Bali opened to domestic tourism on July 31. Supporting sustainable tourism is a way to give back to local communities in Bali and also, it puts you in touch with the local Balinese culture.
Want to get close to the culture? Visit a traditional honey gatherer or maybe an organic coffee producer in the hills of Munduk. If ikat is your thing, visit a small village where the timeless artisan craft of weaving has been revitalised. By exploring village-led projects, you can share in and experience a range of cultural aspects of Balinese life.
Honey for Medicine
I met Gede on the slopes of Mount Agung, where he told me how he first got into honey farming. “My mother was really sick with a range of ailments, so I went on a mission to find medicinal honey,” he explained. Similar to the medicinal Manuka honey of New Zealand, the unique black bee (Apis trigona) honey of Bali has many health benefits including acting as an anti-inflammatory agent against colds and flu, plus helping with wound care, allergies, asthma, and many other ailments. I was lucky the day I went to meet Gede the honey farmer because one of the 70 honey boxes were ready to be prized open. We met up with Pak Madya who squeezed this liquid-gold honey straight from the hive into the bottle. Pure honey. He expertly bottled it right on the spot and handed it to me. Deal done! I was so happy to purchase my bottle of honey straight from the source.
There are about 70 hives located around the forest of Tanah Aron on the slopes of Mount Agung. The hives are rotated around the forest and are moved, allowing the honey to take on the flavour of the various flowering plants and fruit trees such as oranges, mango, durian and coffee, according to the season. The bees have a radius of only 1.9 km and are miniature. They are the smallest bee in the world (four mm) and can enter the tiniest flowers.
A Cup of Bali
I travelled the long winding road up to Munduk, in the centre of the island, passing through a series of small traditional villages, catching glimpses along the way of stunning mountain lakes and beautiful temples. The road took me higher and higher into the forested mountain valleys clad in groves of cloves and coffee plantations. The temperature dropped as I ascended and the mist started to roll in. I passed small family-run eco-lodges and a host of homestays with little wooden signs hanging outside traditional compounds. When I arrived at Banjar Bulakan, I stood in awe at the magnificent sweeping views over the mountains and deep valleys. Exploring Munduk includes soft trekking options to waterfalls, and for the more adventurous, you can hike Mount Lesung.
My mission was coffee. When I arrived at the village, I found out coffee here is not farmed on a plantation scale, but rather the coffee trees are dispersed through the forests amongst orange groves, allowing the coffee to take on a citrus flavour. My guide, Nyoman, who is the local trekking guide, took me on a guided walk through the small hamlet where we passed coffee trees along the trail. We eventually came to one of the many coffee roasting spots. The roasting takes place over an open fire, and we visited seven small backyard operations, some tucked away in little smoky kitchens and others out in the open under a thatched roof shelter. I chatted with the ladies as I watched them distribute the heat expertly in the large blackened wok-style pans.
We eventually ended up at Mammas kitchen where an enormous feast was waiting. I was treated to a spread of dishes including coconut-based chicken curry, green bean and coconut salad (urab sayur), steaming hot corn fritters, and a bowl of traditional Balinese soup. The rice was served in a bamboo steamer and came out piping hot. When I had my cup of organic Munduk coffee in my hands, I was so happy to be there, high up in the mountains, in a traditional village meeting the organic coffee growers and roasters and discovering more about Balinese life.
A Long-Lost Weaving Village
In a small traditional village in Pejeng Kangin, just outside of Ubud, the weavers of Bali have dusted off their looms and a long-forgotten artisan craft has returned. Due to the current pandemic situation and subsequent job losses in tourism, a group of 25 women have brought back their grandmothers’ art of weaving beautiful, vibrant fabrics for the home and to wear.
I met Putu, who told me she started to weave at the age of eight. However, all her adult life she has worked in tourism and her loom was put away for 30 years. Putu told me one of the older ladies in her village used to make handwoven silk and cotton brocade for the daughter of Suharto (President of Indonesia from 1967 to 1998). It turns out there are many master weavers in this village.
I talked with Apel Murtini, who took on the role two months ago of retraining the weavers and also teaching some of the young ones this timeless artisan craft. They are now one big happy group from teenagers to elders, including the master weaver Ibu Klemik who is 65 years old. They are very busy making table runners, sarong, shawls and wall hangings. “We sent orders last week to Singapore, Canada, and Australia,” Putu said, with a glowing and proud look. “Do you want to know how we can weave so fast?” she said with a playful grin,
“We are all going to America!” and she added, “At least, that is what we joke about, but you never know, right?”
After I visited with the weavers, I joined a local cooking class which took place at Putu’s house.
She has been running cooking classes and providing lunch and dinner for visitors and tourists for three years now, and with Bali opening the doors to domestic tourism, she is delighted to be hosting her classes again.
Balinese women have always been resourceful and creative in difficult times, and this village has really got on board with creating a new way to get by. I loved my day in this village, sitting amongst the weavers, visiting their rice fields, enjoying a village tour, and being hosted so graciously in this Balinese family compound.
There is culture to be found everywhere in Bali, and by supporting sustainable tourism, you also benefit in a cross-cultural exchange that brings you closer to experiencing the inner beauty of this amazing island.
Honey Farmer: Tour guide: Gede +62 877 6285 1922
Desa Buana Giri, Banjar Tanah Aron
Mount Agung, Karangasem, Bali
Facebook: Arya Tenganan Trekking
Munduk Coffee: Tour guide: Nyoman Mang Pris +62 857 3895 5473
Desa Munduk, Banjar Bulakan, Slau-Buleleng, Bali
Facebook: Munduk Trekking Guide
Pejeng Kangin: Togetherness Project: Wayan Ellen +62 817 477 619
The Togetherness Project is employing Balinese to help with COVID, including initiating the weaving project. Videos, photos and interviews;
Ubud Village Plate: Cooking school in a traditional village, Ubud, Bali +62 817 4773 619
Fundraiser: Helping villagers in Bali – 48 cooks employed providing 150–200 meals to the very needy, every day, with your donations. Each meal is around 90 cents.