Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A day of swimming and strolling along Bali’s Padang Bai Beach

By the way...: A day of swimming and strolling along Bali’s Padang Bai Beach
| Sun, 01/09/2011 12:33 PM | Headlines

It’s warm and sunny — a perfect day for a run down the coast to catch some sun and surf. Sun hats on, the top down on the red VW Safari and off we puttered to an old favorite, the fishing village of Padang Bai on Bali’s east coast.

Not too long ago Padang Bai was a peaceful little haven best known as the jumping-off point to east Indonesia via the great ferries that ply the waters here, sailing over the Wallace Line, a massive trench that splits the ocean floor into east and west.

The town of Padang Bai stretches along the main swimming beach, a gentle curve of gold sand and easy swell, ideal for kids and the elderly alike to take a dip in safety. On afternoons, the whole village used to take to the beach, bathing, racing along the sand, promenading at the tide’s turn.

Today, the waters that were the meeting place of this little village are a tangle of mooring lines and a gaggle of dive boats, drip-drip-dripping oil and gasoline into the sea. The mooring lines reach right out of the sea and onto the beach, tripping up the unwary. Strolling here is now impossible.

With the front beach lost to minor businesses we headed up and over the high hill to the Blue Lagoon, famous for its swaying coconut palms fringing an azure sea, a perfect, tropical paradise cliché in real life.

In days gone by, there was a
sense of adventure in the dusty scramble up the hill, past the cows and the pigs and the old lady who kept them, and on up to a shuddering thump of the heart at that first sight of the lagoon 100 meters below.

You guessed it — that’s all gone now too. There are instead steps, shaggy warung, an access road
for cars, a parking area and worst of all, someone has built a house on the peak blocking the view of the lagoon with cement and tiles.

Down on the beach, the tragedy continues: A warung has been built on the sand, shortening the beach to just a few meters’ width at high tide; the still-clear azure seas are awash with plastic bags, chip packets, juice containers with the straw still in place and some very worrying floating brown bits of something unknown.

Swimming in this sea has become unpleasant; bobbing into the floating rubbish just feels wrong, like swimming in a landfill.

One young guy was valiantly attempting to clean the seas by straining a plastic mesh box through the waves, trapping the rubbish.

This was something good, I thought, spitting a shard of plastic out of my mouth.

“I don’t normally do this job. A tourist said she would pay me to clean the beach as she hated seeing it like this,” said the beach cleaner, Wayan, from Klungkung.

He added that he had asked local businesses to pay him to clean the beach and act as security in case people get caught in the rips.

“In one day I saved five people — six of them had swum out too far and were in trouble. One of them died as I could not get to him in time.

“I think we should have someone on the beach all the time to make sure people are safe and we can clean the beaches too,” said Wayan, whose request for work fell on
deaf ears.

Another friend said she felt the rubbish was in fact a good thing.

“You can see it. When the body is ill it shows on the surface, like a rash, so you know to do something about it. Seeing this rubbish here, it tells us that we need to start taking responsibility and start looking for solutions,” she said.

I think she is right. We can’t go back to the way things were; tourism is here and it is going to keep growing, but the rash — the warning that we are destroying the very reason people visit Bali — daily becomes redder and itchier, and needs sustainable treatment.

For now, all I want is a swim and a stroll along Padang Bai’s front beach without having to battle the maze of boats or get strung out on their mooring lines.

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