Guide book author Ryan Ver Berkmoes came to Bali to attend the Ubud Readers and Writers Festival held November 6-11, 2005, and stayed on to tour the island that is the subject of several Lonely Planet guides for which he served as principal author. Balidiscovery.com caught up with the writer of some of the world's most well-read travel guides towards the end of his latest Bali tour for an interview.
The Interview: Ryan Ver Berkmoes
balidiscovery.com: Welcome back to Bali! You've just attended the 2nd Ubud Readers and Writers Festival. How did the festival go? In your opinion, is this festival likely to become a permanent fixture on Bali's calendar of annual events?
Ver Berkmoes: The festival really came into its own this year. The range of writers presented was very impressive as was the organization. I certainly hope it becomes a key fixture on the island's calendar. Certainly it was good to see interest continuing to build. I ran a session where people got try their hands at my job: guidebook writing. I learned a thing or two from the students!
balidiscovery.com: With the Festival starting only six days after a tragic bomb attack on three dining venues in Bali did you ever consider canceling your trip to Bali?
Ver Berkmoes: Not at all. These sorts of horrible things happen all too often in all too many places. It is sort of like the old "Are you afraid of flying?" question where the answer is always: "No you stand a greater chance of dying in the car on the way to the airport."
balidiscovery.com: You spent a number of days traveling around Bali following the festival. What's you assessment of the general mood of the Balinese and fellow travelers you met?
Ver Berkmoes: It's really a shame to see locals worrying about their futures again. They had a few months of good business, which gave them a taste of things to come and now this. I hope it passes quickly. As for other travelers, the ones I met were the ones who either didn't go home or still came. They love Bali and weren't going to be put off by the acts of a few fanatics.
balidiscovery.com: Any thoughts on the dangers confronting tourists visiting Bali? Do you think the Balinese will meet the challenge ahead and undertake the steps needed to reassure future visitors to come back to Bali?
Ver Berkmoes: I think Bali remains a very safe place for visitors overall. The low incidence of petty crime alone - something that plagues other resort areas worldwide - continues to impress me. The simple fact is that terrorists will always be able to strike almost anywhere if they combine persistence, planning and a bit of luck. But that said, I think Bali needs to significantly upgrade the amount of money it spends on law enforcement. There are sincere people who do care working now, but in order to have the kind of security and/or police force that I think is demanded by the island's popularity will require a lot more money so that the level of professionalism can be increased by an order of magnitude.
balidiscovery.com: You've been traveling to Bali for 14 years. What are some of the changes, both for the good and bad, you've detected over the years?
Ver Berkmoes: Let's get the bad out of the way first: growth unhampered by long-term vision or planning is a huge threat. When I see tall buildings going up in Legian thanks to their influential owners (just one of a myriad of examples), it's a real sign that what makes Bali special can easily be lost to greed and a lack of care. There is so much money coming into the island, it seems that much more needs to be diverted to dealing with issues such as sewage, trash, pollution etc. Of course the entire problem in easily obtaining a 60-day visa is just silly.
Now on to the good! One of the very best things is that the more Bali changes, the less it changes. Sure that can be seen as a part of the problems above but to me it is at the heart of what is so wonderful about Bali. I met wonderful, charming people 14 years ago and I continue to meet more every visit. You continue to have delightful conversations that start with "Where are you from?" I also am a fan of the increasing sophistication of life on the island. I'm always up for a tasty mie goreng, but I also very much enjoy the range of sophisticated, world-class restaurants and the sheer creativity of so many people working on Bali.
balidiscovery.com: You've lived a very interesting life traveling to a large number of countries, watching tourism develop in each locale. If you could have the ear of Bali's tourism leaders, are there any words of wisdom or caution you'd share?
Ver Berkmoes: I've covered some of this above, but in no huge order: 1) Bring back the 60-day visa on arrival, 2) find ways to get more tourist money into initiatives that truly benefit the island (environment, education, security etc), 3) clean up the few places on the island where greed, short-sightedness and simple need have combined to make places that should be special distinctly unappealing to visitors, 4) get some of the more creative people on the island involved in a project to develop a museum of both the island and its culture. I don't mean a dusty, musty place with dull exhibits but rather a place that celebrates the island in a way that engages both locals and visitors.
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