Bali & Nias

All images © 2019-2022 Marc Delforge

Bali, the lost paradise

I have been to Bali three times: as a backpacker travelling through South East Asia during the winter of 1976-1977, as a travel guide in 1990, and as a tourist returning from a New Zealand winter in 2017. A certain assiduity that helped me to realize that mass tourism is indeed one of the cancers of our time. 

Going from paradise to hell in just a few decades is a phenomenon that one will probably never understand as well as if one has been a regular guest of this once very special island : Bali today it is no longer its festivals, its cremations, its temples (even if all that still exists, but attended by more holidaymakers than Balinese, see the photos taken in Tanah Lot and Ubud), it is mainly its beaches. I chose to illustrate that sad fact by taking only beach photos: in Canggu, a shoreline that tourists have invaded after having devastated those of Kuta and Legian. 

Dorys, for her part, had the gift of a real smile during her walks in the rice fields. Her photo deserves to be shown, because the real Bali is still alive even if hidden to his disrespectful visitors. This lost paradise is waiting to reborn. That will happen when the boeings and airbus, for one reason or another, will no longer land in Denpasar every five minutes.

And…

Nias, so long ago

In February 1980 I returned to Indonesia for the second or third time. It could have been my last trip because the boat going from Sibolga (Sumatra) to Telukdalam (south of the small island of Nias) had an engine failure on a stormy sea. The crossing took a day longer than expected, with passengers praying to Allah, Mula Jadi and other gods, holding on to the fuel drums on the foredeck. As for me, I thought at times that my last hour had come and that no one at home would ever know what had become of me. (Besides, they thought I was still in Bangladesh.)

But when you finally arrive in port after such an adventure, I can tell you that life is ten times better than before you left. It is partly these scares that every traveller experiences that make the nomadic life so exciting. A traveller feels alive and lives seven times.

After a few days collecting red coral on Lagundri beach and learning to surf with some Australians in Sorake Bay, I was keen to explore the island and accepted an invitation from a village king to live in his traditional house in Hilisimaetano. The journey through the jungle to get there was a bit scary as the surrounding villages were regularly fighting for some obscure reason (often Romeo and Juliet style stories ending with one or two heads being chopped off). But what I can say is that once I arrived, it was a wonderful few days that counted in my life.

I remember this village lost in the mountains, I remember this king in jeans, young and modern, his imposing house in the middle of the line of traditional houses of Hilisimaetano, its inhabitants so kind and laughing, especially the children. I also learned a lot about local life, but alas, that was so long ago and I have forgotten much.

Going through my archives today I discover three colour positive films that I had made on the spot with the little Rollei 35 S with the deficient cell that I always carried with me.

I didn’t have my own photographic style at the time and I was more into documentary photography. At that time I didn’t know yet that black and white photography said a lot more about people and the world. However, I am adding some of these photos to this site, for their testimonial value, as the village must have changed a lot. That quite idyllic Indonesia no longer exists, Bali is the most damning evidence of this. Certainly, in Nias, the earthquake of March 2005 has contributed to this sad evolution, but above all it has not been able to escape the scourge of mass of so-called adventure tourism: The inhabitants and guests no longer wash and defecate together in the river near the village (as it used to be, men upstream, women downstream), a pig is no longer sacrificed in honour of the foreigner and you will no longer be given the nicest room in the king’s house. It is said that there is even a road for cars, losmen with showers for trekkers and a restaurant with an adjoining bar. The adventure is really over!

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