Staying in an Earthship – Sustainable Holidays in West Sumbawa

Photos by NabilGandhi.com and Fakeye

It is 11pm and the light goes off. The electricity supply for the day is finished and we are ready to go to bed. It is been a long day, exploring and identifying dive sites around the Eight Islands with base camp at the Earthships in Kenawa island. Located 15 min boat ride from Poto Tano, Kenawa spreads over 13,8 ha of unspoiled tropical beauty in Gili Balu district, West Sumbawa.

Kenawa Island – NabilGandhi.com

We are 7 passionate volunteer divers, here on behalf of Eco Regions Indonesia to document the potential of this area as a diving destination and taking the opportunity to test the newly built Earthships, two prototypes built by sustainable architect Mike Reynolds and his team over workshops held in December 2016 and March 2017.

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This project is part of The Eight Islands Eco Region, a comprehensive sustainable development venture situated in the District of Poto Tano, where the West Sumbawa Regency has allocated an area covering around 1,000 hectares as an Eco Region suitable for the development of both eco-tourism and agro-industry. The Regency has nominated Eco Regions Indonesia (ERI) as the conservation, rehabilitation and development governing body for the area, with responsibility to produce sustainable development rules and guidelines for development in the Eco Region, prohibiting non-sustainable practices. This platform combines environmental, cultural, social, spiritual and financial needs in equal balance, and is set to create South East Asia’s largest Eco Region.

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Southeast Asia’s first Earthship Branded resort

Mike Reynolds has been building Earthships for more than 40 years, adapting the concept of this self-sufficient building to a variety of contexts, uses and climatic conditions. Different adaptations of this self-sufficient building have been built worldwide; some becoming private residences, some offices, other holiday houses and some Earthsips have even been adopted within relief programs for homeless people. Moreover, thanks to its unique and diverse design, the wide use of recycled materials such as glass and plastic bottles, cans and tires, the Earthship is many people’s “dream home”, mainly for its self-sufficiency in energy production, which allows it to be completely off the grid. Indeed, the Earthship has been defined “a living organism”, because it interacts with the surrounding environment as if it was a living being, adapting to the needs of who lives in it and to climatic conditions. The mass created by old tires stuffed with soil isolate the building, as do the empty plastic and glass bottles, which are also used for decoration. Water is collected and treated for human use, for then being recycled to irrigate the garden. Energy is made with solar panels and a so-called “breeze-maker” system on the roof, cools down hot outdoor air and turns it into a natural air flow that freshens the building indoor. In Eight Islands, the Earthship team is collaborating with Eco regions Indonesia for the establishment of Southeast Asia’s first Earthship Branded resort and Earthship Academy.

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Earthship sustainable life 

To us, seven divers and temporary dwellers, the Earthship has provided sufficient fresh water to wash off salt and dirt at the end of the day, enough electricity to charge our phones, camera batteries and laptops and to give us light until after dinner. We had to use a generator to fuel the air compressor used to fill the tanks, but no additional cooling system such as fans or air-conditioning devices was needed to keep us fresh during the hot days.

“The Earthship interacts with the surrounding environment and uses the energy that is on the planet.” architect Mike Reyolds recently explained in an interview. “It recycles waste and rain water and isolates from outdoor temperature thanks to the mass made of compressed soil and recycled materials such as tyres, bottles and cans” he added. Each Earthship is powered by solar, has its own gravity-based water collection system and septic tank. “The Earthship needs less energy than a conventional building. It needs less solar panels and no air-conditioning; it gives you the essentials, provides you what you need but does no let you watch tv all day!” Reynolds said.

Earthships can be customised according to the needs of the people living in it, but at the same time they educate people on their energy consumption. “You cause people to be aware that everything is finite. That energy is finite. People don’t think like that now, because it is provided, they just need to pay for it and can have as much they want. The Earthship is causing people to see not just their little world, but the whole picture, and make them reason – Do I really need to waste water? Do I really need to waste power? To throw my garbage out, my sewage to go into the sea? – Slowly, they start to see their participation in this planet and it makes them stronger.” Reynolds concluded.

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The project of the Earthship Resort in Eight Island Eco Region is progressing; another construction workshop will take place in October 2017, and this training exercise will gradually involve more and more local construction teams to build 33 Earthships and open to the public.

It is true that the so-called sustainable travel has become many travel agencies’ best seller. However, on our short stay in an Earthship – the first one in Indonesia – , we have had the invaluable opportunity to experience what sustainable travel really is. More than staying in a luxury hotel with a bamboo roof, sustainability is a conversation with the environment, a living interaction with nature, people and ourselves.

Published on Bali&Beyond 

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