Trash… Trash..Trash…in Bali: 3 nights at the Waka Shorea Resort

Turned out spending 3 nights at the Waka Shorea Resort in the Bali Barat National Park with limited WiFi was a unique stop for me and Becky on our adventure around Northwest Bali. An opportunity for a little creative retreat, we could finish reading a few books, write some blog posts…

Becky is a travel writer and sent a media query to see if it someone would be interested in having us come stay to write a review. They offered us 3 free nights! That could have been our first warning had we been paying attention to the signs. She does this regularly and I’ve been her travel buddy a few times… usually the first night is free,  maybe two nights and then they offer us additional nights at 50%. Three nights free seemed great, and the location sounded cool, near Menjangan Island with great diving.  Usually, when we arrive  the General Manager comes to find the travel writer doing a review of the resort, that’s just standard. We learned quickly that things at the Waka Shorea were run a little differently…by night #2 we had not seen or heard from anyone.  When we first checked in a soft spoken and really young man helped us and said he would send the Dive Master to meet with us the next day. It never happened,  we never heard from anyone for the next 3 days. No one came to talk to us about diving. Saved us $115.

The Waka Shorea calls itself,  “An Environmental Sanctuary” on the most Western Peninsula of the Bali Barat National Park. It’s accessible by a 20 minute boat ride from Gilimanuk. This was a little bit of a mystery to us also, we read something on trip advisor about a short boat ride to the Peninsula where the resort is, but no one mentioned it in the email confirmation or let us know on the phone. So we went with the flow when we arrived at Gilimanuk,  jumped on (literally) an old rickety fishing boat that was luckily carrying a few cases of Bintang and cracked open a beer and held on tight. For most people a rough sea ride on a dilapidated boat and a beer may not go well together, for us, it did the trick.  Once we arrived, we walked off the pier to the beach and the friendly hotel staff that greeted us said, “Welcome to the hotel, we know the trash on the beach is not very nice.” He then started to tell us about the snorkeling, diving, cycling & hiking that’s all right here for the resort guests.

The trash on the beach and the state of the grounds of the hotel makes you want to take pictures and start a campaign against them instead of for them. There are dead tree branches lying all around the pathways. Although the trash that washes up on the beach doesn’t  from the resort, it’s floating in from elsewhere; they really need to do something to clean it up every day. Picture this… Becky and I sitting at “our table” on the beach front restaurant looking a crystal blue sea  & washing up on the shore just a few feet in front of us, was a random flip flop, a variety of plastic bags, potato chip and candy wrappers. This is what we saw from our table as we ate breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The food became an ongoing joke between us. We read on trip advisor that it was “warung style” food. It’s just that there was no Indonesian food on the menu except Gado Gado. Not even Nasi Goreng. It was all pizza, pasta, chicken & tuna. The prices were the real joke; $8 minimum for anything on the menu. It’s double what you’d pay in Ubud for warung food. I’d pay that at a Western style restaurant that had all organic, carefully prepared food with love and high vibes. (which is how they describe food in Ubud) One night we decided to skip dinner and just hit the mini bar in the room. We had to ask them to use butter to cook our eggs in the morning because we could really taste the re-used oil in the pan. It sounds spoiled…it was actually that obvious, you could taste the nasty oil. Once they used butter it was better. It was a 20 minute boat ride to the mainland, so our meal options were limited. The food was an ongoing source of entertainment. I ordered the chicken wings for lunch…they were out of chicken wings. We ordered the Tuna Garlic Butter and I swear they cut off the ends of the Tuna and served us that. We’re not sure what happened to the middle of the filet but we had our suspicions when we saw some of the staff leaving to get on the boat that they may be taking the rest of our fish in their backpacks. Anything’s possible.

On a positive note, the resort had enormous potential if they addressed the maitenance of the grounds and the food. There were barking deer that wander by the rooms, wild pigs roaming by the pool with the other guests and black monkeys hanging in the trees on the pathways. The rooms are quite nice, comfortable beds and kept very clean and cozy.

By giving some constructive feedback (complaining) to “a manager” we finally met with “Mr. Ari”, the Sales Manager, who had just arrived.  I have to say, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen someone in a professional role of “Sales Manager” of  a resort play dumb about the various feedback we gave him. We talked about the food, the upkeep of the grounds, the trash…etc. Only after about 30 minutes did he finally relax a little when I said, “we aren’t really telling you anything you don’t already know are we? How often do you get complaints like this?” Mr. Ary relaxed bit, chuckled and admitted he has heard these complaints but wouldn’t let us know how often. He let us know that there is actually no chef in the kitchen. Different members of the staff cook, they aren’t trained and sometimes (probably most of the time) they are interns from the local tourism school. That explains everything right there. He became quite sympathetic about the food.  Ary originally told us the resort had been open for 5 years, we found out just before we left it’s been open 10 years. Ary was not quite on the ball.

The most insulting yet amusing part was half way through our talk, his boss, another, “Director” was sitting at the bar about 10 yards from us talking on his cell phone. He must have just arrived because we spent most of  our time in the bar/restaurant on our lap tops with no WiFi and had never seen him. (we were in nature!) When Ary went over to his boss to suggest he talk to us (perhaps just listen) his boss said “No”. Instead he stayed at the bar and declined to come meet us.  Just sat there, talked on his cell phone and then walked away… Amazing. Becky’s a travel writer. Unbelievable.

The next morning when we were leaving these two men were having breakfast at the table next to us; we were the only people there. We went over to introduce ourselves and give some constructive feedback. I mentioned we had just come from Puri Lumbung Cottages and what a wonderful job the owner was doing there with the area and some of his plans. They know of the place because it’s highly respected in the area, so when he found out we had been talking with Nyoman at Puri Lumbung, he asked me if I would put them in touch with him. It was funny, I laughed. They are interested in asking him for ideas and if he would consult. Sadly for them, what we will remember most is the trash all over the beach and in the water. We got back on the rickety old boat taking us across the peninsula where we were met by a driver from the Matahari Beach Resort and Spa, the only 5 star resort in the northwest of Bali.

Munduk: The Bali We Dream Of

Sitting with owner Nyoman Bagiarta in the restaurant of Puri Lumbung Cottages we’re overlooking a sweeping view of rice terraces and clove trees. Nyoman sat with us before dinner to share the history of how he built the 30 charming cottages over the years and his vision for preserving the area over the next 30 years.  He left his job over 15 years ago as the director of a tourism school in the area, and started with  5 abandoned rice “Lumbungs” which Balinese farmers used to store rice over 80 years ago by converting them into charming hotel cottages in the hills of Munduk. Since then the business has  grown into 30 cottages with balconies overlooking  sweeping rice fields and mountain views that are inspirational and tranquil. Nyoman explained years ago when he was working at the tourism school,  he realized responsible tourism (now called “eco-tourism”) was the way to build tourism in Bali as well as preserve and invest in future growth of natural resources. This was part of his inspiration behind creating the Puri Lumbung Cottages.

Munduk is a sleepy village in the northwest of Bali, tucked away on a mountain side that overlooks LakeTamblingan and Mount Lesung. Many call it a rare part of Bali that is still unspoilt and reminds them of what Bali was like 20 years ago. According to Bagiarta the Tamblian area is much respected as a holy area for the Balinese. Archaeologically the area has some cultural treasures, such an ancient stone Lingam-Yoni and number of old stone wash basins used my metal smiths in the area thousands of years ago. The importance of preserving the spritual culture is balanced by the significance of the area also being rich in environmental resources. These two issues are hand in hand in Bail. The waterfall and the lake are popular day hikes for visitors staying in the area.  They are also the main sources of water supply for drinking water and for land irrigation that supports the livelihood of the people, as well as being an obvious sanctuary for the ecology of the area.

Bagiarta has written several proposals over the years to protect the Tamblian Twin Sacred Mountain Springs and create a small-scale model project for planting and preserving both domestic rainforest trees and coffee as well as conserve sources of water and endangered species of domestic trees.  The Tamblingan area is significant in three ways, as a strategic function for the water supply from the Lake, as a religious center and as an ecological sanctuary. Over the years he has written several proposals and received funding from various Rotary Clubs to restore the function of the tropical rainforest around the foot of Mt. Lesong as a reliable water source for Lake Tamblingan and all springs and rivers in the area. He has proposed to restore the function of the area as a spiritual center, establish maintenance for the trash and garbage issues that plague all of Bali already, develop areas for public use for children, locals & foreign visitors, provide areas set aside for the study of wildlife and to establish parts of the area as a protected rainforest district & nature reserve thereby restricting access to motor traffic. Preserving and investing in the future of the area has become his passion. He believes this work comes from mirroring what is inside him and reflecting it in the world around him.

Aside from being one of the most restful and cozy places I’ve stayed in Bali, the energy at Puri Lumbung has a restful, authentic feeling. The cottages are small, very clean, the bedding is fresh, each room has a balcony with table and chairs. There are afternoon activities provided by the hotel to show guests, about local Balinese cake making, weaving, agricultural farming, anything that will educate visitors about the history and culture of the area. The hotel has been a retreat for writers and artists for over 20 years. The area and the setup of the cottages lends to a creative retreat with an inspirational setting.

The kitchen, in terms of actual equipment and the chef, is one of the best in Bali Bagiarta likes to boast. The food was excellent and reasonably priced. Everything was fresh and delicious. They also serve local coffee from the area (one of the area’s oldest sources of income); if you are a coffee drinker you will be pleasantly surprised by the local Bali coffee. It’s a rare gem in the Northwest of Bali with a very authentic feel of life outside of the usual tourist locations on the Island.

You can book room at the Puri Lumbung Cottages through Agoda on Trip Advisor or check their website. http://www.purilumbung.com/index.html

Trip Advisor:  Puri Lumbung Cottages