There is a lot of positive energy in Bali. The people were beyond well mannered and welcoming of strangers. Spending two days with two drivers and having conversations with several locals does not make me an expert. But after five days of observing practices, some observations bubble to the top.
Blessings play a critical part for many Balinese. Every morning shops, houses, pools, and even modes of transportation are blessed for luck. Each one contained something sweet, some meat, incense, flowers, sometimes other types of food and spices.
“I bless my car every morning for the good luck and karma and no incidents and make money,” said our first driver, whose blessing was on his dashboard.” What a great way to start the day. “I hope everything turns out ok today” versus “Oh man, I’m really not looking forward to ….(fill in the dread of your choice).”
Bali is 90% Hindu. The rest are Christian, Muslim, and Traditional Beliefs. Everyone gets along: “Everyone friendly, no fighting.” As our driver put it.
Menstruating women are not welcome in many places. They can’t go in temples, waterfalls, shrines, or several other public places. Why? I read a great article here by Jodie Danaan- Oakwillow (click here). We tend to perceive the lack of welcoming in such a welcoming country as an affront. It isn’t always. Sometimes it’s different cultural practice than our own, and that doesn’t mean it is offensive, just different.
Commercialism and the Tourism Beast
Bali was colonized by the Dutch in the early 1600s. Although the Dutch were a little more hands off than the British, there were several conflicts culminating in a sustained fighting and diplomatic conflict in the early 1900s. This resulted in Indonesian Independence in 1940. There is a long history of trade and cultural exchange with Bali that predates the Dutch. Certainly since, Bali has seen a massive increase in tourism since the 1940s. This cannot be more clear, then when walking the streets of Ubud. Store fronts are modern selling the latest colognes, perfumes, jewelry, and clothing. I saw two Starbucks coffee houses within two blocks of each other. Every possible need, thing, or souvenir one could want is for sale.
With its rich history of Karma, healing, and spiritual rejuvenation, the Balinese are cashing in on wayward travelers. Spas, massages, milk baths, prayer treatments can all be found for a low price. These are four to five of these “spas” per block, in between places to shop for clothes or things.
Iconic and beautiful locations such as waterfalls, rice terraces, temples, and popular beaches all charge entrance fees. Also dialed into the technological craze, many shops offer WiFi.
Night Markets are a cornerstone in Asia. Ubud’s night market was pushed out by tourist pressures. “Ubud used to have a night market, but too many tourist come and drink and be loud. The night market take business from local restaurants. They close the night market many years ago,” said our 71 year old driver. Another driver stated he left his village to find work. There is no work in the villages anymore. “There are many many tourists in Bali now paying good money. Many farms close and change to house and hotels. I think maybe 10 more years no more farms.”
In another way local markets have adapted to the tourist trades. Market times have moved back to earlier and earlier in the morning. “Markets now start at three in the morning and are mostly done by eight,” our driver told us. When the fruits and vegetables are packed out, they are replaced by souvenir curious, trinket salespeople, and clothing hawkers. The same street at 6AM looks radically different by 10AM.
|Early morning market with local farmers selling what they grew.|
|Another view, with the 7AM morning hustle.|
|The same area, just a few hours later. All the local produce and farmed goods are gone, and now a tourist souvenirs shops open for business until about 2AM, when the local farms come back.|
According to our driver, garbage is picked up regularly and then burned in a central location. Many houses burned their own garbage and cuttings in the gutters in front of their house. Water would come down then wash away what was left.
With such a dense population and a cater-to-tourist mentality, there is a lot of single use plastic cups, wrappers, bags, and containers that amass in corners and streams that flow through Ubud. I tried to reach out to various organizations about environmental issues, plastic, and waste; however it is either not on their radar, or other things are more important.
To be clear, common areas are cleaned regularly. People are always sweeping and cleaning. It is just that the garbage is either burnt or dumped into a waterway.
The rise in population and tourism is creating a water crisis for Bali. One look at the waterfalls that never run dry, and the streams, the lush hill sides and one would never guess that something scary and permanent is happening with Bali’s water system.
A combination of tourism, deforestation, removal of farms for housing and hotels is draining freshwater sources. Tourist use more water than Balinese. They also require more water for their amenities: golf course, more frequent showers, pools, daily cleaning (sheets, towels, and clothes), and other recreational activities. Farms are closing down. “Many villages close down their farms. We also have to pay for water now. It is so expensive,” said our driver.
As more water is drawn from the island’s aquifer, the oceans pushes in, resulting in the increased salinization of the aquifer. This can’t be undone. The only hope is to keep the fresh water higher than the levels of salted water. The IDEP foundation is working towards this end with rainwater capture wells to put new freshwater into the aquifer. It is early and difficult to measure their success.
For now the tourism beast is hungry and is feeding on Balinese resources. The Balinese are happy to feed it as the money is coming in. Our driver stated university costs 13 million rupees for one year. He did a tour for a group of French tourists for two weeks, and the group paid 22 million rupees. The driver kept 30% and paid his boss (the owner of the car 70%). His share paid half a year tuition for his oldest son.