The Slow Breaking Wave of Tourism

I recently posted an article in which I mentioned a malaise surrounding the shallowness of Southeast Asian travel. It’s fitting because I currently write from Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia; a town on the island just East of Bali, a town in the nascent throes of a tourism bloom.

Lombok retains a majority of its simple, rural, pristine essence. The area surrounding Kuta retains a majority of its humble origins. Local warungs (restaurants), and local-owned homestays still prevail. Ocean worn fishing boats still line the beaches. Vendors dispense goods from traditional bamboo canopies.

The locals here still retain much of their village lifestyles. There’s a busy little farmer’s market that pops up every morning just meters from my humble homestay. A short drive into the countryside will meander through rice paddies. It’ll usually be interrupted by a herd of buffalo crossing the narrow road.

But here is also the evident bustle of tourist influence. Western restaurants charging exorbitant prices for pizza, burgers, burritos, and even Sushi dot the main streets. There are plenty of bars playing medleys of any Western song known to resonate in the minds of their customers. (On that; I can groove to any vibe a DJ might blast, but my boogie dies in sets that oscillate from Reggae, to trance, to alternative metal, to deep house, to hip hop, all in the span of 30 minutes.) And there is accommodation conspicuously opulent against the backdrop of a still-modest town.

Sadly, the seeds of Lombok’s demise are unmistakable.

There are massive, cordoned plots of lands on which enormous luxury resorts will soon be constructed. There are perfectly paved roads leading nowhere, and massive traffic circles where barely a handful of motorbikes commute. These streets are obvious preparations for a huge influx. And if that’s not clear enough, there are billboards on every corner advertising land for sale. These are companies devoted to enticing foreign investment in order to accelerate the development of Lombok into the next Bali.

I no longer cringe at any of this. I’ve travel far enough, and long enough, to digest the woe caused by the relentless, and inevitable, growth of tourism. I know the locals benefit as their tiny plots of land rise in value. I know there is tourist demand for an unspoiled flower of paradise plucked and plated alongside luxury. Pure investors will reap great returns. And the Indonesian economy will thrive.

Who am I to denounce any of it? Who am I to freeze Lombok in its rurality for my own shallow aesthetic?

I also no longer shed a tear for the palm trees and rice paddies, the farmer and fisherman lifestyles, the reefs and fish, and the very landscape, that are all doomed to be paved over into shopping outlets, massage parlours, beach bars, night clubs, and resorts.

I don’t lament because it’s as pointless as crying for stars going super nova. This urban onslaught can be neither diverted or prevented. Any underlying abhorrence in me is tempered by this understanding. Understanding that, ‘Yeah, of course. That’s how the world of man operates.’

The only nagging thought that causes me trepidation now is, ‘How long can business as usual continue?’

If it lasts another century, everyone in Lombok will gain from the expansion. From the landowner whose property value will skyrocket. To the lowly bracelet-hawking kid on the street, who’ll graduate to selling drugs, then probably wind up making plenty of coin guiding uncoordinated tourists on mediocre waves. To the middle-aged Australian with a hundred grand of invested retirement money, and a hot, young Indonesian wife.

But, on the other hand, if business as usual breaks the global economy’s backbone in the next two decades, then all this will be for naught. And everyone, human and otherwise, will suffer immensely.

Truth, my conscience is weighted, but I am dispassionate. Because I’m just a fly on the wall for all this. I’m not trying to invest in real estate. I don’t participate in the parties, nor the tours. I’m not looking forward to luxury resorts, nor am I out to protest nature’s destruction.  Nor am I sentimental enough to pity the traditional lifestyles of the local people as they get swept under the rug of history.

I’m just here appreciating the beauty of this place right now; Living simply with the folks still living simply; Out experiencing the awe and wonder of nature in the form of perfect waves at dawn; Strengthening my body, and enriching my soul, in the devoted pursuit of surfing; Deeply enjoying, and learning from, the ocean with all its dazzling facets.

If that seems selfish, then you’re missing the point. The steady advance of society is not for me to oppose in two weeks visitation, nor in a pathetic online criticism. It’s certainly not for me to disparage.  It does a life well, especially a pessimist’s, to enjoy a period of time without shouldering fateful implications.

These words are an observation only, filtered through my perspective, but offered neutrally.

Ultimately, I see the cancerous spread of tourism much like a slow, slow breaking wave moving East across Indonesia. Bali has broken, and exists now as a foamy deluge. You can still reap a thrilling push, but it is inelegant, short-lived, and mostly full of air.

Lombok is just now breaking. There is the energetic surge here to thrust you up and forward. And those with the ability can appreciate the unique majesty of gliding up and down its sublime gradient.

And then there’s Sumbawa to the East; unbroken, relatively undisturbed. Travelers have to put in a bit more effort to catch that one, but there’s more of that indefinable and magical quality for those who do.

Thank you for reading.

-C

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