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Two men meet at the cross roads, one is going to the mountains, the other to the beach. They nod, shake hand and they may share a word about the weather or ask where the other is headed. But they soon continue their singular journeys.

Such is the relationship between locals and foreigners in Bali. Meeting frequently but never really understanding each other. One woman is trying to bridge that communications gap, by bringing a very Balinese philosophy to the concept of tourism. For Mrs. Ida Ayu Agung Mas, Sua Bali, a small ‘resort’ in a Balinese village in Gianyar, is more than just a personal dream, it is a reflection on her most intrinsic beliefs. The idea behind the resort is based on the Hindu concept of balance and the Gria principle, which aims to “bring about a harmonious co-existence”.

Recent research shows that tourist come to Bali primarily for the culture and the people. Mrs. Mas believes many of them go away disappointed because the form of tourism developing on Bali often lacks this special harmony between tourism and the Balinese daily life and culture.

Her success has been personal as well as on a professonal and social level. The resort was recently recognized by a European association, Studienkreis Fur Tourismus, at the 30th International Tourism Exchange (ITB) in Berlin for its role in developing ‘socially responsible tourism’.

It was chosen out of 23 projects from 13 countries and lauded by the chairwoman of the Parliamentry Committee on Tourism as showing that “it was possible to strive for something completely different and be successful”.

It has taken her ten years to achieve what she set out to do. Having grown up in Gianyar, only about 8 kilometers from Sua Bali, she became interested in language particularly German, at the University of Jakarta. She subsequently visited the country while studying for a post graduated degree. She returned to Bali after her studies and became a teacher at the Nusa Dua Hotel and Tourism school. “Always an alternative thinker”. Mrs. Mas left her job after three years and with her “small savings” started developing her concept of what tourism in Bali should be about.

“It started as an idea that kept getting stronger and stronger, I wanted to create a different form of tourism”, she said.

“Most tourism staying along the southern coast of Bali get a very superficial impression on their short trips inland. They see landscape, beautiful smiling people and mysterious dances - but they never get to understand much of what they see.

“And sometime the Balinese are hurt because some tourist fail to show the necessary respect when visiting ceremonies and temple festivals. Locals can also become disappointed because they often reveive little of the financial benefits from tourism.

Sua Bali means “meeting Bali” or “getting to know Bali”. It is Bali behind the glamour of the five star hotels and the beautiful beaches that characterize modern tourism. As Mrs. Mas will admit it is not for everyone, but for visitor looking for a deeper understanding of Balinese culture, it is the bridge that will take them there.

“Why do most people come to Bali? Not just because of the beaches or the nice hotels, they come because of the people and the culture,” she says.

“At Sua Bali my aim is not to realize a form of tourism that benefits rather than damages Bali, while giving my guest the chance to understand my country, my culture and not least of all, the Balinese people”.

Unlike the conventional resorts, Sua Bali hasn’t got a swimming pool or the glamorous lobby and lavish menus. What it does have is simple, comfortable guest houses set in lush gardens with a beautiful view of the valley. A nearby river is the best place to cooling off.

The kitchen/dining room is the focal point, where guest meet, eat and learn about Balinese cooking and lifestyle. In another part of the resort you can sit and talk about everyday village life, the different ceremonies and rituals. You can study the language or take a course in handicrafts.

“It is up to the guests what they want. It is very flexible, what we do is to provide the tools they need to develop a better understanding.”

Guest are treated as part of the community and each of them shares in the upkeep of the village by contributing one $US dollar per day to the Banjar. So far about 900 Sua Bali guests have contributed over $8,000.

The money is handed over to the village chief who, agreement with the villagers uses the money for upkeep of the temple, festivals and as a kind of support fund for villagers who are sick or in difficulty. In return, guests are invited to most of the ceremonies and festivals. They are welcomed to join in with village life.

“For me the best form of tourism is based on a two-way relationship.  I believe that the inhabitants of Kemenuh, the village right side Sua Bali, should share in the advantages created by tourism, not only in financial but practical ways as well”, she states.

Mrs. Mas, who also uses the resort as the language and study center believes that her efforts can retain Bali’s magical charms while creating an environment for growth and learning.
article taken from Bali Echo Visitors Guide.

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