As Bali attempts to forge a new era, we need to stop spinning fables about it and listen to Balinese

A Travelfish long read by Julia Winterflood
First published on 11th September, 2020 |13,901 reads.

When Mount Agung—Bali’s tallest and most spiritually significant volcano—erupted in 2017, local and foreign media flocked to Amed on the island’s northeast coast. During the first few weeks of eruptions reporters and camera crews gathered at Sunset Point, a dusty expanse carved into the side of a cliff overlooking Jemeluk Bay, for the best view of the volcano beyond the danger zone.

For a brief moment Amed, which comprises seven fishing villages fanning out from black sand shores, had never been busier. Then the news cycle moved on and the media left, along with virtually every other tourist.

As most visitor attractions lie beneath its tranquil waters, this relatively arid strip in Karangasem regency is generally only popular with scuba divers and those seeking a quiet coastal getaway. Though relatively lightly touched by tourism, it’s still home to dozens of guesthouses, dive centres, beachfront cafes, a couple of yoga studios, and several resorts. Eighteen kilometres from Agung, this little industry was Bali’s hardest hit during the downturn that followed the eruptions. “But it was nothing compared to Covid,” says Wayan Lenet.

“It was nothing compared to Covid,” Wayan Lenet. Photo: Julia Winterflood.
“It was nothing compared to Covid,” Wayan Lenet. Photo: Julia Winterflood

Born in the village of Amed, day by day 28–year–old Wayan walks up and down a one kilometre stretch of black volcanic sand and smooth rocks, selling small models of jukung—Bali’s iconic wooden outrigger. He purchases them for Rp.50,000 a piece and sells them on to tourists for up to Rp.200,000. For the last ten years he sold three to four a week, but he’s now struggling to make a single sale.

“I have an 18–month–old baby. When she grows up I don’t want her to be like me. I don’t want my daughter to depend on tourists to eat,” he says. “Right now we can only afford to eat rice. Just rice. I sell these boats to buy rice, not arak. I know that a future of tourism isn’t safe for us anymore, and I don’t think it will be for a long time.”

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About the author

Julia Winterflood is a freelance writer, editor, and translator who has called Indonesia home since 2014. You can find her other pieces on Indonesian community responses to Covid19 and contact her via or on Twitter at @jwinterflood.

Reader comments


Posted on: 2020-09-16 15:00:15

I found this very interesting. Glad you were able to publish this.


Posted on: 2020-09-16 02:41:22

This was fascinating. It was great to read something that actually leaves you with a feeling of hope. The Balinese remaking their tourism industry into something they’re in control of, and is what they want it to be, would be a fantastic success story.


Posted on: 2020-09-16 00:34:28

My friends have rented a villa in Candi Dasa for 10 years or more. They are involved in the community, volunteering for improvements and schooling as well as supporting three staff and local restaurants including Warung Agung. Recently their daughter had a fund raiser in Australia to assist the local families through supply of rice during lockdown.. Perhaps we in Australia, could adopt a family, like we support children in disadvantaged countries, until their government assists with manufacturing and agricultural incentives.


Posted on: 2020-09-15 04:42:24

Let's hope the Balinese are successful.


Posted on: 2020-09-14 13:04:26

Thanks so much for the feature story to Julia and to Stuart for a resilient Travelfish


Posted on: 2020-09-13 00:08:10

Important, fantastic article - thank you! Living many years in Bali, I often refer to tourism here as 'the curse' even though we run a small tour positive it would be if the Balinese were able to affect this warped and damaging perception the west places on their home!


Posted on: 2020-09-11 16:27:18

I’m a bit biased I guess, but I’m thrilled to be starting to run feature stories again on Travelfish, and I thought this one by Julia was a great way to kick the series off.

I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.



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