Posted by: Jill | July 7, 2008

Complicated Tourism at Balanan Lake

Anna and I accompanied Macky on a research trip to Balanan Lake, in the mountains 90 minutes south of Dumaguete. The lake was formed in 1925 when an earthquake caused a landslide that formed a natural dam. In the past few years, the Balanan Lake Development Authority (a government agency) has been working to develop the area for ecotourism. Right now it’s a small-scale development, with just 8 hotel rooms, an open-air restaurant, boats available for rent, hiking trails and swimming pools. The employees come from about 50 households from the area, and are paid fairly well.

The area was beautiful: we rented motorbikes for the drive from Dumaguete, which took us past rice farms, water buffalo, green hillsides, and great views of both mountains and sea.

The conflict seems to occur, though, when farmers are relocated from their land on the hillsides to a development by the lake shore. Farmers aren’t allowed to farm the land, so it can be reforested and look nicer for tourists. Those farms that are allowed to continue have to switch to fruit crops for tourist consumption. Pro: organic farming is required, to preserve the lake watershed ecosystem. Con: people getting kicked off their land, and into houses that look like a scary concrete suburbia.

People also make a living from the lake, catching tilapia, eels, and other types of fish.  In a brilliant act of government interference, the lake was stocked with a non-native type of freshwater mussel to provide an additional food (and income) source.  However, people don’t like the way it tastes, and now the mussel population is growing into a nuisance.  Con: government intervention in ecosystems and livelihoods.  Pro: people have started collecting the shells to make souvenirs for tourists (shell napkin holder, anyone?).

Speaking of tourists, the Balanan Lake community is quite well prepared for us.  When arrived, they whisked us off by bangka to frolic in a waterfall.  Frolic we did, though we didn’t get nearly as close to the edge of the falls as our guide, Akil, did.

On our way back from the waterfall, we met this man who was cleaning his catch from the morning.  I picked the tastiest looking tilapia, and they prepared them for us for lunch, both grilled and fried – along with bbq pork, chicken curry, a huge plate of rice.

All tired out from the waterfall (or maybe from the big lunch), we wandered along the lake shore while Macky conducted his interviews.  Because Balanan Lake is really a river valley, the shoreline has lots of nooks and crannies.  They’ve rigged up a series of floating bamboo huts to short cut the walk around the lake.  We found our favorite, pulled ourselves out to the halfway mark, and napped.  Tough life, isn’t it?



  1. yes the mussels don’t taste nice… it’s like rubber if you munch it.

    sorry to say that but it’s true.

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