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:
Let me take you back a few weeks, to July 2008. Not quite in Bali, but just next door. A bit further south-east, on the small island of Nusa Lembongan. A place I really liked, where almost all the inhabitants are seaweed farmers.
Obviously, 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 of a tropical postcard setting. The coast alternates between beaches overlooking seaweed fields, rocky cliffs beaten by the waves and mangroves. The interior is rather arid.
Seaweed farming was 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 algae 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 you land on the main beach, Jungut Batu, you can see the dark mosaic of seaweed fields under the translucent turquoise of the water...
The smell of drying seaweed
These algae, red or green, have no leaves and look like small soft branches. Their growth cycle is fast: 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 the heat of the day, they fade and spread in the air this strange odor that stings the nostrils. A heady smell, both wet and a bit pungent, which surprises at first. But one quickly gets used to it and ends up not noticing it too much.
Once dried, the algae are exported all over the world. A kind of gelatin is extracted from it and used in the food and cosmetic industries. 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 beauty creams.
The work is hard, but still profitable enough. In any case, significantly more than the salt harvest in Amed. From daybreak to nightfall, there is a constant coming and going of baskets on the sand. The women carry them in balance on the head, the men often carry two at once, at the ends of a palanche fixed on the shoulder.
On the other side of the island, where the village of Lembongan is located, it is 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 colorful boats are moored along the shore. At low tide, one can observe the hard work of the seaweed farmers, who move, on foot or in their flat-bottomed boats, between the seaweed fields.
At the end of the day, the light is splendid and the water seems to mix with the sky. Games of mirror, reflections of clouds in the salt puddles.
I really enjoyed Nusa Lembongan. If I had had more time (and was less busy with diving), I think I would have gone to explore its neighbor Nusa Penida, which looks much wilder.
In retrospect, Lembongan is perhaps my favorite place on this trip to Bali. As I said before, it changes you from the commercial and superficial relationships of other more touristic places.
However, I don't deny my privileged status as a tourist, and I appreciate finding nice guesthouses and restaurants when I stay somewhere.
But, how to say... It's quite nice to be surrounded by "real people" who do something else than working in the hotel business or walking holiday makers. In short, this laborious activity around seaweed adds, in my eyes, 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 farmers in Nusa Lembongan, according to the testimony of a Balinese guide in the article below: