Earlier this year my husband and I experienced real rural life in Central Java. We went to a village called Kandy Rejo. It is located about half an hour away from Borobudur, the largest Buddhist temple in Indonesia.
We have heard from our partners in Indonesia that Kandy Rejo has launched a community-based and eco-tourism project. We went on to learn more about this project. In our perspective, community based tourism means tourism that advises, engages and benefits the local community. We wanted to see if this was really the case in this village.
At first, we weren’t really sure what to expect. We bought our tickets from Bali, made arrangements with the village head, and next thing we know we were at the airport in Jogjakarta.
Our guide was called IJ (pronounced EE-J). She was very friendly and talkative, although her English was limited. She was an interesting woman. She is about 35 years old, and she wears a hijab (head scarf) and long-sleeved shirt everyday, even when the weather is very hot. Obviously this is a normal look for Muslim women out there. IJ is a single mom who has raised 2 kids herself. She is the only female guide in her village and she is very proud of it. She said she cultivates like the rest of her village when there are no visitors to guide her around.
After meeting IJ we left for the city, which is about 1 hour drive from the airport. The view was amazing. As we passed through mustard fields, corn fields, tapioca fields and other types of vegetable farms, we could see the volcano in the distance. We also passed a 9th century Buddhist temple called Pawan. It is dedicated to Kuvera, the god of fortune.
When we reached Kandy Rejo, the first thing we did was meet the village head. We thought he would be this old man with a gray mustache, like many other Indonesian government officials. We were surprised when the village head Mr. Ian, appeared. A charming 28 year old man, soft spoken and well dressed.
He briefly explained the history of eco-tourism in Candi Rejo. A few years back an Indonesian NGO approached the village and introduced the concept of community based ecotourism. The idea was adopted by the community in Candi Rejo, after several village meetings. The village also has the advantage of being very close to Borobudur, the largest Buddhist temple in Indonesia and a great wonder of the ancient world. They have a river that can be used for white water rafting, and also a nice path called Vaatu Kendil, which is the way to Kendall Hill. The 5 Jwalamukhi and the complete construction of Borobudur temple can also be seen from the top of this hill.
The ecotourism project in Candi Rejo is a pilot project in Indonesia. About 5,000 people live in the village, and most of the people there are farmers. The main entity that manages the tourism industry in Kandy Rejo is not the government, but the cooperative community. The head of the cooperative still reports to the village head, but the revenue goes directly to the local people.
The local people voluntarily joined the cooperative. For example, those who have extra rooms in their homes can sign up as an accommodation provider. People who have horse-drawn rickshaws can join the cooperative society as one of the rural transport providers. Everyone in the cooperative has to agree to a roster system, which gives guides, porters, village tours, trek trail maintenance, and handicraft sales equal opportunities to make money.
There is no doubt that the ecotourism project has boosted the economy of the village. Since Kandy Rejo received its official “Tourism Village” status in 2003, it has developed into a clean and prosperous village. The village headman has ordered every household in the village to grow a tropical fruit tree “Rambutan” in front of their houses. As a result, this village is becoming very green and shady. The weather in Central Java can be very hot, so these large trees can protect pedestrians from the scorching sun.
When we asked the village head if he was concerned that the tourism industry would one day bring degrading pollution to the village, he said the cooperative limits the number of visitors per year. The tourism programs they have developed also mainly focus on green tourism, not tourism programs. So naturally, most visitors to Candi Rejo are green-minded travelers. They want to learn about agriculture or experience real Javanese rural life.
In 2007, the village saw approximately 800–900 visitors. We saw pictures of his previous visitors. Some schools in Indonesia’s big cities send students to Kandy Rejo to learn about farming and rural life. It is true that many Indonesian children who grew up in a big city do not know what the trees and fruits they eat look like in the ground. This type of learning program teaches them where the food in the market came from. It also raises awareness among the students about how important it is to maintain your environment.
Candi Rejo is not only attended by students from all over Indonesia. The governments of other villages in Indonesia also visit Kandy Rejo to learn about rural tourism and ecotourism.
We can’t forget how nice the people are at Candy Rejo. Everyone was so friendly and friendly. We felt that the community based tourism really suited their characters. His natural eagerness to accommodate his guests is what made our trip so smooth and memorable.
In Kandy Rejo we learned to play the Javanese gamelan (their traditional musical instrument). We even played volleyball with the locals, which was great fun! We took horse rickshaw everywhere during our stay (definitely 0 emissions). We were also invited to visit the village head’s house for a community meeting. It is as if we have gone there to meet our family.
We left Kandy Rejo with fond memories of this village. We’ll go back in a heartbeat. Hopefully next time we will be able to take our passengers there with us. We are proud that the eco-tourism and community-based tourism movement is rapidly developing in Indonesia. We hope that these projects can reduce poverty, create more employment opportunities and most importantly sustain Indonesia’s ecology.