Where do you come from and what is your educational background?
I was born in a small town in France, one of those places
where not much is happening which makes you want to
travel and see the world. Since the age of 10 I was fascinated
by nature and I ended up studying biology, then agricultural
development because I had this urge to do something useful
for humankind. Since that time I discovered that people are
just as interesting as nature, so I added a doctorate in sociology
to my studies!
How did you end up in Indonesia and in Bali?
After graduating from agriculture school, I wanted to work
in a developing country. I was given a chance to do field
research about agro-forestry, so at the age of 23 I found
myself in the middle of the Sumatran jungle. A bit tough
in the beginning, but I finally fell in love with the place.
I kept coming back to do more work on agro-forestry and forest
conservation in Indonesia. In the beginning I didn’t
even want to visit Bali. I was afraid it would be too full
of tourists and not as authentic as Sumatra, Borneo, or Sulawesi.
Then I was invited to the wedding of a Balinese friend in
Singaraja and that’s how I discovered the other face
Where did you get the idea of publishing a guidebook to Bali?
One day I visited a hotel called Gajah Mina on a pristine
west coast of Bali. The management had just received an award
from the Tri Hita Karana, a Balinese group which honored hotels
based on their efforts to preserve Bali’s nature and
culture. And yet this beautiful place was still unknown and
nearly empty. I knew there are so many people who come to
Bali and are looking for places exactly like this. So it occurred
to me to write a new kind of guide book, one that would lead
people to places which are still well preserved and where
the inhabitants do their share protecting the environment
and the local culture.
So The Natural Guide was your dream?
Well everybody I talked to about The Natural Guide just loved
the idea and wanted to help, so very soon I had a core team
who left their jobs to join us: Jean-Marie Bompard, Titiek
Pratiwi, Godeliva Sari. I also wanted to have the voice of
insiders, and we got great Balinese contributors such as Degung
Santikarma, Cok Sawitri, Ni Wayang Murni or Bodrek Arsana
to name just a few.
What makes The Natural Guide to Bali different from the dozens
of others guides published about Bali?
I was initially inspired by two great publications, unfortunately
not existing any more: The Indonesia Handbook by Bill
Dalton, and Latitudes Magazine. I liked the way they wrote
about Bali as a place which is alive, not just a museum for
tourists. Everybody who stays in Bali and opens their eyes
can see that this is a changing world. So we asked insiders,
Balinese and people like Diana Darling or Jean Couteau who
have spent their lives in Bali to talk about the changes on
the island in a non-reverential tone. We tell of the wonders
of coral reefs, but also about the pollution on the beaches.
We tell about the great artistic traditions of Bali and about
the children who paint handicrafts instead of going to school.
By showing the hidden life behind the magnificent landscapes,
we hope visitors will start asking: what is my impact on all
So what can tourists do to have a positive impact?
Well there are many small things like avoiding buying plastic
bottles, giving money to social organizations rather than
to begging children, buying handicrafts directly from the
local craftsmen, taking the time to walk or ride a push bike
instead of driving, and so forth. But the most important thing
tourists can do is patronize the good businesses that take
care of the environment and their local communities.
Do you give addresses of such good places in your guide book?
We recommend hotels, dive centers, restaurants, shops, etc.
based on three criteria: traveler-friendly, nature-friendly,
community-friendly. We work with local NGOs like Wisnu or
Bali Fokus to evaluate which hotels conscientiously try to
save water and energy, protect their surrounding countryside,
avoid pollution, and benefit their local communities. And
instead of stars we give hearts to the best places, because
we believe that you should travel with your heart. We also
give the addresses of organizations who protect the environment
and who help people with long-term education projects.
Do you have any more Natural Guides planned on other places
in Indonesia or the world?
So far we have received a very encouraging response from the
public and from our readers about The Natural Guide to Bali.
So, yes, we want to do more Natural Guides, provided we find
the right partners and writers in each place. We have already
published a French-language version of The Natural Guide to
Bali, and we’re now working on Nusa Tenggara and Thailand.
Hopefully there will be more...
What advice can you give tourists visiting Bali?
Well it’s all in our book, and you can also find updated
tips on our website www.naturalguide.org. But really the best
piece of advice is, don’t rely so much on guide books.
Use guide books as a door opener, then just follow your heart
and Bali will open up all its secrets for you.
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Copyright@2005 Al Hickey
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