Upon the Green Fields of Bali
WORDS AND IMAGES: MARIE BARBIERI
Welcome to Bali’s holistic hinterland, home to the renowned BaliSpirit Festival, community outreach projects and responsible eco stays.
Bali is indeed a pleasure paradise. But it also nurtures ethical health and wellbeing experiences for the free-spirited traveller. This year was the 10th anniversary of the BaliSpirit Festival, a multicultural lifestyle event that attracts the socially, culturally and environmentally aware crowd. Sharing eight days in May 2017, around 10,000 festival-goers from 50 nations celebrated not just yoga, music and dance, but the conscious coming together as a global community. The annual event will next take place 1-8 April 2018.
Over the past decade, the BaliSpirit Festival has raised over US$100,000 for community outreach programs. I was fortunate enough to meet the inspirational mind behind one of them at the festival’s Dharma Fair.
Ben Fijal, a 14 year-old student of Bali’s Green School, set up an ingenious social initiative: TRI Handkerchiefs. Ben’s aims are to help protect endangered forests and prevent wildlife extinction—particularly the orang-utans of Borneo.
Inspired by his father carrying a handkerchief in his pocket for 21 years (a souvenir with a Korean national park map printed on it), Ben now creates handkerchiefs with maps of Balinese tourist spots to reduce trees being cut down for disposable tissues. Profits generated (mainly through sponsors featuring on the handkerchiefs’ maps) go to grassroots organisations that protect and conserve Bornean and Sumatran forests. And the best part? The handkerchiefs are up-cycled from bed sheets donated by hotels!
The BaliSpirit Festival is also a partner of the Environmental Bamboo Foundation, with which it runs the Bali ReGreen project. This initiative has supported the planting of thousands of bamboo seedlings on unproductive land in impoverished areas, such as Songan village, located at Mount Batur’s caldera. It is hoped that the planted bamboo forest will provide income for the villagers, as bamboo offers an irrigation system from water catchment, provides shade canopy, and is a fast-growing renewable source of timber.
Also at the festival were Bye Bye Plastic Bags, an entirely children-led social initiative campaigning for the rejection of plastic bags in Bali. From its volunteer group, Melati and Isabel Wijsen (two students from Bali’s Green School) campaigned tirelessly to convince the governor of Bali to pledge to make the island plastic bag-free by 2018.
The Trash Hero stand invited volunteers to sign up for their island-wide weekly beach clean-ups. Local companies assist by donating food, drinks, rubbish bags and transport. And word is spreading from mountain to shore about keeping plastic out of the oceans. Asian surf champion, Raditya Rondi, is the Keep Bali Clean ambassador. On April 9th 2017, a charity surf competition was held at Canggu to spread awareness to tourists. To date, the Keep Bali Clean campaign has handed out over 30,000 reusable bags to its residents.
Bali accommodation operators are also embracing ethical and sustainable tourism.
Sandat Glamping Tents is an ecotourism operator in northeast Ubud. Their mission is to eschew mass tourism and overdevelopment, to support conservation practices. As a member of Secret Retreats, their sustainability pledge includes: employing locally, using renewable energies, conserving resources, composting waste and recycling.
The Oberoi in Seminyak runs a turtle conservation program. Between May and October, endangered Olive Ridley Sea Turtles use the hotel’s cordoned-off beachfront to lay eggs, which are relocated to a protected area until they hatch. The baby turtles are then cared for at The Oberoi’s sanctuary in saltwater tanks until ready to be released. Since 2013, over 2,000 turtles have been returned to the open sea, with the next batch taking place around 23rd May 2017.
The Samaya (with properties in Ubud and Seminyak) is Green Globe-certified.
Guests are invited to pick their own vegetables, herbs and spices from their Ayung Valley garden, for the chef to cook for them. The Samaya also works directly with orphanages, supplying food, clothing, linen, school materials and property maintenance.
And semi remote Umajati Retreat – near the heronry of Putulu Gunung – comprises two sustainably constructed eco-tourism cottages. Rooms are devoid of TVs and phones (you strike a bamboo kulkul for attention). Towels are changed every three days and itemised bins facilitate recycling. Organic waste is composted and used onsite, with grey water feeding the gardens.
Adjoining Umajati Retreat’s flower-festooned gardens is the Bebali Dye Garden. Drawn from the Indonesian archipelago, a horticultural world of living, breathing natural dye plants grow here.
The not-for-profit Bebali Foundation continues the Indonesian tradition of batik dyeing from the palette of thriving trees, plants and bushes. Its Threads of Life, an Indonesian textile arts centre, is a co-op of hundreds of weavers across 80 communities, who handcraft naturally-dyed textiles and baskets using 250 dye plant species. The program conserves forests (dyes are sustainably harvested), promotes culture, and provides fair trade livelihoods for remote village weavers.
Visitors can join batik dye classes here to learn about which weaving fibres come from which barks, and discover mordant plants that bind dyes to fabrics.
Indeed, Bali is no longer just a party island. Befriend the locals and embrace conscious lifestyle choices, and you too can join the rising tide of sustainability and ecotourism in the Island of the Gods.
Marie is an award-winning freelance writer and photographer who left her native UK ten years ago for the red sands of Australia. Happy as a wombat in dust, she has a passion for wildlife and conservation, and enjoys hiking and cycling where she lives in Adelaide. Marie was a winner at the 2016 ASTW Travel Journalism Awards for Excellence (and was a finalist at their 2014 awards), as well as a finalist at the SA Media Awards (2016, 2014 and 2013). Follow Marie’s journeys at: www.mariebarbieri.weebly.com
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