Island Travels

Over the last few months, I’ve spent time on the islands near Bali. If you are a regular reader, you know I go to Lembongan a lot. I’ve been going there for over two years now and as for the changes…every visit I see something new. When I first started visiting the island, Lembongan was quiet, Bali of old. Now Lembongan is a balancing act of old and busy. There is still a very alive and active village life, rich with Hindu ceremonies and daily offerings. The seaweed farms, although not as big as before, are still a cornerstone of the island economy and business. But there is also now a bigger business booming on the island – tourism. People hear about tourism on small islands and are quick to judge the impacts of this tourism. Like anything there are good and bad impacts every time we advance into new areas and change the way land is used or how people live. And the islands of Indonesia are showing us how we need to merge tourism with village life and sustainable environmental practices.

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People have been visiting Bali, for years and now it seems the need for the typical Bali holiday has changed. The outer islands are fast becoming THE destinations to visit, with a more natural landscape, less traffic, and quieter holiday possible but still with all the holiday luxuries you want. Businesses in Bali are used to there being a high season and low season – in fact we all look at these seasons when booking holidays because of price changes. But what I’m starting to see is no real difference in the seasons on the islands. Sure it might get a little quieter, but for the most part, the islands are offering time in paradise, with all the fun and adventures you can have, as well as the relaxed Bali way …and who doesn’t want that?! Turns out, everyone wants it!

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Lembongan is a small island that has visitors coming daily, some staying to enjoy island life, some just doing island day tours. Businesses are popping up everywhere, villas are being built on the cliffs, overlooking the mangroves and beach, and warungs are making way for bars and restaurants. And with all this construction and new businesses starting, it’s important that everyone takes responsibility for the impact on the local people and their island. Employing the local people provides a new income source for the family unit and means the younger generation aren’t leaving home to work on the mainland.

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Lately I’ve been reading chatter about the day trippers visiting the island and whether the impact is beneficial to the island. The fact is, these day trippers are visiting the island and staying at beach clubs or resorts…that all employ a lot of local people.They are arriving on big boats, not unlike the dive boats that take out big groups of divers daily, and they pile into trucks for tours around the island, no different from the scores of motorbikes used by locals and expats and tourists daily. While it may seem like this is a huge change on the island, it is indicative of what visitors to Indonesia are looking for.

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I think the key to any responsible tourism is to ensure sustainable and environmental practices are also employed. When the island was quiet, using the below ground bore water to keep gardens green when the rainy season wasn’t so rainy, probably didn’t have much impact at all. But with any growth in a community comes necessary changes to maintain the balance in the environment. There are several businesses on the island now that have their own water treatment systems…meaning their waste water, rain water or salt water is treated to be used again. Now you might not want to drink it (although I do because drinking straight from the tap is such a novelty in Bali), but you can certainly shower in it, water your gardens, and wash your clothes and dishes in it. Several businesses have banned plastic, participate in clean up days and hold fundraising and charity events to raise awareness and funding for better education, health, environmental and animal welfare programs on the island. We can all visit beautiful tropical islands, but to ensure we can keep enjoying these islands, as locals and tourists, we need to encourage these sustainable practices to make sure the islands stay pristine and perfect for future generations.

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I’ve recently been to Flores, Lombok and Sumbawa. If you look up Flores in the Lonely Planet, it says it is the island tipped to be the IT island of Indonesia. And people are paying attention to this. There is construction going on all over the island and one of the main towns, Labuan Bajo, has a growing port and evident tourism push. The infrastructure on Flores is developing at a rapid rate to match the demand from visitors. Locals will tell you that there has been support with roadworks, town water, and town planning for future infrastructure needs. Flores is exactly what I want in a tropical island, with holiday luxuries of the swim-up pool bar, fresh and good coffee at the local bakery, but with untouched, green, wild jungles and stunning white sand beaches that seem to go on until the sun sets. There is no escaping how busy the port is with fishing boats, charter boats, tour boats and what I think must be pirate ships (although everyone assures me they aren’t?!). But looking around it’s obvious to see that there has been planning in the port and surrounding businesses with signs up about rubbish and local community groups and businesses working together.

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Lombok and Sumbawa are so incredibly close to one another, yet so far in other ways. Lombok has long been established as a holiday mecca, whether it’s the mainland beaches you are after or travels to the neighbouring Gili Islands. On my recent trip I met with some beautiful local people and we went across to Sumbawa by boat from Lombok. The waters were clean, the beaches were as well and the port even had different bins for different types of waste. It’s easy when holidaying in paradise to look past these things, pretend there isn’t a rubbish and environmental issue – no matter where you are in the world. But the fact remains, to ensure we all get to enjoy these islands for years to come, every one of us has to be responsible.

I’m currently involved in a project on Sumbawa where sustainable environmental and human resources practices are the number one driver behind the project. It’s exciting to see what can be achieved, from using wind power, wave power, and making sure we put more back into the community than what we take. It’s going to take more time, more effort and probably more money than this type of project would usually use to ensure these practices work, however the long term impact and results are worth it.

I’m not an environmentalist, I’m not actually even sure what that means today when really most of daily life is surrounded by replaceable objects, technology and lots of machines that makes our lives better…but all consume power and create waste. But I do know that I really like living in a tropical paradise, I like living where I used to holiday, and I like talking to people every single day who come to Bali and love it as much as I do. So I’m going to do my part in keeping it this way, reduce my plastic use and my carbon footprint, support local charities and events doing really good ‘stuff’ in our communities, take care of Bali’s wildlife (that doesn’t mean I’m going to bring home every dog I find although some days it seems like it!) and I’m going to support businesses that are creating programs to give back to the communities they are in.

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Not doing anything on Wednesday night? The Man Shed, Sanur, is hosting an event as a fundraiser for Trash Heroes. This is a group who work tirelessly to keep Bali’s beaches as beautiful as they are. Head to the Man Shed’s Facebook page for more info or look at our Facebook page for all the details. There’s great prizes and donations from great local businesses from Sanur and Lembongan, art and fashion, music and beer! And it’s for a fabulous cause – let’s keep Bali’s beaches clean and stunningly beautiful for everyone to enjoy!

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