Written by Shirene Chen on 12 Mar 2008 with 0 comments. Be the first!
Having travelled from the lush and fertile volcanic region of Tabanan in Central Bali where I had stayed at the Sarinbuana Eco Lodge, I was startled by the stark contrast in the landscape of the Bukit ("hill") Peninsula in the southern most part of Bali.
The peninsula, shaped like an inverted mushroom, is an arid limestone plateau on the periphery of Bali. Any rain quickly seeps through the porous limestone ground to a very low water table. Here, the soil is stubborn, the rain scarce and the vegetation scrubby. In fact, the land was once considered such an unregenerate wasteland that criminals were banished here.
In such a desolate environment, I certainly did not expect to find an eco lodge, much less, a bird and butterfly sanctuary. But tucked away at the edge of the campus grounds of the Udayana University on 35 hectares of hilly bushland is the Udayana Eco Lodge, home to more than 50 species of birds and 60 species of butterflies.
The lodge is owned by the INI RADEF (Indonesia International Rural and Agriculture Development Foundation), an organisation that promotes the development of specific communities in Indonesia, through projects in diverse fields, such as agribusiness, animal and human health, cricket, small business, eco-tourism and environmental protection.
With only 15 rooms, the Udayana Eco Lodge has possibly the lightest guest to land area ratio among hotels in Bali and the only small hotel to be certified by Green Globe 21, an international sustainability benchmarking and certification system for the tourism industry. Many of its guests are corporate partners and supporters of INI RADEF who come here to hold small-group seminars in a tranquil, natural setting. Here is a little known haven of peace and nature just minutes away but worlds apart from the bright lights of Kuta.
Facing the rooms is a surprisingly luxuriant garden that is fully irrigated by biologically treated wastewater. Vibrant with 22 species of bougainvillea blooms, planted to attract butterflies, the garden is a vivid contrast to the austere bush forest, parched and bleached by the dry season, surrounding it.
Founding members of INI RADEF, Alan and Meryl Wilson, who also run the lodge, have been fighting to keep the lodge and the bushland from being converted into university quarters.
"This is probably the only protected jungle in this part of Bali," Meryl said, "as more and more natural vegetation is cleared for the flock of large resorts that are coming into the area." The Indonesian government has long considered the Bukit area to be of little use agriculturally and naturally and have earmarked it for mass tourist development.
This is not the only uphill battle that the Wilsons have to fight.
Taking a walk into the bush forest, I noticed signboards informing the public that disposal of rubbish, tree logging except for the gamal tree, which is being used as cattle fodder, and bird poaching are prohibited in the 35 hectares of conservation area.
I trekked downhill till I reached a dried riverbed that marks the southern border of the conservation zone. I stepped onto a riverine grave for scraps flushed by wet season currents from communities upstream. Plastic bags drape over protruding tree roots, old tires hang on low-hanging branches and a bewildering assortment of debris cling to the banks or lie heaped at the bottom.
On the far bank, just beyond the conservation boundary, a man was hacking at limestone rock. In Bali, limestone is in high demand for decorative and religious stone carvings and figurines. This explains the gaping cavities that lined both banks of the river. When the rain returns from December to March, it will wash away the loose soil, eroding the banks and the Udayana bush forest.
On the western boundary sprawls a housing estate that Alan calls "an ecological disaster." With poor waste treatment facility, most of the sewage from the neighbourhood ends up at the bottom of the hill and could eventually seep into the ground water that the lodge partially depends on for its water supply.
Hemmed by ecological challenges on all sides, the Udayana Eco Lodge and INI RADEF is in a strategic position to educate and engage the university and communities in neighbouring housing estates and villages to conserve the environment for their own benefits. Protecting the 35 hectares was the first step.
The Wilsons, through the foundation, are now lobbying the university to extend the conservation zone to the other side of the river, giving scholarships to study Environmental Science at the Udayana university, inviting students to participate in bushland conservation projects and raising awareness among youth in the nearby Jimbaran cricket community.
More significantly, they have ploughed the revenues and lessons learnt at Udayana into a network of eco lodges around Indonesia - the Bajo Komodo Eco Lodge on Flores, near the Komodo islands - the only known habitat of the Komodo dragon; the Rimba Orangutan Eco Lodge in Kalimantan, adjacent to the Tanjung Puting National Park, that protects nine primate species including the orangutan; and the Satwa Sumatra Elephant Eco Lodge at the edge of the Way Kambas National Park, that protects the endangered Sumatran tiger, rhino and elephant.
All three lodges are run according to the Green Globe principles. Just like at Udayana, Alan and Meryl use the strategic locations of these eco lodges not only to offer the tourist an alternative holiday experience, but as beacons of sustainability, bringing sustainable ethics, practices and economic development into the local area.
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Originally trained in Chemical Engineering with Biotechnology, Shirene spent the last 7 years in the nebulous world of business and IT consulting. This year, she is taking a break from the corporate world to read, write and live. She is now freelancing as a feature and copywriter.... more inside »
Shirene Chen also contributed 3 other articles in this section:
- Annual "Responsible Tourism in Action" Workshop 2008
- Sarinbuana Eco-lodge - mountain sanctuary, food forest and community partnership
- 2007: Visit Malaysia Year meets An Inconvenient Truth