Shortly after I had dipped my toes onto Jungutbatu Beach on one of Bali’s lesser know islands, Nusa Lembongan, did I realize that I had accidentally discovered a real treasure. A place where the hands of time seem to has stopped.  After traveling for three weeks all over the main island, I found a slice of heaven. This was ‘Bali’ fifty years ago.

Several small pastel-colored wooden cottages with red tile roofs lined the waterfront, speed boats bobbed up and down onshore and a horizontal one-lane dirt road weaves around the tiny island. 

I had the privilege of staying with one of the island’s oldest families. Joseph Lembongan’s family are generational islanders who now host their guests at Mega Cottages. Six individual cottages built from native trees, terracotta tile roofs, and private porches carefully posed around the property, offering the perfect room with a view, exclusive privacy, luxurious comfort, and a seaside seat to play in the warm water.

Relishing the sun’s warmth on my skin, a gentle sea breeze in my hair and a mango smoothie at my lips, my mind kept wondering “how is it possible that this tiny island, so close to the mainland has escaped the tourist radar?” Though I was grateful, it still seemed a mystery to me.

I noticed Joesph sitting on the rock wall, staring out to sea, deep in thought. Was he thinking about the same thing? I decided to find out, and his reply was, “Let me tell you our story.”

Our island Nusa Lembongan’s and our sister island, Nusa Ceningan, have been for centuries, seaweed farmers. Our protected bays offer the perfect conditions for cultivating, growing, and harvesting of seaweed. This is who we are and how we form a balance of life and spirit.

The work is very hard with long days. You harvest with the moons and tides coordinating with each passing season. Harvesting was only done at night, which meant no sleep for days. Where our cottages sit now was our drying field. Large full leaves of seaweed were hung from lines to dry in the sun. It can take up to two weeks to do, and that was when we could sleep. Then we loaded the cured seaweed into our baskets, each weighing up to 25 lbs, and our women carried them to market on their heads. This was our life, it was hard work, but we were happy.

But it all ended a few years ago. The tourist boats from the big island starting coming to our beaches, destroying our seaweed beds. Now tourism is changing our island again with the construction of restaurants, cottages, and inns. There were only four cars on the island not long ago, but now more big vans and cars are here moving the tourists around. There are many problems for us to solve. We have an easier life now, but we are struggling to try to find our balance again.

Joseph turns his eyes away from the ocean, and with a reassuring smile, he says, “We will work this out and find balance again for our families and our island.”

I now had my answer but with mixed emotions. How do we balance the past with the present?


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