A Rose With Thorns: The Blessing and Curse That is "Tourism"
Bali has left little to wonder why people have nicknamed “The Island of the Gods”. From beautiful rice terraces, to beach lines lined with cliffs, the area is simply stunning. This goes without mentioning the most gregarious and open culture I have ever come across. Tourist flock to the islands by the planeload to explore the island and its treasures. The islands economy quite literally depends on tourism in order to sustain and thrive. While the tourists are flush with the required cash, there is a dark underbelly to the tourism trap that often leaves neighborhoods, villages, and even entire cities saturated with money, bars, malls, and a fading identity.
We have to this point visited three locations; Ubud, Kuta, and Pemuteran. While Ubud still functions as the cultural capital of the island, with bustling banjars and thriving temples, its mystique has somewhat eroded. Tourists brought a demand for western comforts. Designer shopping, western foods, and cheap souvenir stands line once robust and sacred city streets. The identity of Ubud curved and shifted to meet the demands of the tourists. Italian restaurants and pizza parlours that belong in Rome have somehow taken over traditional Balinese cuisine. A city once with bursting with culture and life has been broken to its knees at the feet of the big-pocketed tourist.
A similar tragedy has happened at the Southern tip of Bali. Once upon a time, Kuta was a sleepy coastal village. However, it was quickly discovered by tourists as an excellent place for surfing. While originally the surfer culture of laid back attitudes and tree-hugging let Kuta continue exist as it had for so long, things quickly took a turn in another direction. Nothing stood out to me in Kuta more than the mall. Consumerism at its finest, profit at its most streamlined, globalization at its worst; a mall. From designer brand boutiques to escalators, malls stick out from Balinese culture like a fly in a milk glass.
Where the first two stories are ones of remorse, that does not need to be the case of the third. Pemuteran has been a long time fishing village on the Northwestern edge of Bali. So quaint that it did not even have electricity until 1992. Thanks to a recent venture with biorocks, Pemuteran is becoming a hot place for snorkel lovers and travel junkies to visit. Up to this point, the village has done an incredible job of scaling their growth to make sure the town can handle the increase of tourism. The villagers are more than aware of the stories from Kuta, Amed and many other beach towns. While to this point Pemuteran has been able to hold on to its identity as a sleepy fishing getaway, the future can either beautiful a beautiful Balinese one, or just another city that has been lost to Globalization.