Bali's True Raw Beauty, Before and Now
While the readily ever-smiling Balinese and their unique and undisturbed Hindu culture and tradition attract such a huge number of visitors, it actually is the island’s outdoor attractions that drove the figure to quadruple in a matter of several years. Today’s outdoor attractions vary from water sports to the extreme ones.
Over the past four decades or so, Bali has seen tremendous development in its travel industry. Hotels, villas, galleries, shopping centers, and various tourist attractions have enjoyed a composed growth within a relatively short period. While the readily ever-smiling Balinese and their unique and undisturbed Hindu culture and tradition remain the chief magnet attracting such a huge number of visitors every year, it is actually the island’s outdoor attractions that drove the figure to quadruple in a matter of several years.
The island’s adventure industry developed from the very dawn of the hippies‚ surfing culture of the 1960s to today’s diverse sorts of appeals ranging from diving, rafting, biking, trekking & hiking, water sports, and four wheel drive adventure to an extreme assortment such as bungy jumping or sling shot and paragliding, or some a lot more sober like Canyon tubing or enduro dirt motor biking. Let’s have a random look of them, and perhaps after this you would start booking an attraction.
The island’s surfing industry was first introduced by Californian surfer photographer Robert Koke in the 1930s. He also established Kuta’s first resort, thus named Kuta Beach Hotel (today’s Ina Kuta Beach Hotel) in 1936. But the Pacific War brought by the Japanese army soon caused the industry to disappear. But then the worldwide hippy culture of the early 1960s soon changed the island’s beach fate from a sleepy fishing village into a global phenomenon.
Although Australians were the first significant amount of players in the Bali epic, it was Mike Boyum, a Hawaiian millionaire, renegade, surfer and drug dealer who was considered the true ‘hero’ of the 1960’s ‘blockbuster’. The son of an army commander in the Vietnam War, Boyum didn’t follow in his father footsteps, rather ‘hippying’ across Bali and Java’s surfing beaches. He changed the quiet Kuta into an overnight sensation when he brought in several Thai nude models, photographing them along the Kuta beach and sending the photos to international publications across Europe and the USA. Kuta changed its fate forever from that moment.
Albert Falzon’s “Morning of the Earth”, a commercial and successful surf movie in the early 1970s, also hugely helped place Bali on the world’s surfing map. Entitled with the famous citation of Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru when he visited the island in the 1950s, Morning of the Earth featured the island’s pristine beaches with Uluwatu’s powerful waves being the magnetic Mecca occupying the mind of every surfer watching the footage, with the American big wave rider Rusty Miller being the action hero inside the many hollow waves.
Surfing is now one of the island’s largest industries, with the world’s top brands including Quiksilver, Billabong, Hurley, Rusty, Surfer Girl, and Rip Curl to mention a few, driving multi-millions of dollars into the island economy. Although very packed, Bali is still a favorite surfing destination, which offers spectacular waves on each side of the island all year around.
Bali’s rivers have been home to various sports ranging from kayaking, fishing, rafting, canoeing, and canyon tubing, beyond their original occupation as the source of water for showering and irrigating the endless green foliage of the rice paddy fields.
Among all the sports, however, it is the river rafting that really developed into one among the must-do activities. The wide variety of choices from family level to Class 3 to 4 professional, easy access and the amazing scenery ranging from vertical gorges, rice fields, rain forests and waterfalls along the way, plus the professional yet ever smiling Balinese guides, are among the reasons that made the industry boom.
Today, it is not surprising to learn a group of over 100 raft boats raced one against another in a fun, exciting environment to promote a team building spirit. Rafting is one among the best to boost, for example, a company’s bigger goals among workers in a really fun and rewarding experience.
Compared to other provinces in Indonesia, Bali’s roads are more challenging. In more remote areas, the roads lack proper road facilities and traffic management. Today’s travelers who wish to explore the hidden parts of the island need extra work to track the right path, as there is no way possible except to follow single trails designed for walking or animal paths.
But this was the reason that drove the mountain biking and trekking industry to blossom. Pedaling along narrow tracks between rice fields, or amidst rainforests from one mountain down to another, or from traditional, old styled villages down to town, everything is as challenging as discovering the old Balinese way of life, light-years away from the modern, heavily trafficked areas of Kuta, Nusa Dua, Sanur or Ubud.
What else but on a push bike you could enjoy the island’s beauty untouched by modernity. Nevertheless, cycling is now getting back its past glory. Amidst the proliferation of Japanese light motorbikes, there are more and more people traveling by bike.
The government is supportive though. For example in the civic center section of Renon in Denpasar, a car free day program has been applied once a week since three years ago. Thus every Sunday, this part of town is closed to any vehicles, including motorbike or even electric bikes, allowing only bicycles to wander around.
Last month the South Kuta Beach Business Association launched a free bike program for its long staying guests. Guests who stay a minimum of six-nights would benefit from various free programs, including the unlimited use of pushbikes in each of the 20 hotels. “The program aims at promoting a clean, green and lean lifestyle among our guests,” said Robert Kelsall, chairman of the association, who is the general manager of the Bali Dynasty Resort.
Bungee jumping was one of the most sought-after many travelers to Bali as well as local residents were eager to experiment with it, testing out their guts and (wo)manhood. But perhaps the current generation of travelers is not as brave and courageous as those of the 1990s, who were crazy enough to show off their bravery and guts by leaping from a 45 meter high tower, attached to nothing but a rubber cord. Who knows!
There was no such rush of excitement and curiosity as when Bali’s first bungy jumping took their operation. Within two years or so, there were not less than seven bungee operators across the island. A Kuta-based bungee operator even combined a jump facility with other adrenaline-pumping sports such as wall climbing, in what was called an Adrenaline Park.
The adrenaline rush seemed to run aground too soon, as fast as the excitement and exhilaration of the jump itself, which normally took less than 30 seconds. Although some bungee operators tried to develop and modify various tricks, such as tandem jump, a leap on a bike, or motocross, or board ride, the market was not that crazy yet to accept such an extreme activity.
A more adrenalin friendly and safer idea soon followed. Instead of jumping to the ground pulled by the gravity, a new model of ‘jumping’ was instead against it. Like a catapult, a seating harness complete with safety belt is attached to rubber cords. After being securely seated, a mechanical trigger was pulled, releasing the ‘passengers’ and catapulting them into the sky. Yet since the passenger’s seat was firmly attached to the cords, there was no chance for the client to escape into the sky. Well, if you ever watch ‘Tom & Jerry’ cartoon series, you would get the idea.
Nevertheless, the sling shot, as the new game was known, has never really become a great success commercially. When AJ Hackett, the last surviving jump operator, announced the termination of their business in Bali last year, it was indeed the end of the adrenalin game, for both the bungee and the sling shot.
Text by Supardi Asmorobangun
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Posted by » Bali and Beyond Magazine