Wrote: June 19th, 2008
Bali. What is this place? Been here for 4 days and I see two completely different worlds right in front of me. Where do I fit in? In one world you have the local people. They sit around and wait for a job or duty to do. Totally dependant on foreigners. The other world you have the “Westerners”. They come to Bali for the cheap services and tourist activities. The town I’m in is completely dependant on Ecotourism. In 1942 a Japanese submarine torpedoed the US Liberty off the Indonesian Island of Lombok. As the ship took on water they had to think quick as to where they wanted to sink the ship. They choose a place that was out of the way from major shipping channels and in a shallow enough place that the military divers could salvage whatever they needed from the ship to repair other ships. They chose a small fishing village called Tulamben off the island of Bali. After the war ended and a few years of growth on the ship, the place became abundant with fish and other marine life. The town flourished and soon people were coming from all over with their hand crafted boats to fish the waters here. It didn’t take long for the industry to completely collapse. As Bali began to emerge from the economic boom of the 1980’s they began looking at other avenues to boost their economy. After Jaques Custeau’s (however you spell it) invention of the S.C.U.B.A apparatus, diving became accessible to not just hardcore scientists and salvage divers. Soon, westerners from all over the world were picking up diving as a recreational activity. The cold waters where most westernized countries sit did not become as appealing to most recreational diving and soon people were traveling all over the world to dive reefs, and old wrecks. A 3 hour flight from Perth, Australia and you’ll find yourself in Bali, Indonesia. A 3 hour drive from the airport and you find yourself in the small, former fishing village, known as Tulamben. Right where the US Liberty sits only feet from the beach. Known as one of the best dive sites in the world.
People here, once dependant on the fish that flocked to the wreck for solitude and protection are now dependant on the people that flock here to the wreck for solitude and a vacation. All the fishermen are now dive guides or porters that carry the gear to the beach. It’s quite an odd site to see women smaller than myself carrying two tanks to the beach, one on their back and one balanced perfectly on their head. The hotel managers and restaurants depend on re-creating a westernized feel so people feel comfortable. The massage ladies sit on the steps of the hotels and wait for the divers to come back from a long day of diving only to offer a one hours massage for less than $10. The whole town relies on tips and kickbacks from the diving industry, needless to say they seem pretty well off. Also, I’m not finding it as cheap as I thought it’d be. I return to my question. Where do I fit in? Am I just a “westerner” that provides this town with the economic foundation they rely on. Or can I penetrate into their society and find out what their lives are really like. All I can see is a westernized re-creation that they built to make me feel at home. But I’m not. I’m half way around the world in a place I’ve never been. What is this place?