Climbing Mount Batur Volcano in Bali
05.29.2008 65 °F
Wandering through the streets of Ubud today I met Bagus, a Balinese man dressed in typical Balinese clothing, sitting outside of his house. We got to talking and it turns out he is a tour guide (they all seem to be in this town). I mentioned that I was curious about the climb to Mount Batur and before I knew it, I had booked my mom and I for the next morning's trip. Mount Batur, considered sacred by the Balinese, is strenuous 700 meter journey up one of the world's most active volcanos that leads to pristine wilderness. Sounds right up our alley!!
We took the one hour's drive from Ubud after being picked up at our hotel, Ketut's Place, by Bagus at 2:00 am. No, that's not a typo, 2:00 AM! The journey up towards Mount Batur from Bali begins in a quiet road, lined by rice patties and cornfields under the moonlight. Mom and I were exhausted and slept most of the way there.
After a little accident into a ditch by Bagus' less than average driving skills, we arrived at the base of the volcano. The pre-dawn start time kept the crowd fairly small and we were two of only about 15 people, each assigned to a personal guide. We were introduced to Wayan, our young and good looking guide, and immediately started our dark trek up the porus, volcanic rock.
It was so dark, we could barely see our own hands in front our faces and we made it up the whole way by seeing only about five feet in front of us with the help of flash lights. Kinda like life though, we didn't need to see that far ahead in order to make it to our destination...
The trek up was ridiculously slippery and quite tiring. After about three hours, a couple of slips and quite a few rest stops we arrived. I nearly gave up three times, mom a few more, but Wayan reminded us that entire Balinese villages ascend the peak for religious celebrations, so it seems willpower is more important than physical strength to get to the top.
Once at the top, we befriended the rest of the guides who invited us into their quarters to rest while we waited for the sun to rise. They told us that Mount Batur is a holy mountain and it's difficult to live at the foot of it since no one knows when it will explode. And yet, the Balinesen look upon the volcano as an ultimate blessing for its enriching effects on the soil from which they live off of.
After about 30 minutes of chatting, laughing and sharing some PB & J sandwiches which mom made and they had never tasted and fell in love with, dawn began to break and began laying out a panorama of pink and purple skylight. It was mystical and the fog that seemed to melt with every second that passed only added to the magic of the moment. Soon we saw the green valley below, black lava beds, and glittering Lake Batur below. It was one of the prettiest sunrises I have ever seen.
Sunrise atop Mt. Batur
There's an indescribable elation that comes over you with arriving at the top of the crater and viewing the surrounding ring-of-fire. We were actually standing on a very active volcano and the remains of a huge eruption that happened 50,000 years ago. The crater was right next to us as well as a huge dry cave. It looked blown out rather than made by lava. Standing at the top, seeing where we were, it made me feel so tiny and helpless...Mt. Batur is a frightening testimony to the power of nature. The long sharp arcs of blown-out rock attest to violent volcanic eruptions, some as recent as the mid 90's. We took a short walk to one of the peaks that lead to a site of recent activity. Huge plumes of billowing steam rolled overhead and although we didn't see it, the sight of molten red lava wasn't far away. You could actually hear the steam eruptions heave and crash like the sound of ocean waves; it was a bit unsettling to say the least.
At the peak after dawn.
After a while, we started our descent. Somehow, it doesn't take nearly as long to slip down the peaks as it does to climb them--an hour at most. With the right shoes (which by the way, we didn't have), the volcano can be almost skiied down on the small crunchy lava pebbles. Mom took a nasty fall and hurt her hip and wrist pretty badly. I felt terrible, but she was brave and strong and kept going like a champ.
[i]We actually climbed that...in the dark!
The experience was awesome. Other than the fall, it would have been perfect. To tend to the fall, Bagus took us to a local healer who put some herb mixture on my mom's wrist and back and made her cry quite a bit from pain from all the massaging he was doing, but in the end, she felt a lot better. After a couple of days of rest, she was fine, but it broke my heart to see her in pain. That little herb mixture, whatever it was, really helped. Amazing how that works!
Well, that's it for now. We're off to the Gilli Islands in a couple of days.
Selamat Jalan (goobye!)