Tuesday, September 25, 2007

West Bali Eco Travel Trip

The first part of the trip, on the main Denpasar - Gilimanuk road, is a fight for space between kamikaze Javanese tour buses and foul smoke-belching juggernauts. The road quietens down a little after passing through west Bali's capital Tabanan, giving the driver a chance to look out for the right-hand turn onto the small road to Gadungan village. Be prepared to enter another world - peace reigns in the extensive rice, cocoa and coffee plantations that cover the slopes of Mount Batukaru !.

After passing through a few small villages surrounded by endless rice terraces, the road climbs slowly upwards, hemmed in on all sides by cocoa trees with strange-looking fruit growing straight out of their trunks. Except for the odd farmer on a motorbike, a stray dog and chicken or two, there is no one around and the total silence is a very welcome change. The increasingly potholed road winds ever upwards and, because there is no one to ask, a strange feeling of being lost in the forest creeps in. Suddenly, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, the sign for Sarinbuana Eco-Lodge appears through the greenery - what a relief to be able to leave the car and follow the narrow path to the lodge that disappears down into this man-made food forest.

Fifteen years ago, Norm vant Hoff first came to Bali to visit one of his sister's friends who was married to a Balinese. He found this beautiful piece of spirit-infused land by chance and later, when he met Linda, his bride-to-be in Australia , he brought her back with him to Sarinbuana. She immediately fell in love with the place and stayed on to help him to build the lodge and to turn his dream into reality.

Linda is now a Certified Organic Inspector and Environmental Studies teacher in her own right, responsible for the home schooling of her two sons. They help her to run this incredibly beautiful property next to the natural rainforest with the most stunning, uninterrupted, panoramic views on the island. On a clear day, Linda says that she can see the waves breaking on the cliffs below Uluwatu Temple on the Bukit!.

At the moment Norm spends most of his time in Aceh, helping to implement his sustainable sewage and waste-water designs, while Linda, outgoing and extremely capable, busily works on marketing for the lodge, putting the menus together, looking after everything her lodge guests need, tending the vegetable garden, and looking after numerous animals. She also facilitates school camps for children, from third to 12th grade, who come to learn about food forests, sustainable farming, first aid for poisonous snake bites and even how to make rudimentary furniture from coffee wood!

Caring for the environment is one of the top priorities at the lodge, where only pure natural products are used for cleaning and pest control, the 'grey water' from the kitchen and bathroom sinks is re-used for the garden, as is the so-called 'black water' sewage that is non-chemically treated and used as compost for the special waste-water garden. Linda & Norm actively promote sustainable eco-tourism in Sarinbuana, and have worked with their local community to implement a 'no bird-catching' policy and have recently implemented the protection of 800 hectares of the Batukaru rainforest, with help from Seacology.

Guests arriving at Sarinbuana for the first time think they have died and gone to heaven. It is a place where even the most jaded Bali residents can enjoy the simple life and is most definitely a haven for stressed-out ex-pats, although there is a wireless connection in the restaurant for those who just cannot go anywhere without their laptop.

Try to organize a very special weekend at Sarinbuana with friends. Take over the three-bedroom Jungle House and enjoy a few days surrounded by rainforest. The food is healthy and beautifully presented by Ketut - the live-in chef - so expect lots of tasty, freshly cooked meals.

Alternatively, come alone and stay in the cosy one bedroom Rumah Manis and sit on the terrace, that seems to defy the laws of gravity, to just relax and recharge those overworked and partied-out batteries! With such reasonable prices (from U$33.00 for one person or U$38.00 for two, plus 10% govt. tax charge, including breakfast and with drinking water from the spring provided free of charge) and overall value for money, it would be quite easy to book in here for a month or two!.

What to do? Nothing at all. The wonderful air is like champagne, so breathe deep and just enjoy the beautiful views, listen to the (sometimes deafening) birdsong, watch out for the Bali Black Eagle soaring high over the mountain or spend a peaceful afternoon reading in the secluded bamboo tea pavilion.

If relaxing is not your thing, bring the hiking boots, socks, hat and sunscreen to take one of the many interesting treks available. Head to the natural waterhole or choose between an hour long 'Food Forest Walk', with a local guide, to discover the many different species of herbs, spices & fruits that grow in the soil of this very fertile area, or take a gentle walk through Sarinbuana village - the highest village on Mount Batukaru . Climb the 20 metre Eco-tower that has views all the way to Java, or for those who are as fit as a mountain goat, and not daunted by steep, narrow tracks, the six to seven hour trek to the summit of Mount Batukaru (2,200m) could be just the thing to get the adrenaline flowing!

Evenings up in the mountains are cool - Linda would like to put a fireplace in the dining room-cum-kitchen - so remember to bring the pashmina and socks for firefly watching or, if you are lucky enough to find one, there can even be glowing-fungus spotting before dinner!

Afterwards, nestle down under a comfortingly heavy duvet with a good book and fall asleep to the night calls and rustlings of the myriad birds and animals who live happily in one of Bali's only two remaining pristine rainforests!

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