. On our way to the Island of Lombok from Bali on a ferry, there was a large stretch of ocean with plastic floating around on the surface kilometers away from the coast.  

The high end hotels in Seminyak, Bali

One might assume despite the adverse effects of this thriving tourism industry, it has helped the inhabitants of the island alleviate poverty and improve their standard of living. In reality the rural population of Bali still lives in abject poverty. Bali has two identities, the south Bali is a tourist paradise but once we hopped onto our scooter and a two hour ride to the north changed our perspective dramatically, it is a home to struggling farmers, having to sell their fertile lands not being able to cope with the hike in the prices of essential goods partly because of the tourism. The rural migration of the youth towards the south of Bali from all over Indonesia in search of employment is widespread. We spoke to every waiter and working staff in the restaurants, tourist attractions and we discovered majority have no choice but to leave their families behind at a young age to support them as the family cannot afford their education.

A child in Bali
A kid from a fisherman village where the community is struggling because of overfished seas.

One particular story deserves attention here. A kid named Arief who is 15 years old and ended up selling drugs to the tourists on the streets of Gili. He agreed to have a conversation with us under the condition we don’t film him. His parents still live in their native village while he has moved to the small island of Gili Trawangan, also known for its drug tourism.  He is the only son to support his family and like many others they cannot afford his education although he still dreams of going to a university one day.

This conversation really broke my heart, I am myself a foreigner who moved to Germany for my education and I was given equal opportunity and access not just to education despite my foreign passport and the children on the other side of the world are living a different reality.
On December 17, 2008, the Indonesian government announced its policy to expand the scope of privatisation to include elementary and secondary education . Even before this decision was announced between the year 2001/2002 until 2007/2008 the country has seen a 38% increase in the number of private Higher education institutes and during the same period  number of public Higher education institutes went down by 17%.
Is there any hope for kids like Arief and what can we do to be a responsible traveller and not just minimize our negative impact on these societies impact but act which can create a positive impact.

These questions haunted us during our time in Indonesia and through mere serendipity we overheard a conversation in a café in Ubud where two old gentlemen were asking the same questions and were worried about, how is the youth of today going to deal with the environmental crisis, the ever growing divide between the rich and the poor. These two people were then joined by a lady and they spoke about their time as divers in Indonesia three decades ago and the horrific sights they experience today when they go diving.  The sheer amount of plastic , dead corals and dwindling fish population.

I and Lasse then joined their table, apologized first for overhearing their conversation and explained how we are also worried about the trajectory humanity has taken. This old couple were peter and marlis. Who are not just environmentalists but also run a school for kids like Arief coming from rural Bali. The ideals of the couple resonate with zero harm culture, they aim to protect these kids to avoid the misfortune what majority of kids succumb to. They also aim to teach the kids the values of zero harm towards the nature and fellow humans. If you wish to know more about the project and support the couple then please follow this link to their project called cemadik

with peter and marlis in lotus cafe Ubud.

The couple invited us to their home in the nearby village and they really wanted to spend some time with us, it was unfortunate that we had a ferry to catch on the next day to the Island of Lombok.
During our time in Indonesia we learnt how small actions can go a long way.  Not supporting the luxury high end hotels with private pools or spas and resorts but looking for accommodation in hostels or BnB provided by the locals, being aware of the local tradition, culture and respecting it. Not indulging in activities like swimming with captive dolphins or riding elephants, where wild animals are made to perform for the crowds. Conserving energy and using resources with caution and most importantly embracing the warmth of the local hospitality in its true colors and form. 

These thoughts were ringing in our mind as we left Bali for Lombok. A volcano trek of Mount Rinjani was awaiting us…….

to be contd.

If you have made it until here, I thank you for taking your precious time to read our blog, we really appreciate it. Hope to see you until next time.

Srujan Vully.