From an expat’s perspective, there are two primary concerns about the current state of Bali (I’m tempted to add political corruption to this list, but it’s rooted in Jakarta, on the island of Java). One is an issue that I’ve weighed in on before: the over-development that is quickly changing the landscape. This concern continues and spreads. Recently, a tourist agency went on record as requesting that the government put an immediate moratorium on hotel development. They cited countless empty hotels as evidence to support their warning of a growing bubble destined to burst. And, reports of more and more visitors who feel overcharged for their stay in these tourist hotels, only to look out at other hotels, rather than fields of rice paddies as promised.

The second primary concern for Bali is its garbage. It’s not an obvious issue at first glance. The streets of Ubud and elsewhere that we’ve seen are generally clean enough. But look over ledges and riverbanks -and in the ocean- and you’ll often see an alarming amount of garbage. There are 2 ways that most Balinese dispose of their garbage. One is to burn it. Small piles of smoking garbage -including plastic and everything– are common sights here (know which way the wind blows when choosing your dwelling). The second common option for disposing of garbage is to collect it into plastic bags and simply toss it over that ledge or river bank. Out of sight, out of mind. To most visitors, this is pretty shocking. Up until a generation or so ago, the materials and product packaging used here came from nature: banana and palm leaves; rattan weaving; coconut shells; and fiber products. To toss those items out of sight and down the river bank was to harmlessly return them back from whence they came. But as tourists began to flood into Bali, new products and new synthetic packaging became commonplace, yet that familiar method of disposal remained, and there was no larger plan to address the conflict.

There’s a delicate dance that goes on here between problems that expats want to “fix”, versus letting the Balinese work out for themselves: rumors of the first McDonald’s coming to Ubud; young kids driving motorbikes -and without helmets; the aforementioned concerns about over-developing this island; etc. But the trash issue is one that seems to transcend borders. By now, most Balinese can see the problem, and welcome other solutions -even from outsiders. Enter Olivier Pouillon, who arrived here from America, married a Balinese woman, and in the mid-1990’s, helped develop Bali’s first environmental organization. Now he runs Bali Recycling, a social-environmental enterprise focusing on recycling and managing solid and hazardous waste in a responsible way (including making nifty “man-bags” made of reused product packaging).

A couple of other expat-lead movements have gained traction recently -with Olivier’s help and guidance. One morning last month, about 40 of us met at a designated spot, and then dispersed in all direction for 2 hours, gloves, sticks, and bags in hand. A surprising amount of garbage was collected, and piled into Olivier’s truck. It was a success, and we decided to do it again, at a different location each month. Meanwhile, 2 groups of expats from the 2 halves of our particular village have spearheaded the development of recycle bins for everyone to use. Jennifer and I have developed a routine to do what we can, which took some time to figure out because of the ants (I’ll say it again: they are amazing automatons. So organized, and so dedicated to their colony). We keep a sealed bin in the kitchen, and when it fills up, carry the contents to the first collection site, across the street from the Bintang supermarket. It feels good to see that those bins are being used by others. It’s a nice routine. I get the sense that this problem has peaked and will decrease.

Segue alert! Speaking of routines. Every now and then, Jennifer and I like to get on the motorbike and just get out of Dodge and explore. Recently this meant heading north towards the volcanoes. Its amazing how quickly you get into the countryside -within 5 minutes it’s quite different, and within 15 you’re way out there. Few things I’ve ever done rival the fun and beauty of riding the motorbike north of Ubud. All roads lead upward, but not in a linear fashion. The road twists and turns, past vast expanses of deep green, terraced rice fields, dotted with thatched huts and farmers up to their knees in mud. Suddenly the road curves, first this way, and then that, revealing new villages and temples built at the bases of gorgeous, towering banyan trees. Frequently the road curves and dips –plunges– a loooong way down to a lush river crossing,  -sometimes with villagers bathing in them- and then climbs steeply upward to resume the northern climb. We quickly become a novelty. Many people stop what they’re doing to watch us scoot by. Most smile and wave back to us, and the younger ones excitedly yell out hello! It’s so fun -and fuzzy good.

45 minutes into this journey we passed through the small village of Tangkup, with interesting things going on. We didn’t stop, but came back about 10 minutes later on the way back home. Some sort of ceremony was in the making, with the common yet beautiful sight of dozens of towering plates of fruits and other offerings, filling up the bale, draped in special golden cloth. Across the street, a hundred boisterous men clamored around to watch and bet on their favorite sport of choice: cockfighting. But up the hill a bit is where we stopped and got off of our motorbike -much to the surprise and pleasure of the few dozen kids and young adults who were there. A group of boys were busy building this years ogre character for next month’s Nyepi event (fodder for another post). Using pieces of wood and reeds, they were meticulously constructing the sub-structure for the legs. They surrounded and greeted us warmly, and flashed dazzling smiles. They were astonished at our (albeit limited) ability to speak their language. We took some photos -Jennifer’s image of the 6 girls is a treasure- and made a donation for their Nyepi fundraising drive. Regretfully, it was getting late. As we prepared to head back downhill towards home, they presented us with a big, beautiful coconut which they’d just cut down, as a warm and generous gesture of thanks. Our hearts were full as we rode that fantastic ride back home.


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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Matt Colonell
    Feb 23, 2014 @ 06:57:33

    Great post, Matt! It’s always so good to hear from you! I was just talking to Carole Murray on the phone about you two today. That photo Jen took of the girls really is a gem — it almost looks posed, but I’m sure it wasn’t. Keep enjoying your motorbike rides!


    • ozzcar2013
      Feb 23, 2014 @ 13:51:28

      Thanks Matt! I was sorry to see that my phone camera was smudged. But thankfully Jen’s wasn’t. And those 6 girls just sat like that on their own! Thanks for reading!


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