The eco lessons I learnt in Bali
The first time I went to Bali, I had my heart set on letting my inner hippie come out to play in the Indonesian region’s cultural centre, Ubud, and making the most of my newfound diving skills in search of the giant mola molas and manta rays.
Reality was different, to a degree, as my travelling partner was adamant we needed to stay amongst the action in the Aussie mecca of Kuta and on our very first dive, my new burly, 6-foot-5 friend and allocated dive partner from Dubai, who it turned out had lied about having his advanced diving licence, had a panic attack on a drift dive and tried to drag me to the surface without making any stops along the way.
That day, I didn’t see the majestic sea creatures I was chasing, but that night I was pleasantly surprised at the fun I had in Kuta. The margaritas flowed at the bizarrely localised Mexican restaurant we dined at, and we played pool with a fun bunch of locals before our new neighbours – four young Brazilian musicians who played nothing but Seu Jorge, inclusive of his David Bowie covers in Portuguese (#winning) – serenaded me to sleep from the balcony of the adjoining room.
The following day, we set out on our bikes to the cultural centre of Ubud. We got far enough away for the hustle and bustle of Kuta before we got a flat tyre. The repair kit was empty and there was no help in sight. Fortunately, we didn’t have to walk far before we noticed a very modest shack peering out of some tall shrubbery. Inside was covered and partly constructed by posters dating back to the '70s with pictures of protruding objects promoting Wakefield Lube (a laugh, especially given that’s my surname) and a friendly mechanic who fixed our tyre for a steal of a price.
When the mechanic was wheeling his magic, we asked if he had any bottled water for sale. While he didn’t have any available, a very interesting story ensued. He told us many Balinese struggled to find access to clean water (bottled water isn’t an affordable option for many here) and that the actual bottles of water and other drinks largely contributed to the overfilled rubbish tips on the island. This was a huge problem that I am ashamed to admit I hadn’t given much thought before I set off to Bali. Some greenie-wannabe I was, a first-world product with the assumption adequate recycling facilities would follow me when I couldn’t drink tap water abroad.
While the Bali tourism industry generates income and employment for many locals, it also has a big impact on the environment and on the Balinese people. The writers of greenerbali.com reveal that the average traveller produces twice as much rubbish (five kilograms, in fact) and uses three times as much water as the average local.
According to the site, ways to reduce your impact include not only saying no to plastic bags and using water refill stations available at stores and restaurants, but also to reduce waste by eating local and organic food, refraining from overusing electricity and water in your room, opting for environmentally and community friendly activities, buying local and recycled products, using natural products and if you’re not staying at one of the many eco-friendly accommodation options, providing tips on how your hotel can be more environmentally aware.
It has been 11 years since Seu Jorge’s Bowie covers came out for the Bill Murray film, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and nearly as long has passed since that very first trip to Bali. The lessons I learnt on that particular trip were plentiful. Not only did I learn to check diving credentials, to make the most of where you wind up and be smart even when being spontaneous (in this instance, checking the tyre repair kit and an extra bottle of water would have gone a long way); I also learnt that to be mindful of the people and environment where you’re travelling, chatting with locals on the ground goes a long way to finding out how you can make just that bit extra of a difference.
By the way, I did finally make it to Ubud on that trip – I weaved my way through the local markets, bought recycled jewellery, explored the fantastic art studios and galleries, ate delicious locally sourced food and even chased a mysterious white rabbit through rice paddies - a la Alice in Wonderland. While I didn’t shrink then, I hope my travelling footprint did!
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