Sustainable tourism in Indonesia: Memoir of a walking tour.

It was a beautiful morning on Sunday, April 30th. The humidity of the morning made it clear that it would be a hot day. I was in Batu Layar, a small Indonesian village, to join a walking tour with a local named Han. He had started a new business to give foreigners a taste of village life, and I was going to join a family of four from Poland.

Han had met Pablo on the beach the day before, and he had invited him to join the tour. Han’s new business was all about showing visitors what life was like in Batu Layar. The tour started at the local masjid, which was a fitting starting place since it was the center of village life. Klaudia and Pablo arrived with their two children on scooters.

Han welcomed us to Jalan Jalan Kampung, which translates to “village walk”. Han’s three children joined us, and we quickly made introductions before the tour started. We navigated through narrow alleyways and met locals along the way. Everyone in the village knew each other, and everyone greeted us with smiles and curiosity.

A couple of the warungs were already open, and people were arranging their goods for the day. We learned that all the homes in the village had been rebuilt after the devastating earthquake in 2018. Residents had to sleep in tents for a year before the government reconstruction program kicked in.

The rebuilt homes were very basic with cement skimmed walls and tiled floors. The homes were tightly packed together and varied in size from two to three-bedroom homes, with an average size of only 40sqm- the size of our lounge area.

As we exited the narrow alleyways, we were suddenly immersed in a lush green tropical landscape. The village of Batu Layar was located in a valley surrounded by lush green hills. Thick green foliage with palm trees was what greeted us when we gazed up from the village. It felt like we were on the movie set of Jurassic Park, without the hungry dinosaurs.

Batu Layar consisted of two hamlets, and we were moving from the first one which had a much more tightly compacted layout to the second one, which was more spread out. Even though it was a beautiful clear day, we were covered by the shadows of thick foliage. We made a few stops along the way for the children to interact with some animals. We stopped in at someone’s outdoor kitchen, and she showed us her baby. We walked along a river and got to cross it by foot. Fortunately, I was wearing sandals, and the fresh running water provided a cool relief to our feet.

Our next stop was at a small house that made a traditional coconut brew and brown palm sugar. We were invited in to see how the brew was manufactured. There was a huge pot of brew boiling on an open fire, and surprisingly the room was not as hot as we expected. We got to sample the sweet drink, and the Polish couple bought some brown sugar which came in a coconut shell.

We were then invited to have some traditional Lombok kopi at their small beruga. A beruga is a raised wooden structure with a roof where families and friends eat and socialize. The house did not have any visible neighbors. We were sitting in the middle of a tropical forest, on a traditional beruga, drinking a coconut brew and kopi. The tour so far had been an amazing experience.

We headed back to Han’s home where his wife had been preparing our meal. He didn’t have much space at his home, so we were shown towards his brother’s home,

just a few steps away. The house is located right by the river, and the beruga is positioned perfectly on the edge of the water. We’re handed freshly chopped coconuts with straws, and Ana brings out the food, taking the time to explain each dish.

The setting is idyllic, and we enjoy the company of a local family along with the fresh coconuts and delicious food. The Soto Ayam, a traditional local dish made with chicken, lontong, noodles and rice vermicelli, is served in a spicy broth of fresh vegetables. The Gado Gado, a traditional salad with steamed vegetables, lontong, fried tofu and tempeh, all covered with a tasty peanut sauce dressing, is equally delicious.

We sit at the beruga, savoring the food and chatting, completely immersed in the tropical environment. Pablo exclaims that this is the best meal he’s had on the island and that joining this walking tour has been the highlight of his visit. I couldn’t agree more.

When we arrived in Indonesia in June 2022, the minister of tourism had spoken about attracting tourists after the lockdown. He wanted to build a new narrative for their tourism offering around serenity, spirituality, and sustainability. Klaudia and Pablo were precisely the kind of tourists he had in mind.  They were not interested in seeking out parties and night clubs.  They wanted to experience a different culture and expose their children to a simpler way of life.

After a month in Indonesia, they were keen to show their children that life is not just about the latest Playstation console or accumulating more stuff. By embarking on this walking tour, they gained a better appreciation for what they have.

If you plan to visit the island of Lombok, I strongly recommend reaching out to Han and booking this walking tour.

And if you’re looking to experience this way of life every day, don’t hesitate to contact me. I can show you how I escaped the rat race to live a simpler life.

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