Sustainability, Permaculture & Community Projects

Kelapa Retreat is actively involved with the local community, working in harmony with nature and Balinese culture.

Kelapa Retreat – Dream to Reality

Kelapa Retreat was planned as a forward-thinking blueprint. An example to future investors of how sustainable development in balance with the natural ecosystem and local community is possible. The hotel’s profits and integrated village projects support the local economy, raising the standard of living in this underdeveloped part of the island.

Backpackers Gordon Hild and his future wife Ismayanti met in their youth while exploring the remote Indonesian island of Sulawesi in the late 90’s. Their love of nature and interest in culture and sport set the foundation of their life together.

In Bali, unplanned development had already become out of control. Locals lured into making a quick dollar had sold much ancestral land along with their ability to remain self sufficient. During their travels Ismayanti and Gordon had seen behind the surface glamour of mass tourism and the impact it has on nature and local communities.

Tourism infrastructure had sprung up and spread out like a cancer in the south in order to gain as much profit as quickly as possible, devouring rice paddies, thriving ecosystems and tearing communities apart all over the island as the younger generation flooded to the larger cities seeking employment.

Gordon became an expert in South East Asian studies with a focus on sustainable development and the Indonesian language.

Gordon and Ismayanti could see that imbalanced growth and uncontrolled development would end badly for Bali. What started as a dream slowly began to take form. They discussed a possible solution, sustainable hotels in remote underdeveloped regions with focus on community exchange. An exchange that would support both the tourist industry and enable members of the local community to realise their creative ideas, develop their own businesses and remain close to their families.

Balinese culture has a deep rooted focus on the balance of nature and community needs. Family support is a necessity to the sick and elderly as only a basic social security system exists.

Gordon and Ismayanti began to plan how they could make a difference. To develop a home away from home, a sustainable tourism project that gave back to the community and kept the real Bali and its nature intact. A vision away from quantitative mass tourism to one of sustainable qualitative development where ecological, societal, and economical needs are met and in balance with nature, without compromising the livelihoods of future generations.

While traveling together along the West Bali coastline in 2006, they came across a coconut grove for sale in a remote and pristine location, far away from mass tourism. They couldn’t believe their luck. Selling all their property in Germany, Ismayanti and Gordon Hild, together with Gordon’s parents and another friend invested their capital in the land and began to work closely with village heads and local residents. They discussed how the hotel could work in harmony with the community and local culture, utilizing skills and land to improve quality of life without unnecessary spending on the part of the village.

Although balance within nature is the essence of Balinese culture and religion, no education regarding its protection existed in the village. Rivers overflowed with plastic from religious offerings and mature trees were cut down without a second thought to future consequences.

In 2008, Gordon’s self-designed sustainable villas were built, creating as little negative impact on the surrounding ecosystem as possible. Coconut trees, some up to 70 years old were undisturbed where possible – there’s even one still growing happily through the roof at the end of the kitchen corridor! Local raw materials were utilized to reduce the need for transportation. White stone was chosen to reflect the heat and grey-green stone to blend the buildings into beach-front vegetation.

Porches and overhangs create buffer zones to reduce temperature, marble flooring and living roofs thermally insulate the villas against heat, keeping the interior cool.

The flat rooftops harvest rainwater which is stored in underground catchment tanks. The roofs resemble natural pools which reflect the sky and surrounding tropical vegetation – without hindering wider views of the ocean. Grey-water, from sinks, showers and baths is also reused in landscape irrigation.

Many other water features bring the Balinese temple cleansing element of water into the property and are a habitat and water source for animals. A creek in the forest part of the property also functions as a green-belt between hotel and village, guaranteeing absolute privacy for the guests. Tropical landscaping has attracted much more biodiversity to the area, such as butterflies, lizards and a much larger variety of birds.

This fusion adds to the unique atmosphere that inspires so many guests to return over again, recognising that there’s something different and very special there.

It’s not only the architecture and landscape which makes the project special and successful.

The local villagers are the real soul of Kelapa Retreat, employees trained by the owners, who have their natural Balinese hospitality intact and untainted due to not being trained in mass tourism hubs. They are forever being complimented by guests, who feel welcomed from the heart.

Many locals who built villas in the past now work as gardeners and security guards. One female construction worker is now nanny to Gordon and Ismayanti’s son. Younger employees, being more financially stable have settled down and started their own families.

Gordon and Ismayanti would like to introduce solar energy in the future, and are interested in meeting sponsors to help accomplish it.

Kelapa Retreat is so much more than a typical business focused on reaping revenue. It is a special sustainable project and long-term lifestyle program.

Over the last 10 years, Gordon and Ismayanti have established positive changes within the local community who view the hotel as a mascot which has influenced and improved many lives.

Kid’s Skill Development Center

Bali’s main industry is based on tourism, therefore it made sense to Ismayanti and Gordon Hild to provide a space where kid’s can explore their natural talents and interests while having fun and being active. . .

Discussed with village heads and agreed on by hotel shareholders, a substantial part of the hotel’s net gain will be used to develop a foundation called DESA KELAPA meaning ‘Coconut Village’ in Indonesian. It will be built by Gordon on land within the village of Pekutatan not far from Kelapa Retreat.

Desa Kelapa will be a youth center where kids can spend time in afternoon workshops after school. Here they’ll explore their talents and interests, develop skills, gain experience, confidence, responsibility and pride in their ideas.

The Balinese have a community based culture that relies heavily on families staying together and supporting each other.

Gordon says, “With a platform like this, youth will be more able to ground their own businesses within their community in the future, be self sufficient and have the chance to stay close to their families rather than being forced to leave the community due to lack of work. I’d love it if some Desa Kelapa kids want to become future team leaders who pass on their skills to the younger ones.”

The centre is still in the design phase, though some workshops are already in progress.

One current workshop is about environmental awareness. The kids collect and separate litter they find on the beach, which is then passed onto the recycling project.

They then choose gifts in exchange for their recycling contribution and a team game is played on the beach. This gives the kids their own experience of recycling. Knowledge that rubbish can be turned into useful things, and a clean environment to enjoy.

Ismayanti would like to add another element, creative workshops that will teach how to make recycled materials into saleable products.

Other future workshops will include :

  • Art workshops: to teach crafts such as painting, sculpture and carving, so kids can develop their natural skills as artists.
  • Music Workshops: provide instruments, traditional music and cultural dance lessons, to promote musical talent and performance skills.
  • Permaculture Workshops: each kid will have their own patch of land to experiment with. To grow their own food, plant trees, learn from mistakes and see results.
  • Baking and Cookery Workshops: to enhance skills in both local cuisine and experiment with Western favorites.
  • Sport Workshops: provide equipment and play team games, have swimming lessons and introduce international sports such as tennis, athletics and archery.

First Recycling System in the Region

Hotel owner Ismayanti initiated the first recycling system in the region

Providing financial support and a vehicle for a local to start his own business. Hotel and village waste is now separated into cans, plastic, paper, glass, iron and other metals, then transported and sold to Java providing him with an income.

Each employee is provided with Tupperware to transport their lunch in. Previously plastic bags were used and discarded daily. Hotel kitchen scraps go to feed local animals and to compost the gardens.

“The village looks so much cleaner and prettier these days” says Ismayanti, who hopes that one day, Pekutatan village will be voted one of the most beautiful in West Bali.

Sustainable Living & Permaculture

Kelapa Retreat owner Ismayanti initiated a permaculture project for hotel employees.

Now, previously unused land on family plots is used to grow organic seasonal fruits, veggies, herbs, spices, plants and flowers. These products are then bought by Kelapa Retreat to supply the kitchen and gardens. Rice, tofu, soya, meat, fish and eggs are also bought locally from villagers.

This reduces plastic packaging, fuel consumption and pollution caused by long-distance food transportation and provides locals with an extra source of income.

Guests can go on a cultural village tour by mountain bike, learn about village life and visit family-run businesses. Income from this tour helps to subsidise the community’s tiny cottage-industries that make coconut palm sugar and Arak, the local liquor.

Other side-businesses flourish with skills learned by Kelapa Retreat staff on the job. One baker set up her own cake making business and a young chef recently left the hotel to open his own backpacker style cafe for both young locals and travellers passing through – one of the first in the region. Check it out here: Nal’s Kitchen

Support for the Sick & Elderly

Kelapa Retreat supports local elderly people who have no family to support them, as well as those sick and living in poverty

Housing support, clothes, blankets, doctors fees, food and medicine are provided. In the future, hotel owner Ismayanti would like to set up a ‘meals-on-wheels’ service to deliver ready meals door to door.