The sand on the beach is silvery white and running along the whole stretch of the beach is a line of low hills, which are just beginning to turn a shade of green. The place has an empty, isolated feeling about it.
One would think the entire island totally uninhabited if not for a couple of western women talking to a group of men who are making preparations to take their boat out to sea. The smell of salt hovers in the air and the evening wind from the sea is cooling on the skin. To the west, one can just make out the faint outline of the island of Bali floating on the water in the horizon. Nusa Penida is the largest of three islands to the south of Bali. Together with Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan, the total area measures around 202.84 square kilometres. The population consists of 7,998 families, spread out among thirteen villages and unified under one division, Nusa Penida. The two smaller islands make up a district, comprised of only two villages: the village of Lembongan with an area of 6.15 square kilometres and a population of 3,428, and the village of Jungut Batu, area 3.97 square kilometres and population 2.697. Due to its limestone and chalky landscape, Nusa Ceningan is the least inhabited.
In earlier days, the general opinion was that people who set up home on these islands were "cast-offs" or "rubbish" from the area of Klungkung in Bali. Viewed in such a light, it is no wonder then that Nusa Penida is often considered a dumping ground.
Most of the land there is in critical condition. The level of chalk content in the soil makes it highly impenetrable to water, thus causing barrenness and unproductivity. Cultivation is limited to crops that do not require much water such as coconuts. Besides agriculture, al large percentage of the population is engaged in the breeding of cows, and recent years have seen a hatchery developments and the beginning of a seaweed industry. At Nusa Penida, about 2000 workers are presently employed to work on 163 hectares of seaweed, which is exported. About 200 hectares have yet been touched so far. The villagers of Lembongan and Jungut Batu are new tourist spots, with thirteen official losmen (inns) at the latter alone. Nusa Penida, with its beautiful white sandy beaches, is still dreaming of hotels. According to Tjokorda Gede Agung, the District Head of Klungkung, would-be investors, one from Japan and the other an American, have conducted surveys on the area. No actual development has taken place yet.
Gede Agung also said that all investing parties, be they local or foreigner, are most welcomed on the condition that they are seriously interested in developing tourist facilities. The prospects for tourism look bright. Even with the present poor standards and lack of accommodations, the rate of visitors who stay over at Jungut Batuaverages 157 people a month with an average estimated length of stay of between three to five days. "Therefore," continued Gede Agung, "If there are good, proper hotels in the place, there will be no trouble with room occupancy."
Nowadays, quite, lonely spots far removed from the hustle and bustle of daily city life are usually targeted by holiday makers In Bali, Ubud's laid-back, tranquil villages, Bedugul's mist-covered, rolling mountains and Candi Dasa's beach are great favourites.
However, no matter how remote a place is, there is always the danger of overcrowding and "commercialism". Then, when does one to for a little peace and quiet? Why not Nusa Penida, just off the south coast of Bali?
To develop the tourism industry on Nusa Penida will not be an inexpensive task. Accessibility is limited and inconvenient. When the weather and sea conditions are good, the journey by sampan from Bali takes one hour. One can leave from Kusamba, Klungkung, Sanur, Nusa Dua, Padang Bai or Benoa. The actual distance from Kusumba is only six miles, which could easily be covered in thirty minutes by a speed boat. A ferry service would solve the problem of transport. "We would like to set up a port as soon as possible to enable a speed boat or ferry to dock," explained Gede Agung, "but for the cross-over from Bali to run on a regular basis, we need an investor.
The reasons why the investors are so hesitant about making a decision on the place could be attributed to the problem of water, which, in large quantities, is extremely difficult to obtain. There is no source of drinking water and the inhabitants have to resort to collecting rainwater in tubs. "We have enough for daily use, but for operating a hotel, it is just out of the question," said Made Sastra, a local resident. "Actually, there is plenty of water deep down below in the earth, but it has got to be drilled. The debit can run into hundreds of litres per second. It would require very expensive technology."
The chalky hillslopes have recently benefited from a local agricultural program. The whitish landscape is slowly being dotted here and there by green. It is hoped that one day in the future, Nusa Penida will be able to supply and meet the demand of fresh fruit for its neighbour, Bali.
Nusa Penida has a special treat in store for underwater enthusiasts. Coordinated by the Bali Yacht Club at Sanur, tourists from Sanur and Nusa Dua enjoy an underwater panoramic experience as spectacular as that of Bunaken in North Sulawesi, which is reputed to offer the most breathtaking underwater life in Indonesia.
At Lembongan village, there is a man-made, underground cave by the name of Basundari Graha. It was made by a puppeteer called Made Biasa, otherwise also known as Pan Kerti, who died in 1984. He commenced work in 1961, using only a linggis, working every night when he was not performing on stage. His sole tool measured 1 metre when he first started and when he finished, it was reduced to 0.5 metre.
An underground house was built in this holed-out cave, the area of which covers 500 square metres. The rooms are all normal size and fully-equipped with proper ventilation. A well spurts cool, fresh water the whole year round. The upper part of the house serves as a court yard, complete with a separate, six-columned building for prayer and ceremonial activities. Because the walls and floor of the cave are made out of either limestone or marble, the risk of a cave-in is minimal. The walls tell the stories of the Mahabrata and Ramayana through illustrations.
It is common practice today for tourists to stop over for a night in this very curious abode. Nyoman Usana, a son of Pan Kerti, said that the expenses of maintenance of the cave depends on donations and tips from the tourists
Another cave worth visiting is the Giri Putri, located in the village of Karang Sari at Nusa Penida. Right in the middle of a hill, the cave runs for about 2 km. One has to crouch to get through the narrow entrance. The 500 square metres inside is sufficient for a football match. The roof of the cave is more that 15 metres high. The place never sees any daylight, making it the haunt of thousands of bats.
A river runs along the length of the cave. A spring from a niche in a stone wall is believed to flow with holy water. This particular spring has never been known to run dry before. Therefore, locals respect this place as sacred ground. At the other den of the cave, facing south lies spread out a fantastic view of rolling hills and green mango farms.
Not far from the cave is another, Paon, which has not attracted as many adventurers as the previous two. Other caves on the island are only small, shallow hide-outs left over from the Japanese occupancy. Those who find the art of native dance fascinating can be entertained by the Sanghyang Dance at Lembongan and Jungut Batu, and the sacred Baris Dance, Jangkang, at Sekartaji, Nusa Penida. The latter dance is also native to Klungkung in Bali although there are some differences in the traditional costumes and gestures. The Jangkang Dance symbolises the armies of kingdoms in past eras. Today, it is still performed for visiting government officials. It is often staged too during Ramayana and Mahabarata dramas.
The locals of Nusa Penida dream of the day when their much-loved island will rank with Sanur and Nusa Dua as a famous tourist resort. Setiawati, a pretty nineteen year old, said while helping her father with the seaweed on the beach, "If there is a hotel in this place, many young people like myself will be able to get employment." The government has already made a move towards infrastructure arrangements: asphalt roads have been laid out in villages, international telephone communications is available and a bank has opened for business. What the island is awaiting now is a pioneer investor to develop the area and to promote its tourism industry.
- Musthofa, Kusnadi - Nusa Penida, Sister Island of Bali, in: The Archipelago, Indonesia's Culture & Tourism Monthly Magazine, 1 November, 1990, p.59-61