I first came to this Island of the Gods on my honeymoon in 1988. The marriage did not last long, but my love for this Island was instant and ran deep.
Oh, the natural beauty of this island back then – the wonderful beaches, the lakes, the volcanic mountains, the majestic terraced rice paddies, combined with the slow, gentle, friendly pace of the people and their incredibly creative, cultural and spiritual practice, were all so enchanting.
I fell in love with the sounds of the gamelan, was welcomed in the temples and ceremonies, and mesmerized by the hypnotic chant of the kecak.
We stayed in the trendiest new area of Legian; the latest extension of Kuta at that time, where we sat for hours in the bootleg cassette tape cafes with headphones on, and danced into the wee hours in the clubs in Kuta. We bought paintings directly from the artists in the quaint little village of Ubud, had so much fun in the sand dunes and swimming in the pristine beach of Sanur. I went parasailing on the sacred lakes, swimming with turtles on Turtle Island, drinking in the bars where the barmen did magic tricks and cocktail shaking better than Tom Cruise.
They were non-stop fun and adventures, a holiday of a lifetime. Bali aroused wanderlust in me. I went on to travel the world extensively for many years only to return to my beloved Bali in the year 2000. And what a shock that was!
In those 12 years tourism had boomed. I found myself staying in an area I had no recollection of; Kuta had sprawled into the development of Tuban! The cassette cafes were now bootleg DVD shops, the restaurants, shops and bars rolled into one overwhelming extension.
I got a scooter to ride into more familiar territory only to find roads I had not known, and Legian had extended way beyond my memory into the alternating rice paddies and walled villas of Seminyak. I rode further into the extensive rice paddies and surf spots of Canggu for an adventure and a little peace and quiet. And then rented a car to travel the island and see how it had changed.
Next stop Sanur, but where had the sand gone? The beach was destroyed! Turtle Island had turned into a dismal, dirty tank with a few sad giant turtles and an abandoned massive concrete construction. The answer to where the sand had gone – a rich Jakartan had dredged the sand and coral for his ill-fated concrete construction of a local tourist attraction that never eventuated. I literally cried. Further travels revealed the extension of the sand erosion went all the way to Candi Dasa!
But there were still so many beautiful places and faces to be seen and new adventures to be had. I ended up settling in Ubud, which had grown to five times the size. It had a wonderful international hub of artists living harmoniously with the local Balinese.
I have based myself in Bali since then, between Ubud and Seminyak, only to end up back in
Legian; now regarded as an inner city area. And I have borne witness to the rise and fall and change of Bali and it's tourism over these past 16 years with the effects of two catastrophic bombs, travel alerts and the 2008 world financial crash.
I have seen villa walls extending, and rice paddies disappearing from Legian to
Seminyak to Canggu to Kerobokan and beyond, as the Balinese contracted their land to foreigners and built their own walls.
The relentless construction of hotels, restaurants, clubs and shopping centres has been developing at an alarming rate, and not just in the South. Eat Pray Love created an influx of tourist yogis, spiritual searchers and day-trippers in Ubud.
Bali has seen a huge tourism and consequential building boom! And with that brings new wealth to the locals, which seems to go hand in hand with greed – more cars, more bikes, more walls.
This has also caused an enormous influx of workers from neighbouring islands to assist in construction and services, and a greater divide of haves and have nots of both Balinese and foreign locals, which leads to an increase in population and violence, robberies and bag snatches.
With the rise of the middle class and wealth in Indonesia and Asian countries, along with the international appeal of Bali, the tourist numbers were increasing rapidly. We needed a bigger state of the art airport to welcome more planes, and bigger busses to transport them to bigger hotels, and more boats with more tours, and entertainment.
With limited changes to the basic infrastructure, the result is becoming catastrophic. This relentless traffic and the pollution it's causing are a big worry here. Now we ride with masks on and fight the urge of road rage. We are exhausting our tableland water supply at an alarming rate to the point of five star hotels having eggy-smelling showers. We are enduring hotter days than ever with concrete conduction, our sea and beaches are polluted with oil and plastic, seaweed and rice farming are declining, and our handicraft skills are disappearing due to the youth of today preferring the opportunities of hospitality work. Production is becoming difficult and expensive, and as the standard of living has risen, so does the cost – in so many ways.
I attempt to move gently with the changing times, adapting with tolerance as the Balinese inspire. I accept that I now live in an international city on a tropical island. The Balinese seem to be intensifying their ceremonies and cultural practice with greater intent, and they tell me they are also worried and complain about the traffic and the increased cost of living.
There is still so much natural beauty here to enjoy and protect further and on a positive note, the damage that has been done is slowly being healed with sea bunkers built on the east coast to bring back the sand, volunteer beach clean-ups, numerous eco-educational groups and charities to help those in need and educate. Maybe we can reverse some of the damage we have done or at least become more sustainable now, for the future.
But now this gentle tolerance and slow growth in ecological awareness is not enough. We have to wake up and fight for our rights. We need to inspire international support for this biggest fight to date in Bali and for the world.
It is time for the Barong to dance his greatest ever battle of good over evil.
Yes, I am talking about the proposed site of a man-made island in our Benoa harbour.
Yet again, corrupt self-serving money from Jakarta is planning to build a huge tourist development, which we do not need, by dumping a load of sand on our mangroves that they will take from the neighbouring islands of Lombok.
This will ecologically destroy so much. It will lead to a catastrophic erosion of the beaches and islands in a domino effect, which will then go on to affect the world at large as it is scientifically concluded that these natural islands of Indonesia over the Equator keep the balance of the flow of the world's seas.
On a Balinese spiritual note this will upset the balance of protection of the temples they have strategically built and their core beliefs which in turn will lead to tragedy for the world, as they believe this is the island of the Gods and the morning of the world; the belly button of the world resides beneath mount Agung and the Mother Temple.
Nine Balinese spiritual leaders have declared that Benoa is of a significant cultural and spiritual importance and should be protected. And yet the governor of Bali says his hands are tied, and approval for the sight was already given by the past president!
I am so proud of the local Balinese petitions and protests of the Tolak Reklamasi of Benoa.
We need to stand with them, create worldwide awareness of this situation. I never wish to see a repeat devastation that was caused by the Turtle Island construction.