Friday, August 31, 2012

Climb a volcano on Indonesia's Independence Day? Check!

One of my favorite memories from Bali was climbing a volcano! I actually found the energy to wake up at 1 in the morning so we could be at the site by 4 am in order for the sun to rise. The experience cannot even be put into words; however, one of my fellow teachers Mr Eduardo did a fabulous job of describing the experience on his Facebook page. With his permission, I am posting our experience from his perspective. It's VERY accurate and since he was part of my climbing group, he said he didn't mind at all if I shared this entry with all of you! Enjoy!

Eduardo, Danna, Aasha, me, Andrew, and Joe


"It’s been a while since I’ve written in here. I have to write about my experience today, however, lest I forget. Today was the first time I climbed a volcano. It was not active, mind you, but it was breathtaking.

                It started with a 1:30 a.m. drive to the base of the Mt. Batar,  one of the many volcanoes in Bali, and I think one of the smaller ones at about 1700 metres.  I couldn’t believe how quickly the driver drove us there, and how he sped through dark streets without seemingly any concern. There wasn’t much traffic except for the occasional dog and a few close calls with some vans and trucks. I tried sleeping but it was a pretty stressful ride.

                When we arrived at the office, we noticed everyone was dressed in sweatshirts and pants and I complained about being woefully underprepared for what we were doing today. The guy who I assumed was a director or manager explained to us the different routes we could take to get to the volcano crater. We opted for the ‘medium’ route, which would take about five hours altogether.

                We were then assigned a few guides—short, friendly gentlemen dressed in pyjamas. They we provided us with flashlights and we began our trek.

                There were several groups of people going. I heard French, Spanish and Bahasa along our journey.  As we began our uphill walk, a couple of things occurred to me: one, I was not in as good shape as I thought I was; two, the view of the stars was unlike any I had ever seen; three, for some reason, I had to urinate frequently during our trip. In all seriousness, I was very thankful. I did not think I would get an opportunity to do something like this, and I am just thankful to God for letting me come here and witness His beautiful creation. In a wistful sort of way I wished I could be a hiker, but I think this also made me appreciate flat, sea-level walking even more.

                I also realized that there is a way of life here that is so different from America. There were no wiaver forms to sign, no real in-depth discussion about the risks involved with making this type of climb. For the most part it was relatively safe, but there were several points where a single misstep could send you off a sheer wall of rock.

                After perhaps 1.5 or 2 kilometers, the walk became much steeper. We hit a stride, breaking into two smaller groups of boys and girls – except Danna, who kept up with Andrew, Joe and myself. We hit a stride, stopping periodically but not really taking a break until we reached one of the first rest stops at around 5:30. Somehow, the second group – Ike, Josh, Ben, Nicole and Lindsay – passed us up and kept marching along. They were clearly moving at a quicker pace, as evidenced by their sweaty faces – except for Ike, who seemed pretty unphased (he is a Zen master, after all).

                We then made our last leg, which was much shorter, but much looser soil, to the top of the crater. Here, we caught the sunrise, snapped photos, and listened to the many Indonesians present play music and sing the national anthem. It was cool to see that some people had camped out the night before in tents.

                This was one of the first times in my life where I was truly in awe of the natural world. Actually, before we officially reached the top, and I saw the steep, gray-colored wall that dropped into what at some point in the past might have been flowing or erupting magma, I was in awe. I shared the moment with Danna, and I was thankful that she was equally amazed. I had the impression that we were going to see flowing lava at some point. There were only steam vents that rose lazily from scattered points, like a sleeping dragon breathing through its nostrils.

                We snapped several pictures at the mountaintop and took in the view, soaking in the early morning sun. We then took another short walk to the rest stop which had breakfast. One of the guides made in a point to let us know that they were cooking eggs and bananas in hot steam. I actually got to see how it was done. The steam also felt pleasant and warmed us a bit during the chilly morning.

                The steamed egg was the perfect treat after a tiring walk. I also enjoyed the banana sandwich. By now it was bright outside and the views of the surrounding area was breathtaking. The guide pointed out that there was another volcano, Mt. Anu, that was about twice the size of the one we were climbing. I could not imagine a hike twice the size of what I was doing.

                After resting for about thirty minutes, we began our descent. This was perhaps the one time during the hike where I was truly scared. The path was for a long time very narrow. While most of the time you could hug a wall, there was a few points where you had to walk across the ridge, and there was nothing on your right or left to keep you from sliding off. I don’t know that you would necessarily die, but you would surely tumble down quite a ways before stopping or crashing into a rock or tree. Either way, I had to compose myself a bit before taking those few steps to the next slightly safer part of the path.

                After that, the descent was like skiing down loose rocks and soil. It was much quicker and not nearly as dangerous. Our shoes and sandals inevitably were filled with pebbles and dirt. I actually enjoyed this leg of the trip, and if I was truly careless—and dumb—I would have tried running downhill at some points.

                We literally reached the rock bottom of our descent and rested for a few minutes before talking a long paved road back to where we started. The last stretch felt annoyingly long, but I was relieved once we reached our destination. I also was a little worried about Joe, who has a cut on the back of his foot that did not look very good, and I was hoping we could rest soon so he could stop aggravating it. But Joe, aka Joe Cool, was not phased by it. He is easily one of the most laid back and humorous guys I’ve ever met.

                We finally met back up with the girls and made our lengthy drive back. My scratched up phone and dusty shoes were the only memorabilia I had of the experience, but I knew that when I got back to the hotel I had to write about this experience, lest I forget about it too soon."

(reprinted with permission by Eduardo)

I did it!

Joe, Ike, Andrew, me, Eduardo

Ben the Canadian

Danna, me, Nicole, Lynsey, and Aasha

Lynsey, Nicole, me, Danna, Aasha

(random guy) plus all the NORTH AMERICANS! Me, Lynsey, Danna, Joe, Nicole, Ike, Andrew, Josh, Eduardo, Aasha, and Ben (in front)

Above the clouds :)

Flower growing in the rich soil of the volcano

One of our Balinese tour guides

Amother spectacular view!

Sunrise from the top of Mt Batur


Craters and valleys formed by lava

One of the narrow paths we had to walk

Danna and I resting for breakfast

Andrew, Eduardo, and Joe resting on top of the volcano

Aasha and I with our awesome Balinese tour guides! The one in the red cap was HILARIOUS! He always said "Hati Hati!" whenever we would slip! It means, "careful." He taught us tons of Balinese phrases and in return we taught him Spanish.

Indonesian with his flag to celebrate Independence Day

Here comes breakfast!

Banana sandwich and steamed egg cooked using volcano steam -- YUMM!


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