Bali’s Unsung Heroes
Kelan Village, Indonesia
The way in which we all experience travel is evolving. ETG travellers are increasingly seeking out the authentic stories that lie behind the glossy brochure images, and which, we like to say, reveal the fabric of a destination. So, inspired by your own travel moments, we sought out some of the very human stories that lay behind them. We wanted to share them with you; to inspire you to start thinking about your next travel story and inspire like-minded friends and family members to do the same.
The alarm goes and it’s 4.45 am. At this point in time I have to shake myself, remember how lucky I am to be taking part in this photography trip, and that ‘light is everything’ as Tom Parker, the photographer, would say.
But this time, it wasn’t just about light. It was the one and only time we’d be able to capture the stories of Bali’s unsung heroes: the fishermen.
Meeting the fishermen at Kelan was something I was particularly excited about. I’d been to Bali a few times and experienced the incredible seafood, so I was curious to follow the journey back, see how it all fitted together. It’s not often we get an insight into the lives of those ‘behind the scenes’ of our Asian adventures, but that’s exactly what we do on our holidays. For this type of experience in Bali, why not take a look at our Bali Explorer holiday?
It was hectic to say the least. I’d been warned that we’d pretty much be treated as if we were invisible – which we were. The energy was electric, but you got the sense very quickly just how hard this life was. The competition was fierce and there was no messing about. The boats came in, the fish chucked into buckets which the women took to be weighed. They were then sold in three main areas. The first was outside the main market, usually solo women selling one type of fish; the second, an auction where buckets of a random array were sold, which were slightly lower grade and the ‘leftovers’ of some of the catches; the third, wholesale in the covered market area. The experience was phenomenal, but not for the faint-hearted: the smell of and fish guts at 6am could make even the hardest soul bulk (I’d advise against drinking the night before, either!).
Few of the fishermen are actually from Bali. They mostly come from neighbouring Java, particularly the Muncar Village in Banyuwangi. Hundreds of men will leave before sunset, fishing all night around the Indian Ocean and the Bali Straight before ending up in Kelan village the following morning between 4 – 6am. Selling conditions are luck of the draw depending on who’s there to buy on their arrival, how many competing ships are around, whether the part of the ocean they were fishing was fruitful, what the wind conditions were like… As you can imagine, this makes for a pretty tough daily grind.
The biggest factor affecting the lives of these fishermen, however, is the weather. April to October is the best time, being the ‘dry season’, but even then the tropical conditions mean you can never rule out a heavy storm. They typically spend £22 per day on operations, and they would hope to sell quadruple that on a good day. Interestingly, there are not set prices for the fish and it’s very dependent on the season.
An equally enjoyable yet somewhat more relaxing experience is actually tasting the catch. One of our favourite places for this if Jimbaran Bay, which is famous for delicious beach barbecues. From around 6pm you see this plume of smoke billowing out into the horizon because there are so many restaurants lined up BBQ’ing. All the fish is just so fresh and you can sit back with your toes in the sand as the lantern-lit tables flood out close to the shoreline. It’s quite magical, and hasn’t become commercialized (yet!) so hopefully it will retain its charm for years to come. A bit cliché I know, but I’ll certainly appreciate what my nicely barbecued piece of red snapper has gone through to get to my plate!