I was always skeptical of Bali. As an Australian, I had no interest in using up my vacation days to just be surrounded by more Australians, even if it was on a tropical island. Upon first arriving in Canggu, I knew I was already mistaken. I was amazed – if not a little annoyed – at just how much I fell in love with this place; from each incredible sunset to the amazing food to the amazing community at Dojo and beyond. But it wasn’t until going to West Bali with Dojo and Five Pillar Experiences that I truly realised what Bali had to offer.
The thing is: it is undeniable that tourism has transformed places like Canggu and Kuta into the places they are today. The cafes are as picture perfect as their LA or Byron Bay influences, the avocados could buy a house in Sydney. And I’ve always felt conflicted. On one hand, you can lament that a whole place has been overtaken by tourists, each new development tailored to the whims of oblivious tourists just here for a boozy weekend.
On the other hand, you recognise the opportunity that tourism has brought to the island, inviting commerce, infrastructure and globalisation. It’s the sort of wealth you’d want to spread to the rest of the island – and namely to the agricultural paradise of West Bali. The very nature of our trip and the mission of Five Pillar Foundation who organised it is to publicise the side of Bali so often overlooked by tourists who flood to the main cities.
But what’s to stop West Bali from becoming just like every other city tourists have taken over?
In short, the people. At every stop along our journey, we met the most generous and altruistic locals, committed to their community. It is clear from their passion for their villages and the work they do that they will be the deciding factor in how tourism influences the region. They welcomed us with such generosity and warmth and yet the underlying knowledge that we represented the gentrification of their cities, the pollution of their seas and the reasons their initiatives had to exist. But they were open to our input, grateful for our visit that could help them spread awareness and foster more robust communities outside of Bali’s main cities.
Places like the Mang Odon Collective Fish Farm or the Cho Jaen Sen cocoa farm were using the rich natural environment to encourage its continued preservation – and create delicious food for us to enjoy.
The Bali Reptile Rescue and Kurma Asih Turtle Conservation (http://kurma-asih.weebly.com/) showed their commitment to caring for the Bali wildlife. The love they showed was clear, from the way they fearlessly and lovingly handled the yellow python that had broken its back; to the passion for which the local fisherman talked about starting his turtle conservation project after growing up in a family of turtle hunters.
Sun Sang Eco Village is creating a self-sufficient place for tourists to stay in gorgeous bamboo huts, facilitate community education on green innovation, while also giving local communities the opportunity to learn and build up this initiative.
Sukadame Farm is rapidly expanding as a community hub to learn about the benefits of agriculture in Bali and provide local communities a place to be proud of outside of the main cities.
And of course Five Pillar Foundation – our hosts for the weekend and one of Dojo’s cogiving partners – who not only provide for all these community initiatives, but themselves offer services for the local youth to learn English, develop their own social enterprises and exchange cultures with visitors like us. A special shout out to our guide, Guswin, who masterfully brought us around and shared his culture and language with us for the weekend.
At each stop, it was clear that this was not just another weekend exploring the island of Bali but about truly understanding the culture and challenges of the rural communities. We still enjoyed everything you might come to expect of Bali – delicious food, poolside Bintangs at our glamping spot and gorgeous sunsets. But with the knowledge that this wasn’t just about feeding us hungry tourists, but in turn, helping their communities and ecosystems, it was overly rewarding.
As digital nomads here in Bali, we can forget how lucky we are.
Sure, many of us come because the price of an avo on toast is ten times less here than on the home shores of Sydney. But there is a certain level of success and/or privilege that has enabled us to be here; otherwise we’d be stuck in our parent’s basement. It can be all too easy to get carried away with not only the perks of living here – from spontaneous scooter adventures to the beach and the beers to the opportunity to grow your business while ‘roughing it’ in cheaper rent.
For me, the West Bali trip was a timely reminder of not only why I came to Bali but what my time here could mean beyond that. Sure, I’m clear on all the perks – it’s cheap enough while I figure out my life, the networking is incredible, these island vibes are helping me work better than the cubicle.
But now I challenge you – and myself – to think beyond that. What could you do for Bali?
How will you give back to the community? Are there local families at your villa or around your neighbourhood you can start a conversation with and get to understand their experience? Find local community events or organisations that can help you get to know Bali more than just a holiday destination. Get involved with Five Pillar or the other cogiving initiatives at Dojo.
How will you spread the world? Why not take a trip to West Bali yourself with Five Pillar Experiences? Or maybe just share this article?
Now, this isn’t just me chasing the likes and follows. This is me trying to change the way we think of Bali travel. It isn’t just about these tourist hubs. This is about spreading the wealth we’re lucky to have to support these local communities and help them love and protect their beautiful island, Bali.