How many resorts do you know that have a boulder-strewn river running through them and are totally surrounded by organic rice fields as far as the eye can see? How many have a romping six-year-old boy named after a legendary tree that can live for 4000 years? How many have a pet pig named Olivia? How many generate their own hydropower?
In a small hidden valley deep in the cool mountains of west Bali lies Bali Eco Stay. The only people who seem to know about this isolated retreat are those who have been told of its existence by their friends who want to ensure that a newcomer to the island experiences what Balinese village life is really about. This is the real deal, a dimension of rural Bali that visitors seldom see. The quiet surroundings of forests and terraced rice fields with no other building in sight and a view of Bali’s southwestern coastline. Three modernly equipped wooden bungalows, a raised kitchen/dining room, office, garages, sheds and an isolated massage hut all straddle the tumbling Kupe Kupe River which rushes down the jungle-clad slopes of 2200-m Mt. Batukaru, Bali’s second highest volcano dominating the whole region.
Owner/proprietor John Blundstone, from Tasmania, is an animal lover and no dog, cat or pig can pass by without him petting it. His wife Cath, from Mt. Tamborine, can be glimpsed most days through the trees hoeing, carrying plant bowls, or heard down the slope trimming and digging drainage ditches. He can almost always be seen wearing a Sea Sheppard t-shirt, a Canadian conservation society dedicated to preventing the slaughter of whales. “Because they actually do something,” he explains. The third family member is an irrepressible sprite-like tow-headed boy named Huon - or Huey, for short. Huey, a keen attendant of gamelan rehearsals and ceremonies often spends the night in the nearby desa of Kanciana with his Balinese family. Just by virtue of the fact that you have a six year old with full run of the place makes it a family friendly destination. The family lives in a small bamboo shingled bungalow next to the river on the edge of the property, basically a single room on stilts across from another bungalow where the family cooks, eats, hangs out. These small spaces represent an earth change from their spacious, well-appointed house in Australia but has brought the family closer together. It would be difficult to imagine a more idyllic setting or a better place to raise an inquisitive little boy. “We only leave this place to do the shopping and collect guests,” says John.
Sustainability: Road to a Better Future
The two days I spent at Bali Eco Stay changed the way I think about eco-tourism. Like that old Neil Young song from the ‘70s, “Get back to the country, back where it all began,” the Blundstones have uprooted themselves and adopted a neighboring land in the belief that they can get a fresh start and make a difference. From the very start the focus of the newcomers to the area was sustainability.
Living in such a remote location made it a necessity to put into practice energy saving and environmentally friendly systems: access to underground spring water, local timbers for building, hydro-electricity for energy, non-chemicals for housekeeping, proper management for waste disposal, organic fruit and vegetables production, social programs and environmental projects for helping the local community.
John and Cath have been helped immeasurably by Norm and Linda vant Hoff who run the neighboring Sarinbuana Eco Lodge. The earth-friendly design for buildings and land use efficiencies were directed by Norm while the finishing touches were guided by Linda. The vant Hoff’s even offered the services of Mini, their prized cook, the ultimate jump start for any new restaurant. In April 2010 the buildings were plotted out and by Christmas three bungalows and the restaurant were operational. So faithfully do the Blundstones adhere to eco principles that it is one of the most ecologically correct eco lodge complexes in all of Bali, their enterprise serving as blueprint for others contemplating a similar project elsewhere. The resort is worth a visit if only to see how conservation is practiced on a day-to-day basis.
All the construction was done by hand. No old-growth forest trees were utilized: only local timber cured in an on-site kiln and worked in an open-air workshop. Planks of coconut wood were laminated together with Epoxy and clamps for support beams while local camphor was used for runners. Volcanic rock for the pathways and parking spaces was cut from local quarries.
Being part of a 23-family banjar, John and Cath are conscious of the resort’s impact on the environment and have an ongoing commitment to the sustainable management of the Kupe Kupe river system, the maintenance of its water quality and its viability to villagers. They disavow fertilizers, have installed a grey water treatment system, and have created a safe haven for native birds and animals. Generating your own electricity is a hard nut to crack in achieving self-sufficiency. This is the only hotel property on Bali that generates its own hydro electricity. The Pelaton wheel down by the waterfall runs all the resort’s lights – full two thirds of their total electricity consumption with hopes of eventually attaining 100%. The resort’s attempts at breaking free of the grid are a trial and error process. After many alterations, the system was re-configured so that the water now first collects in a large pool, then flows through a single 15 cm pipe which narrows to 7 cm closer to the Pelaton wheel, making the flow of water concentrated and powerful.
They assiduously recycle organic waste, glass, metal, paper and plastic. The office is as paper free as possible. Long-life 5 Watt CF light bulbs – which produce more light with less energy - are being replaced by the latest 1 Watt LED variety which require even less energy. All refrigerators and freezers are the latest Sanyo energy efficient models. On site treatment and disposal of sewerage and grey water uses a stretch filter in order to remove large particles and fibers to prevent pipes from clogging. This technique transfers the water as soon as possible for treatment into a biologically active, aerobic soil zone environment where both macro and micro organisms can thrive.
Only showers are installed which use less water than bathtubs, toilets are all of the half flush type, and every second day bottom sheets on beds are cleaned, the top sheet moved to the bottom, then the clean sheet spread on top.
Towels are sun dried on racks unless placed in the basket in the bathroom for washing. Non-toxic pest control and house keeping products like anti-ant Borax and Neem Oil, and bamboo buildings are smoked every three months to dampen insects’ appetites.
The kitchen makes its own bread, palm sugar syrup and coconut oil for cooking. Certified environmentally friendly Bali Asli products (laundry liquid, household and body soaps, shampoo and conditioners) as well as Bali Asli jams and spreads are served in the dining room.
Grow your Own
Tabanan District is known as Lumbung Bali (Bali’s Rice Barn). True to form these transplanted Australians have reintroduced traditional organic rice farming techniques, growing their own Padi Bali on 50 are of ricefields. Like in pre-industrial Bali, turning the soil is done by hand. For harvesting, small ani-ani blades hidden in the hand are used so that the rice goddess Dewi Sri won’t be offended.
The proprietors have educated the locals on the benefits of growing their own vegetables: corn, lettuce, tomatoes, chilis, and three types of sweet potatoes, and have reintroduced native fruiting trees (mengkudu, klengkeng, rumbutan, kepundung, blimbing and duku).
A gravity fed Ram pump shoots river water up to a tank sitting at the highest point on the property from where the water flows down by the force of gravity to supply garden irrigation. Another pump pipes spring water to holding tanks, then it is gravity fed to the restaurant and bathrooms. Coming straight from a fresh mountain spring, this incredibly pure water is alive, mineralized, magnetized. Its alkalinity, when tested, was found to contain 70 parts per million dissolvable solids (By contrast, Aqua purified bottled water sold everywhere in Bali contains 159 ppm).
Community: Making it Happen in the Real World
The resort’s employment policies are relentlessly local. All of its 21 employees are from the nearby villages of Kanciana, Kumetug, Gumpinis or Sarinbuana. They support the local banjar (village council) with regular donations, and recently donated Rp 2 million to the local gamelan group to purchase new uniforms. Forming the backbone of the resort, small business opportunities have been created for community members as guides, workshop facilitators, renting out mountain bikes, and in bamboo shingle production. There is no public transport to the area so all transport is provided by the villagers.
Guests may avail themselves of carving workshops, traditional basket making, Balinese massage, learn how plant and harvest rice (seasonal), make traditional coconut oil for massage, Balinese decorations, join the weekly children’s Balinese dance and gamelan class or take part in the twice weekly English lessons. Pak Alit, who knows all the English names, will take you on a plant and herb walk.
John and Cath pay for a teacher to instruct local children in silat (martial arts) and purchased their uniforms. On my last afternoon I sat on the side of the road and watched 6 to 13-year old kids practice on a big lawn next to the river. Girls are the most ardent students. “They’re vicious, “ Cath told me.
The Blundstones together with the vant Hoff’s provide a community wide rubbish collection and recycling service. When they first arrived, the front yard of the school in Kemetug was being used as a rubbish tip. To encourage recycling of non-organic waste, they built standing steel frames for 25 rice storage sacks and then distributed them in strategic points around the surrounding villages. On the first Wednesday of every month the bins are placed along the main road and a local driver and truck picks the trash up and hauls it away to Sebun whose recyclers (pemaling) also benefit. Organic waste is used for composting and pig feed. “Everybody is onboard this program. Even the kids are getting into it now,” John said.
Bali Eco Stay Rice Water Bungalows, Desa Kanciana, Tabanan, tel. 8133-804-2326/0361-822-3732, email firstname.lastname@example.org , website http://www.baliecostay.com/ Three bungalows, 1 double with bathroom, 1 small family with bathroom (sleeps 4) and 1 large family with 2 bathrooms (sleeps 6). Tariff: US$140-US$210 (based on 2-6 people, depending on season) per bungalow per night including breakfast, 24/7 wi fi. Room service.
From Kuta/Seminyak/Airport the travel time is approximately 2 hours (Rp320,000-Rp400.000). Driving 15 minutes west out of Tabanan city on the road to Gilimanuk is a quarry on the right side followed by a bridge. Climb up the hill, round a corner, then take the road beside a blue and white striped police post before the small sign: 12 km to Sarinbuana.
A number of stunning nature walks - either guided or unguided - down secluded tracks, up into the forest, along streams, through rice paddies and traditional villages are available. Walk beyond the rice paddies to the resort’s hydro reservoir, which also serves as a swimming pool under a 12-meter high waterfall. Walking 40 minutes south to an area inaccessible by road ultimately leads to a big valley with terraced rice fields climbing up both sides. A breathtaking four-hour bike ride meanders through rice paddies, villages and ends up on the coast. Day trips, either on motorbike or by car, can also be arranged.
keywords: retreat, garden, organic, Bali, Eco, lodge, mountain, guest house, bungalow, accomodation, tree house
By Monsoon Wanita, September 2012
Day 2 – Eco Excursions
MT Batukaru – Bali Eco Stay
I’ve been broken in after my stay at Swasti Eco Resort: I am a serene, organically fed, aesthetically enchanted, ethically superior being and so my next destination is going to have to make me really swoon.
Fortunately, Bali Eco Stay, that is not going to be a problem.
For starters you are stunningly, heavenly beautiful. Nestled on a hillside in a truly pristine part of Bali. A few bungalows leisurely sprinkled along a pure, gentle, iridescent mountainside river with smooth stoned pools arranged just the way any visually discerning god would intend. The views are stupendous rice field vistas (at this present moment - complete with joyful frolicking local children) all fittingly crowned by a juicy jungle and coconut palms. And…not a whiff of a shop, villa, or swanky bistro for miles.
One mere night here is going to be my mistake…
But good looks alone are not enough to sustain this relationship. This is not a frivolous hotel review about how the maid folded the bath towels into cute animals or the concierge found my favourite brand of coffee. You want to know if this place really is an Eco stay or an Eco pay.
Perhaps I should start at the beginning…
I guessed I was venturing near Bali Eco Stay when I noticed the hessian bags hanging from metal frames intermittently along the roadside of the local village. A positive sighting for sure, though I am a little troubled to note that a lot of rubbish seems to have missed the actual bags. Later I discover that this is what happens when the bags get filled to capacity before being emptied once a month – which has just happened - with help from the owners of my destination.
When I arrive I can see the design of each bamboo and coconut bungalow makes it impossible not to engage with your beautiful natural surroundings. Mine is completely open to the jungle and stream beneath it. In fact this stream originates from a nearby - unsullied spring and supplies all the water needs here, including the drinking water, making it the perfect antidote to those nasty plastic bottles. But drinking the stuff might not be enough, perhaps you fancy swimming in a chlorine free pool, sculpted into the riverbed.
The management of all this water makes Bali Eco Stay a little bit special really. All their wastewater enters a series of wastewater gardens and the cherry, is they are able to generate Hydro Electricity, thanks to their own gorgeous waterfall.
Maybe the other bit that makes them a bit special are their plans to reintroduce the barking deer back into the area.
Of course there are all the other thingamajigs you would appreciate: organic, locally made soaps and detergents, a permaculture garden supplying the kitchen, the lack of T.Vs and A.Cs, the 3 day linen turnover, delicious fresh food.
But it is the ability to really enjoy and participate with nature that has won me over. It is so easy to meander or play in the river, swim at the waterfall, or wander through the jungle and rice fields for miles. For most tourists in Bali this involves an organized tour, a driver or a good imagination.
And so my visit is so truly lovely that I’m also a little in love with the owners Cath and John, who clearly must quite awesome to have such an absurd amount of good karma that they could land in this piece of heaven and, in a few years, manage to create a beautiful eco oasis.
It’s a cliché I know but in this case it is true - Bali Eco Stay offers the Bali everyone seeks but few are lucky to find.
Eco Buzz by Monsoon Wanita
Copyright © 2012 Eco Buzz