Beaches, volcanoes, waterfalls and paddy fields as far as the eye can see...
24.04.2012 31 °C
Nearly three years ago we climbed Gunung Agung in Bali for our honeymoon. As we watched the sunrise from the summit we saw an amazing mountain appear on the horizon. “That is Gunung Rinjani on Lombok.” our guide told us. We said to ourselves that one day we would climb Rinjani and look back at our honeymoon volcano in Bali.
Watching the sunrise over Rinjani from our breakfast table on Gili Air, we started to get itchy feet again. With our diver certificates completed, we decided to finally prise ourselves away from Gili Air.
Sengiggi is an unusual place. There are the usual mega resorts along the front, although they were very quiet. The town’s main road has its fair share of restaurants and live music venues (Happy Bar - how much you kept us awake and how good was your live band).
The fishing boats go out in the early hours to catch tuna, returning in convoy at around 9-10am, which is fun to watch. We were told that if the fishermen don’t catch enough tuna they go back out in the late afternoon and if they don’t catch enough tuna again they then have to go home and explain to their wife.
There are literally hundreds of travel agencies. You cannot walk more than a few meters without someone saying “transport?” or “trekking?” Even when we sit down to have some lunch, our warung has a travel agent inside. I have no idea how they can all survive financially. In Indonesia, there are unnecessary middlemen everywhere making money from being able to use a mobile phone, the mysterious “managers” you rarely get to meet and the front men who don’t get paid unless they are working and therefore don’t have a lot of money. Whenever you book anything you always find a complicated line of connections back to a company you were probably trying to avoid in the first place.
We’d worked out how much it would cost us to trek to Rinjani on our own, but we were offered a good deal on transport and a guide if we left with a group the next morning - a little earlier than planned but we decided to go for it. The next morning we climbed into a car at 5am and set off for Senaru, one of the northern bases for trekking up to Rinjani. We met our group and set off up the track and into the rainforest.
We had read a number of reviews of the Rinjani climb so we knew what to expect. It certainly wasn’t the “nice walk” promised by some of the travel agents keen to get people on their tours. It was three hard days of 8-10 hour treks on steep, rocky and in places traitorous terrain. The key words were to go at a pace you were comfortable with, take extra snacks and take care!
Half an hour later our group reaches a gate. The heat and humidity in the forest as well as a few steep sections had definitely got the heart pumping and we are already dripping in sweat. “Where are we now?” we ask the Guide. “The starting point.” he replies. “Then what was that?” we say a little surprised. “That was the nice garden walk.” he replies without a hint of sarcasm.
We pick up our team of flip-flop wearing porters, all of whom have calves like traction engines and are carrying 20 kilo bamboo packs full of food, cooking equipment and our tents. We head off for our first four km walk.
The Guide sets a pace, which he sticks to relentlessly for over an hour without stopping. We reach a clearing where a number of groups have already stopped for lunch. We ask when we can have our next litre bottle of water. “We were told we would get 3 litres of water.” Our guide nods “Yes, one today, one tomorrow and one the day after.” Justin manages to pick his jaw of the floor to say, “So we only have one litre per day? The average person should drink two - three litres a day without this amount of exercise on top.” Our guide looks a bit grumpy and wanders off and we hear the same conversation happening across the other groups. One Dutch guy is absolutely livid and many of the Guides are trying to reassure people that there are enough safe spring water stops along the way to top up.
We are off again for another four km walk at the same pace. We walk in silence for most of the time apart from the sound of heavy breathing, there isn’t time to stop and look around. Head down, march on. An hour and a half in and our carb low rice meals have already worn off. We haven’t stopped once and Justin eventually stops in front of me. “This is ridiculous.” We stop and take out some of our extra snacks and our now precious bottle of Pocari Sweat (Indonesian Lucozade).
The Guide and the rest of the group have disappeared off along the path. “This isn’t a good pace for three days of walking." I say. Justin nods and we decide to go at ‘turtle pace’ – a steady training pace with regular water stops. Better to get there in one piece than to not get there at all.
We head off a while later and catch up with our group. “What’s the matter?” the Guide says. “Nothing, but we are going to go at a slower pace.” Our Guide turns around without saying anything and heads of again at his pace. We wait at the back and head off at ours. We raid the emergency chocolate supply a couple of hours later and finish the last half hour in reasonably good shape, whilst our group in general limps in looking exhausted and dripping in sweat.
We arrive on a campsite shrouded in cloud and quickly change into some dry, warm clothes. You almost feel like you’re camping on top of the cloud and every now and again the sun shines through and tries to dry the damp clothing we’ve laid out. Having hauled up all our equipment, the porters are already busy setting up camp and making dinner. Massive respect! The good campsites are already full so we have had to perch our tents on a few rocky flat(tish) areas.
We eat our Nasi Goreng around a little fire we have made and watch as the clouds part, the sunsets over the ocean and the stars appear. It is very beautiful. We all head to bed early for a very uncomfortable and unfulfilling nights sleep. “I don’t like hillwalking and I don’t like camping.” I hear Justin mumble as we lie in the dark. The only saving grace was getting up to go to the toilet at 1am and feeling like we were standing on top of the world. The Milky Way in all its sparkling glory stretched out in front of us and we sat in silence for at least half an hour watching the shooting stars and satellites fly by.
The next morning we are up at 6am to watch the sunrise. The cloud has gone and you can see right down into the crater where the mini volcano created by the eruption two years ago sits smouldering. After spending day one focused on pounding uphill we spend most of the morning starring down at a very narrow, rocky path with a sharp drop into the crater (not for the faint hearted). We slide down the large rocks on our bums, slowly make our way around areas where the path has disappeared and scramble down loose rocky areas holding onto wobbly rails. The views into the crater are amazing, but once again we have little time to stop as we tromp on for hours on end.
We are accompanied by the constant sound of “Hati-Hati” (careful / slowly) from our Guide, whose look of real concern is more than enough to convince you that this is no joke. “How would they get you out of here if you had an accident?” I hear Justin think out loud. After our climb we found out someone fell in this area a few days after we’d walked it and had to be carried out on a bamboo stretcher by the porters, which must have taken hours.
We reach the bottom of the crater at lunchtime and walk around the flat lake edge. Local fishermen are busy at work catching and smoking fish. Justin and some of the guys go for a swim in the lake, whilst I have a splash around in the shallows. It was very surreal to watch Justin swimming with a smouldering volcano as a backdrop.
Groups start heading off uphill to the next campsite. Some of the US uni students are heading off on their own leaving their Guides lagging behind, which was pretty stupid given the fact that the cloud was descending and there are numerous paths and drops. We’ve got the opposite problem. Our guide heads off and leaves us behind. We have no idea how far we have gone and how much further we have to go and plod on. We manage to summit in just over two hours rather than the four hours the Guide had told us (phew).
A more comfortable night beckons with our hay-lined campsite. We eat our noodle soup and head straight to bed after watching the sunset. Our alarms go off at 2am for breakfast. We can already hear groups heading off and there is a line of little torchlights bobbing up and down along the path to the summit. We are given four crackers for breakfast (for a five hour ascent and descent). I can practically hear Justin indignation behind me as we sit around the fire slowly munching on them. But, it is okay because the Guide has a couple of biscuits to give us half way up...woop woop! Luckily we’ve saved a box of biscuits and an emergency chocolate bar.
We begin the ascent, which within minutes has us scrabbling up rocks and sliding on volcanic rock. Only another three hours to go. The first lightning bolt lights the sky. The storm is miles off coast, but it lights up the steep and narrow path in front of us as well as the summit in the far distance.
My torch starts to fail an hour in. Our Guide is unhappy and I wish I’d asked for a better torch. “You need to come and walk behind me.” he says. “I’m fine with Justin at the back with our torches.” I reply. “This is dangerous section, you need to be behind me with my torch.” I might not agree with the way this Guide has been running this whole thing, but he knows his mountain and I move up behind him. “I can’t go at your pace though, I need to go at mine.” He glares at me and turns around without saying anything. Within a few minutes he is 20 meters ahead of me. I am left in a dark void, except for the occasional moments of sheet lightning, which show the path ahead and the sheer drops to either side of me. Great! My only comfort is to hear someone from our group comment on how much better the pace is!
An hour later and we hit the small volcanic rocks that slide back a few feet everytime you take a step forward. It is hard going and seriously demoralizing after 30 minutes of not really going anywhere fast. By now all the groups have merged together into one long line. Some of my group is in front and some have fallen behind. We’ve started to overtake other groups who are now sat either side of the path looking a bit shell-shocked and exhausted.
Justin gives me some biscuits and heads off. I start off again, but fall and try to scrabble forward on all fours before sliding back four or five feet. I end up sat down wiping volcanic dust from my biscuits. I look across the ocean and see the sky turning pink. The sun is already rising and the summit behind me still looks a million miles away.
One of my rowing friends once told me that sometimes “You have to take yourself outside and give yourself a good talking to.” This was definitely one of those moments. I heard Justin calling back. I dug my toes in and pulled myself up. A few minutes later I could hear whoops and cheers from the group in front. The summit was close and I was going to make the sunrise with time to spare.
I wrapped up warm and sat next to Justin watching the sky change colour ever few seconds and the sunrise over the clouds. The whole of Lombok spread out around us and in the distance you could see the Gilis and Bali as well as Sumbawa. Gunung Agung started to appear on Bali. A second mountain also appeared before we realised it was the shadow of Gunung Rinjani. It was the best view I have ever seen and we luckily had an amazingly clear day (I think I might have cried if it had been cloudy):
We start to head back down to our campsite. Our Guide passes me and stops “I don’t think you’re going to make it down today without a lot of help.” After the achievement of summiting it is like being slapped across the face. “I’m fine thanks, I’m just going to go at a sensible pace.” I reply. He turns and walks away. By now we can see everything that was hidden in the dark and Justin finds that his 90kg weight becomes useful for the first time as he slides down the volcanic slopes with ease. The steep drops, narrow paths and the beautiful views across the surrounding volcanic fields:
We descend for two and a half hours. Breakfast of banana pancakes and deep fried crackers is waiting for us. We eat as much as we can and put the rest away in a bag for later…trust me after walking for five hours cold deep fried crackers taste AMAZING! We start our five-hour decent down to our end point. I’m feeling exhausted, but as I start off I find that I’m leaving the rest of the group behind and I comfortably make it down. I’m going to put it down to turtle pace leaving me with more than enough energy to keep going and recover properly…or possibly the big red rag that got waved in my face at 7am in the morning.
We thank our porters who have done an amazing job. Our lift, a sunburn inducing open backed truck, turns up to take us on our hour trip to Senaru. We shower, have lunch number two, do a bit of stretching and crawl into bed. The next day we are stiff and tired, but we head for a gentle walk down to a local waterfall, which is beautiful. No chance of doing a shampoo advert impression here though – the water pressure is incredible (P.S. The rocks were slippery when wet…see below).
We have lunch in the homestay just as a new group turns up. “So the tour guide said it was quite an easy walk.” one of the girls says. Hmmm where do you want us to start…
Note to self:
a) Justin doesn't really like hillwalking.
b) Justin really doesn’t like camping.
We often use travel forums and blogs to research places and things to do. You do occasionally come across very funny things as you read through. This was a classic about the waterfalls in Senaru: “Be prepared for some things that the guides may not tell you in advance. The stairs down to the waterfall may be very slippery when wet, particularly those covered in moss. ”