Sanur Village Fiasco

By Richard Boughton

Another community planning disaster, about 7.5 on the Richter scale, shook the little town of Sanur last week as the Sanur Village Festival, held at Sunrise Beach, played host to five long, hot, unspeakably humid days of frustration, vehicular chaos, roadway gridlock and boiling tempers.

In the past, the little festival had been a pleasant enough affair, offering food and drink, local crafts and wares for sale, music and entertainment at night – a place for tourists and locals to meet and meander, take a meal or sip at a tall, cold beer. I had looked forward to returning this year, as had my family, remembering a time when we enjoyed local flavours, mingled with friends, basked in the cooling breeze off the ocean and then sat on the grass at night for music and dance presented on a central stage.

But this year was to be different, for we ended up not with a festival but with a fiasco, long to be remembered, if for anything, as the place one should not have gone.

Why? What had happened between this year and last to turn a pleasant amusement into a nauseating nightmare?

In two words: bad planning.

Or maybe I should say no planning at all.

To begin with, what genius, I wonder – or what corporate body of genius (since it usually takes more than one person to be this stupid) – came up with the idea to hold the festival at Sunrise Beach, to which there is only one road of entry and one road of departure? Last year the festival grounds stretched between Grand Bali Beach and Sindhu, an area to which many roads enter, and to which one can easily walk from any avenue of entry. But one road only? To an event that will attract not only the population of Sanur, but of the far-flung outlying areas as well?

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, folks. You cannot see the whole picture until you take into account that this single road of entry comes straight off the bypass. As we all know from daily experience, the bypass is bad enough when simply left to itself; but funnel all this traffic, bound in both directions, onto a single narrow sideway and what you have is the old hopelessly clogged drain effect.

No matter how I try to imagine the decision-making process behind this disaster, the thing defies reason.

“Where should we hold the festival this year? It seems to have gone all too smoothly last, don’t you think?”

“Hmm, yes. How about the middle of the bypass?”

“Oh ya? And what shall we do about traffic control?”

“Well, let me think a second … Oh, how about nothing!”

One must consider as well that not all people on the bypass were bound for the festival. Some were trying to get to work. Some were trying to get home from work. Some were actually in the midst of work, like the truck drivers, the delivery vans, police cars, ambulances and such-like. Ah, but now they were going to the festival, like it or not. There was no place else to go.

Such was my situation on the final Sunday of the disaster. My son had stayed overnight with a friend in Sanur and I was to travel from my house in Biaung to pick him up in the afternoon, a trip which usually takes about 15 minutes one way. This day the round trip required two hours and 15 minutes, most of that passed in increments of half-inches between Padang Galak and Grand Bali Beach. The problem on Sunday was not only the fair. They had added a twist in the form of a parade of marchers and decorated floats. To accommodate this parade, they had closed one side of the bypass. Not one lane, but one side, you see? Predictably, no contingency plan had been made regarding what must happen with the bypass traffic.

But the Bali spirit is indomitable. There is always a way. And the way, in this case, was to simply cross the highway divider and head up the road into oncoming traffic. I’ve got to hand it to these Balinese motorists. Nothing will stop them short of debilitating injury or death. And such was the height of my own aggravation by this time that I did in fact join the desperate wrong-way crowd, despite my sober Western self, and experienced therefore a period of gleeful schizophrenia wherein I found myself both cursing and congratulating my unlawful actions.

At some point during the ensuing war of opposing traffic, the police awakened, emerged from wherever they had been napping, and began to wave their arms wildly and shout commands at the inventive motorists – with no consequence, however, other than to add a sort of celebration touch to the general clamour.

Come Monday, heavy clouds rolled in, rain threatened, and many people, according either to personal experience or word-of-mouth warnings, began to avoid the festival grounds. By mid-afternoon the traffic on the bypass had begun to flow again in its customarily gluey way, and it was clear that the island had survived the trial (although official casualty figures are still pending).

And what about my experience at the festival itself – aside from the traffic and the heat and the sweat and the honking and the swearing and the sitting and the waiting and the wilting? Well, I really can’t say. I was too exhausted by the time I got there to notice.

Richard can be contacted via

Filed under: Practical Paradise

Comments are closed.