A place with many so different faces, an island where you can find your spot for some time and leave at least with one life lesson.
I went to the paradise to face life's “cruelty” and then when it happened the island's face changed. Beautiful, breathtaking nature become an unlivable green hell (?). I was not comfortable and happy with this. So, I started to focusing and hunting for the still existing little pieces of this paradise…
Everything you see the Balinese people do is connected with their beliefs in the gods and goddesses. Balinese Hinduism mixes aspects of Buddhism, Hinduism and Animism. They believe that good spirits live in the mountains and evil ones in the water. They feel that souls can be found in all things. Balinese life is organized to live in harmony with the good and the bad ones. There is a striving for balance at all times – between good and evil, seen and unseen, man and the gods, community and nature. Many dances and rituals are focused towards the pursuit of balance.
The Balinese seem to have a unique ability to live in both worlds, to enjoy outside influences while maintaining the connection to spirit, rituals and the integral thread of religion that is so deeply woven into their community.
Prayers and offerings to God are an integral part of daily living for the Balinese. Women making “Canang sari(s)”, small offering baskets three times a day to gain the favor of the gods. Offerings can range from a few grains of rice on a banana leaf to cooked meat with flowers and fruit inside neatly folded palm leaf boxes depending on personal wealth. Women often carry beautifully arranged stacked pyramid offerings on their heads to the shrine or temple. There are over 10,000 ones in Bali. Each of Bali’s temples is unique and usually they either face towards the mountains, the sea or sunrise.
The Balinese are quite open and generally welcome visitors. You can enter most temples freely. Wear a “sash” around the waist and preferably a sarong. When there is a ceremony Balinese believe the gods have descended to the temple for the duration. All prayer and dance are performed for the benefit of the gods. Priests (Pedanda) are well respected and the most important person at the ceremony. Women who are menstruating must wait outside.
Art is everywhere. Inseparable from the cultural and spiritual practice of the communities, it plays an intense role in daily life and can be seen everywhere from doors, stone statues and wood sculptures, to paintings, masks, textiles, jewellery and beautifully crafted offerings to the gods.
Balinese art performances are visual, entertaining and exciting. There are numerous dance troupes on the island and many different Balinese dance dramas, most of which have evolved from sacred rituals. These dances are part of the ancient tradition and the way habitants use to express themselves and stories through bodily gestures including gestures of fingers, hands, head and eyes. Most of the dances are connected to Hindu rituals, masks and makeup are dramatic, costumes are vivid.
There is a wide choice of accommodation in Bali ranging from ultra luxury resorts, small local hotels with beautiful pools, gorgeous tropical gardens, family temples and romantic rooms, bed & breakfast accommodations with Balinese artists to humble homestays and “losmen" (guest houses) where you lodge with a local family. Bali style accommodation usually offers a mixture of Western amenities, Balinese architecture, understated open-air design and harmonious aesthetics.
Spas and spa retreats provide with the atmosphere and the facilities in which to re-balance and release our pent-up stress, as well as the holistic concept of healing and nurturing both the inner and outer self. (Balians) Healing therapies, spiritual cleansing, massage and beauty rituals are all an integral part of everyday communal life. Taking time for themselves and paying respect to their bodies with natural ingredients and methods that recharges the soul, body and spirit.
Bali caters for every taste, from street-food served out of boxes balanced on bicycles and prepared at the roadside, to gourmet cuisine found in world-class restaurants. Food stalls and tiny street-side restaurants are known as “Warung” or “Rumah Makan” (“eating house”). The locals have found many diverse ways to serve warm and fresh food, something that you do not want to miss out.
Much of the Indonesian cuisine has been influenced by the early Chinese, Indian, Arabic and Dutch traders and settlers. Balinese cuisine using a variety of spices, blended with the fresh vegetables, meat and seafood. Steamed rice is almost always on the plate as a staple.
For first-time visitors, modern Bali - especially in established tourist spots such as Seminyak, Kuta and Ubud - can be disheartening. In recent years, the fantasy of spiritual enlightenment has been replaced by the reality, where throngs of travelers and locals are constantly dodging motorbikes. Streets are busy and traffic is wild, but one either get on that scooter and snake the way through traffic, or end up struggling to walk in a pile of snakes alongside traffic.
One can say Bali is the “island of gods”. Natural tropical landscapes, dreamy white beaches, beauty of its temples, friendly and tolerant inhabitants - all of the necessary ingredients for the Garden of Eden brought together. But this idyllic description may soon be a thing of past.
I slowly began to realize many western tourists were not interested in the real Bali. There are many who follows the cycle of: scooter, instagram breakfast, scooter, instagram fancy yoga, scooter, instagram overpriced healthy food, scooter, instagram sunset... without realizing their surroundings. The marketing from these people brings even more people who come here for only this feeling.
You can see the cumulated effects of mass tourism, consumption of resources and ecological collapse. A lost Paradise, if one compares it to what it used to be.
Bali really became a tourist destination from the 1970s, after cheaper flight deals and media exposure, the island exploded in popularity. Hundreds of accommodations, restaurants, bars and shops have been built. Tourism took off, with the scenery changing forever.
Today it is one of the world’s most popular tropical holiday spots. Bali’s economy is heavily dependent on tourism and Balinese people are increasingly obsessed with easy money.
With the large numbers of travelers arriving each year and the fast development on the island, Bali is facing a long list of environmental issues. As often said: Bali is paying the price for its own success. Driving straight into the wall?
While travelers to Bali create income and employment, they also produce massive amounts of trash and use up valuable amounts of water.
An average traveler produces 5 kg of rubbish a day. The island’s garbage dumps are reportedly overflowing. This makes solid waste management a pressing issue. Some 60% of Bali’s water catchment are drying up, threatening freshwater resources and there is already lack of access to drinkable water.
Garbage paradise: plastic pollution on Bali has soared in recent years and has become a major concern for visitors and residents. “Bali’s rubbish problem is at its worst during the annual monsoon season, when strong winds push marine flotsam on to the beach and swollen rivers wash rubbish from riverbanks to the coast.” Beaches have been swamped by unsightly mounds of rubbish, much of it plastic from Java. “Indonesia is the second-largest plastic polluter in the world after China, with 200,000 tonnes of plastic flowing into its oceans via rivers and streams each year.” On top of that, Indonesia is the world’s second-biggest marine polluter after China, discarding 3.22 million metric tons of waste annually. This accounts for 10% of the world’s marine pollution.
Garbage is aesthetically disturbing, but plastic waste issue is way more serious. Plastic can kill ocean mammals, turtles and other species that consume it. It can also poison food and water resources as harmful chemicals leach out of the plastic, so it poses threats to human health as well. Plastics leach cancerous toxins. After being consumed by marine species, they enter the food chain, eventually ending up on our plate.
The list of problems goes on. There are signs of environmental stress all over the island without no long term vision. Corruption, inflation, colossal traffic jams created by unchecked car growth, lack of roads, endless hotel developments.
In Bali no house is problem-free. It is just part of the lifestyle. Everyone has problems with water, electricity, bugs, frogs, garbage, you name it. Locals are living in smaller houses, due to limited land availability and raised land prices. People have been selling their lands for getting the easy way out of poverty, thinking that tourism and trading is the only job that they can do. They sold their rice fields and now buy rice from another island. Maintaining the traditions is becoming very expensive, because they must import goods for it.
Tourism in Bali is equally important as it is devastating. The silver-lining that there are many people who can help or at least not worsen the situation and these are mainly we, the visitors. Travelling to different countries is not only about visiting a 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 affect their way of life. It is also an opportunity to ask a simple question: ‘What is the footprint that we leave behind?’”
Life as we know it will change, it is just a matter of time.
If you visit Bali and are conscious about the environmental problems this little island is facing, then you can easily do a thing or two.
How to travel responsibly?
Say no to plastic bags
Use the water refill stations
Don’t waste energy
Try to avoid unnecessary travelling
Eat local and organic food
Use natural products
Stay at an eco accommodation
Choose community and environmentally friendly activities
Buy local and/or recycled products,
With so much love for this unique island from all over the world, it comes as no surprise that there are Bali projects popping up everywhere. Some are focused on tackling the environmental problems while others are working at community level and aim at improving education possibilities, livelihoods and health care.
The main overarching principle when traveling, just as in everyday life, is respect.
"It is your holiday, it is their everyday lives" (Jost Krippendorf, The Holiday Makers, 1984)