Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation made from a post originally written in French. My apologies for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have been generated during the process. If you are reading French, click on the French flag below to access the original and correct text:
I'll take you back a few weeks in July 2008. Not quite in Bali, but right next door. A little further southeast, on the small island of Nusa Lembongan. A place I loved, where almost all the inhabitants are seaweed growers.
Of course, vacationers who come to Nusa Lembongan for the beach and swimming may be a little disappointed. There are algae everywhere!
The island is beautiful and yet has nothing tropical postcard scenery. The coast alternates beaches overlooking seaweed fields, rocky cliffs battered by waves and mangroves. The interior is rather arid.
Seaweed cultivation developed on Nusa Lembongan, Penida and Ceningan Islands in the mid-1980s. In this year 2008, it has become the main activity of the islanders. Here, only 5% of the population lives from tourism. Hence a more peaceful atmosphere, more authentic, than in other very (too) visited corners of Bali.
Underwater seaweed fields
The algae grow in shallow water, fixed on cords stretched between small stakes planted on the bottom. At low tide, you can walk among these sandy plots.
When we dock on the main beach, Jungut Batu, we can see the dark mosaic of seaweed fields under the translucent turquoise of the water ...
The smell of drying algae
These algae, red or green, have no leaves and look like small soft branches. Their growth cycle is rapid: it takes about 45 days to harvest new shoots.
They are piled up at the bottom of the boats and transported to the beach in bamboo baskets. They are then spread out on the ground on tarpaulins, where they dry in the sun. There are many of them near the huts along the shore. You can see them... and smell them!
Thus exposed in full sun, they discolor and spread in the air this strange smell that stings the nostrils. A heady smell, both wet and a little acrid, surprising at first. But you get used to it quickly and you end up not paying too much attention to it.
The algae once dried are exported all over the world. A kind of gelatin is extracted which is used in the food or cosmetics industry. It is used to thicken ice cream and some dairy products, it replaces fat in diet products and is a natural binder for various gels and creams.
The work is hard, but still profitable enough. In any case, significantly more than the salt harvest in Amed. From dawn to dusk, there is a constant back and forth of baskets on the sand. The women carry them in balance on the head, the men often carry two of them suddenly, with the ends of a sling wedged on the shoulder.
On the other side of the island, where the village of Lembongan is, it's the same activity. The strait that separates Nusa Lembongan from Nusa Ceningan is protected by the reef and accessible at low tide.
At high tide, a flotilla of small colored boats are moored along the beach. At low tide, one can observe the work of ant algae growers, who circulate, on foot or in their flat-bottomed boats, between the fields of algae.
At the end of the day, the light is beautiful and the water seems to mingle with the sky. Mirror games, trompe-l'œil reflections of clouds in salty puddles.
I really enjoyed Nusa Lembongan. If I had had more time (and was less busy with the dives), I think I would have also gone to explore her neighbor Nusa Penida, who looks downright wilder.
Looking back, Lembongan is perhaps the place I preferred during this trip to Bali. As I said above, it changes you from the commercial and superficial relations of other more touristy corners.
However, I do not deny my privileged status as a tourist, and besides I enjoy finding guesthouses and nice restaurants when I ask myself somewhere.
But, how can I put it... It's rather nice to be surrounded by "real people" who do something else than working in the hotel business or taking holidaymakers for a walk. In short, this laborious activity around the seaweed adds, in my opinion, to the charm of Lembongan.
[Add: discover on the same theme, the very beautiful images of Thib, taken in 2007 all the south of Bali, on the peninsula of Bukit, by clicking here.]
Update 2019 (almost 11 years after the publication of this article). There are no more seaweed growers in Nusa Lembongan, according to the testimony of a Balinese guide in the article below: