Thursday, October 28, 2010

No Plans are the Best Plans - last minute mountain trekking in Indonesia

For those with short attention spans, the video's at the bottom. All of the songs in the video are songs that I was singing as I scampered happily up the brutal route to the top!

T and I left Manila for Jakarta on October 7, a long day through Singapore requiring about 6 hours in the Singapore airport. As we were on the plane to Jakarta we decided, since there doesn't seem to be much to do around Jakarta, we would try our hands at getting tickets that night to the Bali airport. Why not? We had 3 days to kill before Ania would be back from writing her LSAT in Manila and our friend Nikhil, who we met in Boracay, had mentioned trekking Mount Rinjani was an amazing experience and took 3 days. So after arriving in Jakarta at 9 pm, we boarded the 10 pm Garuda Air flight to Denpasar.

In the boarding gate, we called a hostel listed in T's guide book who promised us they had space in their $10 rooms. We ended up at the hostel in Padang Bai at 4 am, completely exhausted with no one at the reception desk, T's cellphone out of credit and my cell completely dead. In the end, it worked out, as everything does, and we spent a great day and a half in Padang Bai. Padang Bai was my favourite spot in Bali, where we hung out with cool locals and I enjoyed my first authentic Indonesian coffee -finely ground local beans mixed with water. It's thick, dark and deeply flavourful, a great contrast to the Nescafe drunk throughout the Philippines.

Climb a Mountain? No Biggie.
After having done basically no research we figured, how hard could this be? Someone would have warned us if it was particularly difficult. How cold could it be? Puto, the manager at our hotel, wouldn't have told us we could just wear our thin cardigans if it was actually cold.

On October 9, as we headed in a bus to Senaru, where we would spend the night before beginning our trek the following morning, we learned otherwise from trekking couple Carole and Dave from London and the tour organizer. Over 3700 metres makes it the second highest volcano in Indonesia. The trek is very strenuous. It is dangerous to summit. Temperatures would be as low as 3 degrees Celsius. Super. 

We spent the night repacking our bags for the trek. Ania, as you may recall, brought trekking gear. I don't even have a sweater. T doesn't even have a light spring jacket. We packed basically all of the clothing we have in order to layer. At least the tour included sleeping bags, which Carole suggested we bring to the summit with us to keep warm.

The Trek
The trek itself was beautiful, challenging, wet and cold. It poured rain the first two afternoons which made for a very uncomfortable, chilly climb. Despite having covered our backpacks, everything was still damp. T didn't sleep at all either night. I got about half an hour the first night and 4 hours the second.

Our guide, Alam, showed up drunk the first day and lagged a bit behind our group. But along with our porters he prepared delicious Indonesian food and loads of tea to keep us warm along the way. Rounding out group after the Londoners were Lisa, who does Aboriginal community development in Australia (cue nerdy development conversations here), and Bea, a Finance Officer from Holland. They were a great group to trek with! 

Day 2: At this point, I was speed-trekking with porter, Yuri (who speaks no English except "slowly!), who took me on a cool route to the hot springs that involved walking on basically the edge of a cliff over a lake instead of the grass path.

Along the way we met dozens of others from all over the world attempting the mountain from all walks of life. We also met monkeys. Dozens upon dozens of macaques hung around, especially on day 2, trying to steal food while looking charming with their handsome mustaches.

I learned that trekking is my favourite vacation activity. I was literally singing my way up the mountain, as my muscles burned, asthmatic lungs screamed for air, heart rate was at its limits and bad knees ached. The endorphins canceled out the pain. Day 2, a steep climb that included portions where you have to pull yourself up rocks with your arms, was one of the greatest days of my life. While the climb was hard, the views were gorgeous and the day was broken up with a visit to hot springs. I sped through the morning, getting to the hot springs hours ahead of our group, joining another group led by freelance guide Abdul to sooth my feet and stand under a hot waterfall.

The Summit
The trek to the summit starts at 3 am and should take about 2 hours. Since I was the only one in our group up to the trek, I joined another group that included Flor and Karen from Austria (who live at the bottom of the Austrian alps and are thus in awesome trekking shape) and Bianca from Australia (who is also backpacking East Asia and will joining us in Viet Nam!). We were a speedy group and got up in an hour and 40 minutes, which meant we were the only group to actually see the sunrise from the summit.

The last couple of hundred metres are extremely steep uphill gravel/sand. My leg muscles have never burned so intensely. Every step, you slide downward about a third of your step (if you're lucky) because of the gravel. Once Flor's altitude metre showed 100 metres and I could see the sun starting to peak out, I pushed ahead of Flor and Karen to make sure I reached the summit by sunrise. Problem: There were three peaks. The climb is so steep, you can't see the top of any of them. All of the guides were behind us, staying with people at the back of the group. So it was a blind guess as to which would be the actual summit. So as about 30 people behind me watched, I scrambled to the top of the left-most summit. Once I got to the top, I realized I had chosen wrong and, in fact, the middle peak was the tallest. I recorded my video, and then sweet Flor and Karen followed me to let me know that I had made a mistake. Now a full-blown sunrise, I was well lit for my audience, climbing halfway down the peak, shimmying across a very narrow “bridge” of rock between the summits, and re-climbing.

In the End
Bianca (who took the photos of me at the top of the real summit! Thanks B!) and I limped down Rinjani after popping Advil and covering our knees in Tiger Balm. The descent was the final straw on my poor joints. By the time we headed to Gili, my Converse sneakers were in shreds, camera was broken and I had lost my spring jacket (which was so soaked through I couldn't wear it for warmth anyway). And it was totally worth it!

When we booked our trip, Puto, the manager at our hotel, asked us if we wanted to go from Rinjani to the Gili Islands*. After a 2 second glimpse into T's guidebook, it looked like fun. We ended up meeting Ania there and spending a fantastic 4 days in paradise! No plans are truly the best plans.

*the tour company didn't end up bringing us there. Their bus waited too long to take us back to the hotel, even though we were long done, so we missed the cheap public boat. Not a fan of Lombok Tours -Puto. Right after I filmed our video, it started to rain heavily and the boat started to be tossed violently from side. It was the only time in my life I have seriously thought I was going to die. But we made it and, new life lesson, don't charter a small, unstable boat after dark.

1 comment:

  1. Great video of the climb! Looked like an awesome adventure :)