"Let's see what Bali presents us with today," said our guide, as we scrambled into a van for our first day on the island. Make no mistake, there is no "one Bali" despite the romanticism of "Eat, Pray, Love"--or as the locals describe it, "That damned book!" Denpasar is packed. Corporate resorts are mushrooming all over the beach fronts. The club scene can seem more like a perpetual Spring Break than anything else.
That said, authentic Bali still exists and if you want to find it, it's mostly behind the walls. To get in, you have to be guided. What you'll find there is pure joy, kindness, and a rich spiritual community that is being challenged by cellphones, foreign investors, and the hyper demands of a connected world that is breaking the links that make a place like Bali so vital and strong. The shift from ancient mask carving to TikTok will take less than a generation. The kids don't want to take over their family's centuries-old gong-making business. They don't want to work on fishing boats or learn to play in Gamelan orchestras when they can make big money at the resorts and become social media influencers. And who can blame them? Island life can be uncertain and grueling. Working the rice fields, preparing for days for village ceremonies and the ornate funeral processions is hard, hard work. Putting out the daily offerings can seem like a waste of time when you can work for tips driving golf carts for rich tourists and flip a 15-second video and get worldwide attention.
For Bali, the loss will be incalculable. Not just the lost crafts and spirituality, but the loss of true independence and the dismantling of a culture that has been self-sustaining for generations. Bali has survived because of its deep traditions, limitations, and cooperative mindset. As our guide said, "If a chicken is in my yard, it's my chicken. If it moves into your yard, it's your chicken. If it moves to the street, it's our chicken." Given the apocalyptic consequences of climate change, Bali's vanishing communal interdependence is not a quaint anachronism. It's the blueprint for our future because ultimately, in order to survive, we're all going to have to be in it together.