Monday, 18 March 2019

Indonesian Adventures: Hiking Bali's Mount Batur


When my partner and I visited Indonesia in October, one of my favourite things we did on the whole trip was hike up Mount Batur, a volcano on Bali.  I had read about this before we departed, as it seems to crop up on every "must-do" list for Bali. But to be fair, it was absolutely incredible. We booked a guide the afternoon before we wanted to go, and tried to have an early night. As the trek was timed to reach the peak at sunrise...

Today's post is the story of our hike, and if you want to read more about our Indonesian Adventures, you can find them linked here.

*****

For some reason, we once again found ourselves getting up at stupid past two in the morning, aka 2:15am. Again, self-inflicted as it was volcano day.

We slithered out of bed, donned the long trousers we had been advised to wear, grabbed our bags stuffed with water, head torches and my camera and stepped out of our lovely air conditioned bedroom into the night. 

I refuse to call it morning. It was pitch black, hours away from dawn and the warm, almost damp air made the extra layer we had been instructed to pack seem like foolishness. I didn’t want to haul it up a mountain if I didn’t have to.

Our driver for the day (ie the night) was a surprisingly-cheery-for-the-hour chap who helped us into the car, confirmed our itinerary and then said we could nap while he drove if we wanted to. Winning!

The plan was this: drive to the bottom of Mount Batur, an active volcano, meet our guide and hike to the summit in the dark. Watch the sunrise and eat breakfast, climb back down again, visit the Tegallalang Rice Terraces and go home. Simple.

And with an hour to doze and compute all this, my eyelids closed and while I didn’t sleep, it was better than propping my eyes open.


After an hour or so, we pulled into a dark parking lot where one or two other vehicles had already arrived. We were introduced to our guide - also surprisingly cheery - handed a torch each to light the way, and off we went. Simple.

The sunrise trek up Mount Batur was popular and there were other groups behind and ahead of us - often quite large groups! It was nice to be just me, Pete and the guide as we could walk along at our own pace. While the odd super-fit couple overtook us, we actually walked past quite a number of groups which is quite pleasantly motivating. It was also unexpectedly chilly and I shrugged into my cardi, glad of the extra layer. It seemed funny that the idea of wearing more clothing had been laughable only an hour earlier.

Our Guide gave us some info as we started the trek; he said it was about 8km as a round trip up and down the 1717m high peak and that it would take about 2 hours to reach the top. The first half was all uphill through the forest and the second half was harder and steep. It was 3:45am when we set off which should get us to the summit just in time for sunrise at around sixish. There’s nothing like a deadline to make you hike and so we eschewed his first offer of a break, ploughing on uphill.

It was strange hiking in the dark. The forest did indeed creep about half way up the slopes of the volcano and it rose tall and shadowy around us, tree bark plunging into the sky in numerous shades of grey. I flashed my torch around watching the beam jump from branch to branch. It felt very atmospheric.

Every so often, the atmosphere was shattered by a moped ploughing to the top; I think mainly locals transporting things to the top to sell in the tourist trade. But occasionally one would offer transport to weary travellers.

Cheating.

We reached the first more obvious resting point and the guide parked us on a bench for a few minutes to catch our breath. We had been marching pretty quickly up until this point on no breakfast so I wolfed down a chunk of cereal bar from within my bag.


Our guide explained that we had two options from this point: the hard way, which was a bit shorter but steeper, or the slightly easier way. We opted for the latter in the end as we had time and didn’t see much point in pushing ourselves for a different hike in the dark. It’s not like the scenery made much difference on the way!

So we set off again, continuing to refuse breaks, overtaking a couple of larger groups and inching further up the mountain. Our progress had slowed to more of a trudge at this point. The footing wasn’t always easy as we were walking on black, dusty, volcanic rubble, almost like gravelly sand which would shift beneath our feet. We carried on dodging motorcycles and there was often the odd flicker of a bobbing head torch up ahead, showing where the next section of climb would take us.

Eventually, we emerged from the forest line and slogged up to the next resting stop. I slurped up some water and another hefty chunk of cereal bar for energy. We were both sweating and my cardie had long-since been relegated to my backpack. We perched on a bench outside a little shack selling drinks and snacks and regrouped. It was nice to feel the cool air on our hot faces and take a little pause. We scanned the dark view below, trying to make it out; all we could see were one or two pinpricks of light in the distance, marking sleepy villages. Our Guide explained that below us was Lake Batur, the largest lake in Bali. That explained the huge expanse with no little dots of streetlights. And looming above us was the volcano: a darker shadow against a dark night sky and it still seemed an awfully long way up.

And yet we trekked on, undaunted. After a little while, our guide told us there was only another 45 minutes to go, and not long after that we arrived at the next rest stop. The slope had definitely got even steeper in the last section, and I remember reading that the last 30 minutes were the hardest. Could it really get much steeper?

After a quick rest and the end of my cereal bar, it turned out that yes it could. The path turned rocky and there was a real sense of clamber and scramble as we made our way ever higher. Once again, we were offered another break but we pressed on.

Which turned out to be the right decision as only a couple of minutes after that, we reached the top! In the dark, I hadn’t realised we were close; with my phone in my bag I no idea of the time or how we were getting on, and it was quite something to totter up onto the summit and grab ourselves a spot on one of the benches. It was surprisingly crowded with lots of people having made the trek to see this spectacle.


There was nothing to see yet; just a pale swirl of cloud against a dark grey sky. When I checked my phone, I found it was only 5:20. Somehow we had done the trek in an hour and a half instead of 2 hours. So much for all those breaks then! But it gave us time to settle into our spot on our bench, get my camera ready and enjoy a bit of breakfast.


Breakfast turned out to be quite entertaining: we were given a banana each, a passionfruit each and another type of fruit each that we couldn’t identify. So we peeled one, a bit like an orange, and shared it, finding it had pulpy seeds inside like a passionfruit, but a little sweeter, and a very soft, pillowy pith all round the inside. 


There was also a packet of Tim Tams. Sweet! 

It was indeed surprisingly chilly at the summit and I was glad of my cardi. The clouds swirled around us and lightened slightly, but still gave away nothing. We could see the misty tendrils rushing up over the ridge behind us and cascading over the assembled sun seekers, and the air was damp, leaving little dewy beads of water over us. 


Which meant I was also incredibly glad of the hot cup of tea our guide produced, clutching my little fingers gleefully round it.


Suddenly a small gap opened in the clouds rushing past and we could see a pinkish glow on the horizon. Sunrise was about to begin.



It was indescribably beautiful, watching the first rays of the morning start to illuminate the breathtaking view. This is what we had climbed for, and we would finally get to see the panorama of planet earth spread out beneath us.



The sun lit the sky gradually, highlighting mountains both real and imagined; both volcanic craters and peaks and lofty castles built of clouds, revealing layer upon layer of detail and starting to shade in each with its own hue.



The light eventually reached the caldera floor, sparkling off the edge of the lake, picking out the shine of a rooftop and mapping out the life below. It was glorious; I took picture after picture and drank it all in, each shift in cloud or degree of sunrise showing off a new and different and beautiful vista. I think it may have been the best view I have ever seen. It was a very powerful moment and I loved every second.


With the sun climbing a little higher in the sky and escaping its cloudy trail, our guide reappeared with second breakfast. Sweet! This turned out to be an egg sandwich each and a banana sandwich each - we couldn’t remember the last time either of us had had a banana sandwich, but we enjoyed it all and despite getting my egg sandwich a bit grubby by accidentally coating it in volcanic dust, I hoovered it up anyway. It was probably good clean volcanic dust. Possibly there are even health benefits.




And then it was back to more pictures of the landscape from any and every angle, switching out to my wide angle lens to absorb even more of the view. Our guide also kindly snapped a few of Pete and me together.



As we were getting a couple of pics in, monkeys started to appear at the summit; just a couple at first but before long a whole troupe had arrived to join the party. And they were definitely looking for breakfast. 

This caused much surprise and delight among those assembled, and pretty soon they were being handed breakfast leftovers, skipping along benches and generally having a marvellous time. They would take food pretty politely from outstretched hands, and our guide in particular seemed to enjoy the commotion, grinning away, chuckling to himself and passing choice morsels over. 


Monkeys and hikers alike became more confident, with several people tempting monkeys to sit on their shoulders. Pete decided he wanted a pet monkey too and our guide persuaded one of the little chaps to climb up his back with a hunk of banana. I think it made Pete’s day as his monkey perched quite happily, balancing nimbly over his shoulders and munching on his fruit.



We walked along the ridge at the top of Mount Batur, spying more and more monkeys on the way. There was a little shrine as we reached the end and again monkeys gambolled over it, scrapping with each other and demanding food. They’ve clearly got it made up there with the daily hoards arriving at dawn to feed them.


With no more summit to explore, it was time to descend Mount Batur; a significantly quicker process than going up. We didn’t stop for much in the way of breaks, having only a quick pause at a temple we had completely missed in the dark, but the steep terrain made it quite rough on the knees.

It didn’t seem long before we were back down in the car park, climbing into the car and waving our guide farewell. Ready for the next adventure!

Kisses xxx

P.S. You can find more posts about our time in Indonesia linked here: Indonesian Adventures.

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