The place commonly referred to as Amed isn’t a single town but a string of quaint beachside fishing villages stretching about 15 kilometres along the dry and rugged northeastern coast of Bali. It’s a world away from the busy tourist centres in South Bali such as Kuta, Seminyak and Ubud.
The entire area is collectively referred to as Amed but, in fact, consists of a series of small beach-side fishing villages, each with it’s own name and identity. There’s Amed, Jemeluk, Bunutan, Lipah, LeeAn, Salang and others. These communities are separated by hills stretching along the coast and connected by a single coastal road that winds up over one headland, down into a small beach-fringed cove, up over the next headland, and down into the next village.
Aside from low-key tourism, which has been developing gradually since the mid-80s (boutique resorts, dive shops and scattered shops), Amed still revolves around fishing and farming. Local families live down on the coast and up along Amed’s scrubby hillsides in small primitive shacks and houses Fishing high season lasts roughly 3 months, from October to December. During those months each fisherman can catch 100-300 mackerel per day. The remaining 9 months of the year, fishing catches are extremely sporadic. One day can bring 30 fish, the next day merely 1-2 fish. Each day’s catch also varies greatly for each fisherman. One man may catch 2, another 20.
Balinese fishing boats, ‘jukung’, are colorful wooden outriggers with ‘arms’ on either side for stability. These single-masted sailboats have triangular sails made of heavy, colorful plastic, each with a different patterned sail, making it easy to identify individual boats. Hulls are hollowed-out trees, deep and extremely narrow, just wide enough to seat one slim person. Arms are constructed from bamboo and wood then slashed together with ropes.
Fishermen supplement their income by farming the scrubby Amed hillsides. They keep farm animals, including pigs, cows and chickens, which they sell and/or eat. Amed’s very short growing season coincides with Bali’s rainy season, roughly Dec. through Feb. During that time they can only grow corn, peanuts and beans, all of which they eat or sell. Other vegetables, rice, tofu and other foods they must buy at market.
Some fishermen are able to earn money with their jukung via tourism. Dive shops hire them for boat diving. Fishermen also take tourists out on their usual fishing trips and on snorkeling adventures. They sometimes porter travelers over to Lombok’s Gili islands, a 2-3 hour trip on open seas. Local women often earn money by giving excellent massages to tourists or by portering scuba diving tanks.
While Amed’s vibrant flurry of daily fishing activities adds a charming touch to any Amed vacation, it’s disheartening to learn the dire reality of the fishermen’s daily lives. Each time to visit I hope their situation has been improved by the low-key tourism slowly infiltrating their homeland.
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