Who loves Bali? We all do!
So why are we letting this beautiful place slowly deteriorate from bad to worse?
Meanwhile in Bali, happy people are relaxing with cocktails in beautiful resorts; enjoying the beauty and riches of the country … oblivious to what is really happening to the place! Clueless about their impact on the local way of bali life!
How would you feel, when the place you call home started to look like a Luna park for tourists and not a safe haven for the future of your children? Uncertain is the word!
Travel is not only about relaxation for the tired brains of western civilisation. Travel is a key to peoples homes, the key to their culture and we must use the key correctly! We must choose to travel mindfully and travel with purpose. We need to learn, educate others and respect the places we visit!
This is a story from our visit to Bali and the things we learnt from an amazing driver, who we will call Nyoman.
Travelling to different countries is not only about visiting beautiful destinations, but also about getting to know the locals and learning about what it is really like to live there. It’s an opportunity to learn about their lives, customs and traditions. It is a time to learn how we, the tourists, affect their way of life. It is an opportunity to ask a simple question: ‘What is the footprint that we leave behind as tourists?'
Every time we embark on a new adventure to a new country, we always travel mindfully and we travel with purpose. We love meeting with the locals in order to talk and learn from them about their home country.
My gorgeous wife, Jolene, visited Bali only 4 years ago and she was stunned by just how much it had changed in such a short time. Tourism is booming in Bali and although it is good news to the local businesses and local communities, the grim truth is hidden from our sights.
On our latest family trip to Bali, we had the pleasure of meeting one of Bali’s best drivers and a very informative local tour guide. Some of the things we learnt from him surprised us!
Let’s see if you can pick up on what’s wrong with the picture in our story below.
Making a Living in Bali
We love supporting locals when we travel to destinations! So we scouted out a local Balinese tour guide to take us around to various pit stops over the duration of a few days! We have met a couple of great drivers on our holiday in Indonesia, but Nyoman was different. The way he told his stories and the way he related the information to us was one of a kind. He gave us loads of giggles, but behind his sarcasm and jokes lied some pretty harsh truths!
Usually Lily fires away with millions of questions about the destinations we go to, but this time she just listened intently and observed … we all did.
Nyoman, like all Balinese men, works hard to support his family and he has to make his US $250 per month wage stretch a long way. His two sons go to a private school in order to get a better education. Even though private schooling is expensive and eats away at his small income; the kids get much more out of that school then at the public school. “The public school is free, but all they do is sing!” he laughs, and “…so it is good to send your son there if we want him to be a singer. But I don’t want my son to be a singer, so I pay money to send the to a private school.” The importance of learning English in such a touristy country is essential now!
Making a living in Bali is one thing, but living in Bali is another. Being a driver in a nice air-conditioned, spacious company car is quite awesome. But living in a 400 square meter complex of 19 rooms and sharing it with 76 other family members is another. Talk about shared accommodation and a tight-knit communities.
As Nyoman described, they live with their family, so they can help each other out and share jobs and responsibilities. This has always been the local way of Bali life. For example; they work on a schedule and when it is their turn they have to wake up at 4:30am to make 100 Canang Sari / baskets of offerings. These offerings go out at 6 in the morning and 6 in the afternoon every day. It is a daily Balinese Hindu tradition and it is not cheap anymore!
The materials to make these traditional baskets of offerings used to be freely available from local grown vegetation; it didn't cost them much if they chose to invest time in making the offerings themselves. Due to that fact that new hotels and restaurants seam to pop up all the time; the Balinese land is being covered with concrete instead of protecting the natural resources. These days coconut leaves necessary for production of the Canang Sari need to be imported from Java!! The cost for the 100 baskets is about 70,000 IDR / $7 UDS and that is only your daily cost, now multiply that by 30!! Now, that will sting your pocket on a Balinese wage.
Canang Sari come in three classes:
Economy – for home use,
Business – with fruit and flowers and
First Class – with meat.
The offerings are made not too ask for things, but to say thanks for the blessing, to praise the gods and to pray. This tradition is an important part of Bali life. And to be honest, what a brilliant tradition it is!! We can all do with a focus on our blessings rather than on the things we ‘want' or ‘need'.
Shared Family Living in Bali
Nyoman says that living with his family is the only way to share the costs these days! Living expenses are high! Sharing the jobs in the household is a common practice and there are no excuses. Everyone has a turn in chores, whether it is helping with washing, ironing or cooking.
He said; “Tonight is my sister’s turn to cook and she is making a dish with tofu beans and other goodies.” However, his favourite dish consists of dried fried fish served with lime and chillies on top. To be honest, the name escapes me. When it is his family’s turn to cook, they will make it for sure! Meals tend to consist of simple ingredients to keep the costs low! Obviously important when there is as many mouths to feed as in Nyoman’s household.
He is one of 6 kids and number 5 in line.
So I guess there is a positive in living with your family. You do not need to cook every day! Isn’t that a treat after a busy day of driving people around!
Balinese Traditional Homes
As Nyoman described, the traditional Bali homes are shaped like a human. The front part of the house is the head where you find the home temple courtyard. The entrance is narrow and once you step through, you will see beautifully decorated private temples with plenty of home offerings!
Next is the body of the human shaped house. This is the living area for the families to enjoy, bedrooms and of course kitchen.
Towards the back of the house, or the feet, you will find earth. This is where the gardens are located, or a backyard as we call it. This ‘backyard' meant that the Balinese could live a cheaper life due to the fact that they could grow their own rice, veggies, fruit and coconut.
Nyoman also said, that whilst you can still find loads of these traditional compounds around Bali, life is quickly changing due to the fact that space and land is hard to come by and it is usually too expensive! The Balinese choosing to live in Kuta are mostly living in smaller apartment style buildings. They live in Kuta, because we all know that that is where most tourists go, so the Balinese know they will find work there! But this also means that they are having to live away from their extended family units, and it also means that they have higher living expenses as they can't grow their own food sources in their back yards!
Now add in another factor! Most of the land in Bali is being purchased by large international corporate bodies. The reality is that they are short selling the Balinese people, as the Balinese don't really know how much they really could be selling their piece of land for! Our tour driver explains to us, that because the majority of the Balinese people aren't rich, they have never had to ‘budget' before. They live from day to day! So when they gain a large sum of money from a company that plans to build a hotel on their grounds. Not only do they get short handed with the dollar amount they are paid, but they also tend to spend their funds very quickly …. leaving them deeper in poverty than before! Within a year or two, they now have no money left … and no land to grow their own food on.
The Cost for us as Tourists
There is a constant growth in the tourism industry. There is simply not enough trees in Bali any more and if it keeps going like this, all of the natural resources, like rice and other crops will no longer be grown in Bali.
How is that going to affect the locals and consumer prices?
Well, not only that, but once the prices go up, what is going to happen to the tourism industry?
Glimpse to the future and possibilities are disastrous! It will no longer be the ‘cheap' paradise island destination that we know Bali for. Would prices rise as the Balinese would need to be paid more to afford the imported Rice from somewhere else? Or would the Balinese people nose dive into poverty?
Now, is that devastation, or what!?
This may be an extreme way of thinking, but it did not come from our minds, but from the mouth of the local. He says that Bali is guaranteed to turn into a concrete resort covered island. He figures it won't happen in his lifetime, but it will happen. If you really look closer on your next visit and ask some questions, you will find the truth yourself.
Bali Now | Is the Local Way of Bali life Gone?
Nyoman said that Bali now, is not what it used to be; full of green and luscious forests. Some of the forests still remain but he reckons that within 230-250 years most of the greenery will be gone. To us it may seem like a long time, but for generations of locals to come, it spells disaster.
Nyoman doesn’t want us to stop visiting Bali! Tourism is needed in Bali, as it is one of the most important industries and a great way to make a living for the locals. His only concern is, that there are no rules and regulations to protect the natural resources that currently exist in Bali.
He says that he loves his life in Bali and no matter what, he is a happy man and welcomes each day with a smile. Even though life for Balinese is becoming expensive, you need to find a way to be happy. He even gave us some tips as to where he takes his family for holidays.
He pointed out Canggu and specifically Echo and Berawa Beach. He said that you will find the most beautiful beaches there! Well, might have to put them on the list for next time, when we visit! For those interested, you can also find the best family resort in Bali in our guide.
Some of the things that we have learned from Nyoman’s story:
- Tourism in Bali is equally important as it is devastating
- Tourism has a direct impact on loss of natural resources
- Locals are living in smaller houses, due to limited land availability and raised land prices
- Maintaining the traditions is becoming very expensive
- Life as we know it in Bali will change, it is just a matter of time!
What are we going to do about what we learn on our travels?
Are we going to stay quiet and just enjoy the cocktail on the beach?
We don’t have to become saints over-night. Let’s be honest here. We all love luxury and relaxation in beautiful places. That is why we go there in the first place. It is just about what we do when we are there. Do we just give in to cheap drinks and delicious food, whilst enjoying infinity pools, or do we learn a bit more.
To travel with purpose and to travel mindfully is important to our family; as I hope it is to yours. We all need to take care of this world and spend a little more time learning about it. As I say, it’s the things that you cannot learn at school sitting behind the desk, or from the comfy couch whilst staring into the TV screen.
You can make a difference on your next trip to Bali! Try to support the locals instead of those large fancy international brands!! Could you stay at a local run boutique hotel? Could you eat at a local food joint? How about hiring a local tour guide? Think about how you can put the money back where it belongs!
Life is out there, outside the square we live in. Enjoy your travels and enjoy the world! Travel, learn and leave only positive footprints!