The Garden of Bayad
INSIGHT BALI MAGAZINE – JULY 09
Who needs Eden when you've got Bayad? This tiny village is home to one of the lushest environs on earth, a mystical labyrinth, a Mayor and a bule with extraordinary vision, and an Eco Center determined to show the rest of the world how living in tune with nature is done, serpents notwithstanding.
—By Jamie Innes. Author: Belinda Rose-Innes
In the next few years the entire financial world as we know it is going to collapse. This is what Peter Studer believes anyway. But you can bet your last worthless dollar that he's ready for it. Because Peter, together with the mayor of Bayad, Ketut Sunarta, has built an entirely self-sufficient (or will be soon) community just north east of Ubud.
Welcome to Bali Eco Adventure Center, where fruit and vegetables grow so freely they put the garden of Eden to shame; where your every ailment can be cured by one of the herbs or spices growing in the specially planted medicinal garden; where milk and honey run freely off the trees (well, not quite).
To be fair, Peter and Ketut's vision and mission in building Bali Eco Adventure Center actually had nothing to do with Peter's prediction about complete economic collapse or any wish to cover his own ass should it happen. That's just a happy coincidence. It actually came about from far more altruistic motives, motives that don't involve profit or indeed any kind of money making. Instead, the vision was to create a place where "We could demonstrate to people, especially expats, that it's always better to live with an open heart, in tune with others and in tune with nature," Peter explains. "We are doing this in an abstract way by showing that we have opened up this valley and by showing visitors what is in the heart of nature."
Ketut first approached Peter in September 2007 after meeting at a village soccer match. Having worked as a tour guide for 20 years, and then in his capacity as Mayor of Bayad, Ketut had seen a need to build a bridge between tourists to Bali and the locals. He also knew that for his village to prosper, investment of some sort was needed. Ketut invited Peter to visit his village… and Peter promptly fell head over heels in love with the place. "I saw this miraculous, beautiful place and was immediately fascinated by the valley – the fruits, climate and nature in general here are all so unique. Do you know that there are fruits growing here which grow nowhere else on this island, let alone the world? Anyway, the idea came to share this with people… Especially for those coming from the Western world, there is a huge variety of botanical stuff here that is fascinating."
Ketut and his village had succeeded in seducing Peter. "I'd been having visions of creating a place where you could live totally independent of the rest of the world without ever having to leave since 1995," enthuses Peter. In Bayad, a place "where everything grows!" he'd found his spot. Of course, things take a long time to happen in Bali and he thought building such a place here would take forever. But before he could say "next century", Ketut had convinced 34 farmers in the valley to co-operate and they began the task of clearing the valley, preparing the fields and creating pathways.
During this time they planted 3000 cocao trees, 500 coffee plants, 600 mangostene trees, 75 cashew nut trees, 500 durian, 600 mango, candlenut, grapefruit, etc etc… and discovered a labyrinth – taken right out of Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings – which then led to the idea of adding 'Eco Adventures' to the mix. "We assume it had been used as an irrigation system about 700 years ago and then about 350 years ago it was used as a hideout from the Dutch," believes Peter. Either way, today the labyrinth forms part of the extensive web of nature hiking trails visitors can take… bat-, and ghost- and dragon-filled some believe, but fascinating.
At the same time Peter was frantically researching medical herbs and planting a medical herb and spice garden. "I realised people were increasingly turning to the simple life, to ecological values, a change linked to the global economic crisis," Peter says of his determination to create an all-healing, all-encompassing medical herb garden.
From there it was just a short leap to building permanent homes. "Visitors kept asking us, 'Can we not stay here for the night' while others wanted to hold seminars and conferences. So we started building simple homes here. Out of the nine homes planned, seven are already sold – I guess others share my prediction about the world economy! If it does collapse they can come live here and be totally self-sufficient," Peter reaffirms. "Anyone who buys here has shares in the fruits, vegetables and herbs grown here as well as the seven cows, 15 pigs, rabbits, geese, ducks, fish etc etc."
Homeowners aren't the only ones to benefit though. The surrounding farmers, without whose co-operation this visionary scheme could never have gotten off the valley floor, all receive 33% of the shares and profits, while a further 10% goes to the villagers for social purposes. The Bali Eco Adventure Center is big on community, explains Ketut. "The idea is to fully integrate the village into the project so that everyone benefits. We can only make this work if everyone works hand in hand and learns from each other, within the parameters of respecting each others' religions and cultures." Roughly translated this means that the bules can learn how to really live in tune with nature while the locals learn about Western eco-friendly practices.
Finally, the most important message Ketut and Peter want to send to the world with their project is that "We would love this place to be seen as an example of how walls between man and nature, and locals and tourists, can be removed and replaced with bridges. The Balinese especially have such a fantastic outlook on life and living in harmony with nature and we can learn from that."
All the while feasting off abundant tropical fruits, smelling the cocao beans, healed by herbs and going to sleep every night enthralled by tales of labyrinthine dragons.