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Eco Bali beyond the ‘greenwash’

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Published : 2011-06-10 19:30
Updated : 2011-06-17 09:13

Cherishing Indonesian paradise on a mid-range budget


Lush, vibrant Bali has been a destination for environmentally conscious travelers for years, but as more “eco” options spring up, it’s harder to distinguish genuine environmentalism from “greenwashers” cashing in on a trend, especially when it comes to mid-range comfort.

So, start by skipping well-trodden Kuta, which has long catered to foreigners’ taste for nightlife and fast food, and discover some of this Indonesian island’s natural and most spectacular sights, encompassing wild shores, tranquil rice terraces and active volcanoes.

Of course, buying local ensures your money benefits the local community. Set yourself up in a “surf shack” for instance, with nothing but Balinese-owned bamboo huts for accommodation and $1 meals, and you will save money and have far less environmental impact than if you stayed at one of the many towering resorts.

But barebones travel isn’t for everyone. And you don’t have to sacrifice worthy ideals just because you’d like a dash of luxury on vacation. Here are some bona fide options to ensure your impact on this captivating and endlessly cheerful isle is positive.

The Organic Farm

Perched atop a hill looking out onto the volcanic Mt. Agung, this farm stay offers a lovingly decorated Indonesian “bale,” or bamboo lodge, where going back to basics seems to reignite life’s spark.

Freed from the distractions of modern existence, replacing showers with hot springs and substituting TV for misty cloud-gazing, this idyllic place could lure the most cynical traveler toward soul searching. 
Ploughing rice fields using water buffalo on a day trip organized by The Organic Farm. 
(The Organic Farm)

The black and white checkered dcor, from the duvet of the four-poster bed to the the bamboo veranda floor, symbolizes balance, in Balinese, “poleng” ― a Hindu philosophy espoused by the wonderfully accommodating owners.

Dutch expat Marjan van Ravenzwaaij and her Indonesian husband Wayan Sukerta fell in love with the area’s lush land, created their unique homestay in May last year, and now welcome guests and day-trippers to their farm as if they were old friends.

As well as growing their own crops to use in impressive home-cooked meals, the couple rent out plots to Bali’s chefs to grow organic produce.

Days here are happily filled with meeting the neighbors, exploring the abundant land on treks or bike tours, and taking life at the relaxed pace of the accepting and jovial villagers.

Visitors, provided with a cellphone to contact staff, can have meals brought up to eat on their “own mountain” if they’re staying at The Bale lodge.

The Pondok, which offers fine views of the rice terraces, is the only other accommodation option, leaving plenty of space to roam free and take in the beauty of this special place.

For more information visit www.theorganicfarmbali.com or email marjanbali@gmail.com.

Sarinbuana Eco Lodge

Down picturesque winding paths, reminiscent of an English country garden, sit four distinctive bungalows crafted by local artisans.

With some accommodating families, others couples, each individually decorated bungalow has its own charm. Tucked away in a rainforest valley, the Rumah Manis bungalow has real “wow” factor, with a stunning vista of sparkling Kuta below.

Set 700 meters above sea level, boasting no TVs and an opportunity to “reconnect with nature,” this elegant eco-lodge sets the scene for quiet reflection, especially as it holds just 15 guests at any one time.

Owned by Australians Linda and Norman vant Hoff, Sarinbuana Eco Lodge is one of the longest running eco establishments in Bali. Having achieved acclaim including Wild Asia’s 2010 Responsible Tourism Award, they now offer insights honed over 20 years to help others replicate their brand of environmentally conscious tourism.

A host of activities are offered here, many of which are community-based, including treks through the rainforest and up Mt. Batukaru; stone carving, cooking and massage workshops; dawn bird watching or strolling in the grounds to see monkeys and koi carp; yoga and massage; and tours of the lodge’s edible garden to see permaculture in action.

There are also plenty of opportunities to contribute to the community, as the vant Hoff’s facilitate direct donations to local causes ― including school maintenance and university scholarships ― and volunteering.

For more information visit www.baliecolodge.com or email info@baliecolodge.com.

Bali Eco Stay

Not too far from Sarinbuana Eco Lodge and designed on a model by the vant Hoffs, these three beautiful bungalows set amid rice paddies have a quaint colonial feel.

Although less than a year old, the setup is exquisite, with the eco-conscious rooms maintaining an air of luxury and relaxation. The organic cotton bed covers are printed with natural dyes and the locally produced and deliciously fragrant liquid soaps are also made from natural sources.

Humming with wildlife, this place is perfect for admiring the impressively manicured rice fields which are key to the livelihoods of rural folk. Peaceful and serene, some of the best views in Bali are surely to be had from the top of these steps, which have sustained families here for as long as villagers there can remember.

Take a local guide to learn about the stunning array of produce growing in this fertile land, including coffee, cacao, vanilla and all manner of tropical fruits and herbal remedies, and then meander through a village to see Bali life away from the holiday makers.

If you’re after a spot of relaxation, this is the perfect place to lounge and take up a good book, or venture down to nature’s swimming pool for a cool dip beneath a waterfall. In an innovative project, this is also used to generate power for the lodges.

For information visit www.baliecostay.com or email info@baliecostay.com.

By Hannah Stuart-Leach  (hannahsl@heraldcorp.com)

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What is ecotourism?

According to responsibletravel.com spokeswoman Krissy Roe: “It’s a combination of environment measures; conservation and preservation of local habitats and environments; a respect for and a celebration of local cultures and customs; and efforts to involve and benefit the local community,”

The company, which organizes the respected The Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards, says the situation has changed, mostly for the better, in the 10 years since they launched, and that even an overzealous use of the eco tag is positive if it means green and ethical issues are now being discussed.

“For the average consumer it is hard to tell whether or not a business or activity is practicing responsible tourism,” said Roe, adding that this is largely because there is no universal labeling system in place, as there is with fair trade food, for instance.

But, she explained, there are key characteristics to look out for which can help you make an informed decision.

Here are five signs that your eco-stay is the real deal:

1) A written eco-policy is in place

2) Most produce is sourced within 25 km

3) There are specific conservation/charity projects

4) Most staff are locally employed

5) Owners are knowledgeable and proud of their achievements