Tag Archives: #trekking #Indonesia #volcanoes #Bali #Java #MountBatur #MountBromo #MountIjen

Three Vocanoes in Three Months

I’ve just returned from trekking my third volcano in three months and I’m pretty pleased with myself.


The first, Mount Batur in Bali A Sunrise Trek of Mt. Batur, Bali was significant in several ways. It was my first Indonesian volcano; it was proof that I could travel solo successfully in Indonesia after a less that successful previous attempt, and it was a return to health – and ultimately, the gym – for me after months of feeling under the weather. On reflection though, it was a bit of a disappointment. The walk was only two hours each way but it was steep, a combination of rocky paths and shifting sand, and ridiculously crowded. While my lack of fitness can partly explain the pain I felt for days afterwards it doesn’t change the lackluster sunrise and rather touristy feel of a place that is supposed to have a religious significance to its people. It felt tatty and tacky in a way. But I’d done it, and that felt good.IMG_0196

My second was Mount Bromo in East Java. This was a fun trip with friends, organized by a colleague. We did the tourist thing and hit the overcrowded sunrise spot by jeep and motorbike rather than on foot. At first it felt a bit like Batur, but the sunrise was pretty spectacular and once Bromo was glimpsed through the hordes of people the magic began. Bromo is stunning. Helped by the sunrise, the shapes and shadows, cloud and smoking caldera make this place other-worldly, alien almost. Walking on newly fallen ash up to the smoking crater was like walking on powdered snow, the type that’s good for snowballs. We went away from the crowds and crossed the whispering sands, which didn’t whisper that day; turning a corner to see vivid green, rolling hills (appropriately called Wisata Teletubbies), hidden behind the grey, lunar landscape. I was reduced to the child-like exuberances of singing and dancing like a loon at the breathtaking change. It was impressive beyond words and an excellent day out.IMG_2740

My third volcano, Mount Ijen near Bangywangi in Java was probably the most awe-inspiring though. Famous for it sulfurous blue flame, this volcano has real power. Its toxic sulfur clouds, acidic turquoise lake and Jurassic landscape forced thoughts of a lost world upon me and if it hadn’t been for the upsetting sight of twentieth century graffiti and litter along the way I would have expected raptors and rexes to rear out of the misty, fern fringed ridges we descended after sunrise. The fact that men still mine the sulfur in the crater and carry at least 75kgs of it out on their backs in baskets twice a day made the place seem more real, and more hostile, than the other two.IMG_0400

The trek itself was relatively easy because I’m now fit (in comparison to Mt. Batur when I was not!) The journeying of the miners has smoothed the route and while there are some steep sections during the first two hours they weren’t onerous. The last thirty minutes took me down rocky steps into the crater to see the blue flame fairly close up, and by that I mean ‘close up as in wear a gas mask to be safe close up’! The route can be slippery and I had to make way for the miners climbing with their loads but with the right foot wear, a powerful head-torch and a guide who knew all the lads, I was fine! If you’re really struggling you can get a cart, only recently introduced, which the miners usually use to take their heavy load down the volcano once they’ve lugged it out of the crater. A very strong ex-miner can pull you up or push you down! I elected to walk.IMG_0411

I really enjoyed Ijen, I’m proud of my small accomplishment of three volcanoes in three months (I think it’s becoming a bucket list thing), and I’m pleased that my Indonesian travels are coming together at long last.

Here’s to the next one: Mount Agung on Bali or Mount Rinjani on Lombok?Mt. Rinjani – between heaven and hell



A Sunrise Trek of Mt. Batur, Bali

I miss mountains. I miss hikes and fresh air and the thrill (and chill) of high places. So when I realised I had a long weekend ahead of me at the beginning of March I decided to do something about it.

Bali is only a 40 minute flight away from Surabaya so I resolved to do a sunrise trek among Bali’s volcanoes in order to sooth my soul.

Gunung Batur is 1717m, one of several volcanic cones in what seems like a giant dish with water in its bottom. It was formed in an eruption in 1917 and has been active as recently as 1994. There are lots of tours there so once I’d arrived at my lovely hotel in Ubud (The Saren Indah, highly recommended for a relaxing break), I asked them to sign me up (I’m getting lazy in my travel habits out here), and then relaxed for the rest of the day, in preparation for my efforts.

Pick-up was 2am. I’d indulged in lovely Balinese cuisine and a glass of wine before going to bed early, managing about four hours of sleep before my alarm went off. I rolled out of bed, pulled on my hiking gear and grabbed my new, lightweight rucksack. The car arrived and in I climbed, the first of three pick-ups around Ubud. Then we drove for about an hour in dozy silence, up towards the start of our trek at Toya Bungkah. But first, we stopped off at a little place that provided us with banana pancakes and coffee, and our ‘second breakfast’ for the summit (ultimately banana sandwiches and a boiled egg). Then we drove a further 15 minutes to meet our guide.

As I said, there are lots of tours, so it was no surprise to draw up to a huge car park filled with tired looking hikers gripping bottles of water and flash lights. We were organised into groups of four, given a flashlight if we didn’t have one (I’d remembered my head torch, naturally!) and sent on our way.

Our guide was, appropriately enough, named Dante, as in Dante’s Peak. The irony did not escape our group. He set a cracking pace, which was fine to begin with, but the route quickly became steep and is, by alternates, rocky or sandy. I was quickly reminded that I am not as young or fit as I was. Two months of battling an ear infection had stopped my gym visits early in January, so I quickly got out of breath compared to my younger, fitter companions. Additionally, although the ear infection was no longer rife, the aftermath of slight deafness continued, and I found myself feeling a bit dizzy the higher we climbed, which was a concern when I repeatedly stumbled. Dante, however, kept us going and made frequent rest stops.

Each rest gave us a wonderful nighttime view across Bali. The silhouette of Gunung Abang opposite us on the other side of the lake dominated the landscape, matched only by banks of cloud that regularly lit up with orange lightning. The sky was clear and the stars were out in abundance, lighting our way.

At one point we had a long rest while our guides prayed at a shrine before the steepest ascent to the summit. Bali is a Hindu country, although Balinese Hinduism is a unique blend of beliefs. They believe that spirits are everywhere and good spirits dwell in mountains and bring prosperity to people. Sadly, some groups were ignorant of local customs and failed to wait quietly while their guide prayed. It always disappoints me when people ignore local customs, as it takes very little to learn about and appreciate other people’s cultures and beliefs.

Mt. Batur is always busy, but especially so at weekends when groups of students are able to complete the walk. One thing that kept me moving against all the odds was the desire to get way from the shouting, music playing hordes and breath in the space and silence of the volcano. I’d positioned myself at the front of our group, knowing the slowest should set the pace, but I could feel the youngsters stepping on my heels behind me, perhaps not as used to walking in groups as I am. Still, I slogged on, determined to out pace them. It was more easily said than done, I can tell you.

We arrived at the summit in good time; it was still dark and clear when we arrived at the already crowded lookout. The sunrise wasn’t far behind us. The sky quickly took on a lighter glow behind Abang and the cloud-banks surrounding it. As the light increased, so did the cloud as heat and cold met. So the sunrise wasn’t a spectacular as I could have hoped. But never mind. I was high up (1717m); I was cold (such a nice feeling after constant heat and humidity – I even got to wear my favourite Rab feather down jacket and enjoy a hot chocolate from the food station near the top!); I had space around me, even though the top was crowded with snap happy student groups. I was happy to be there.

Once the day had well and truly begun and we’d been at the top for nearly an hour, we turned around and made our way back. The steep top was quickly managed, as it was mostly sand and therefore quick to descend using the ‘dig your heels in and slide’ method. We stopped briefly at the crater, active in 1994, and gazed at the still blackened landscape below it. We felt steam rising from fissures in the ground and dodged tourist savvy monkeys, greedy for anything they could get their hands on.

About half way down we diverted from the original route and took what could pass for a road to the bottom. It was certainly accessible to traffic as we dodged motorbikes laden with passengers and goods. It was also a good deal easier to walk after the rocky slog we had endured on the way up.

Dante discovered I was an English teacher, and, while teaching me some Indonesian phrases such as ‘kaki ku kaku’ meaning ‘my legs are stiff’, he grilled me in English grammar, and the finer definitions between maybe and probably (amongst other things)!

Soon enough we were back at the car park fulfilling the ‘two hours up-two hours down’ prophesy every one had warned me about. Reunited with our driver we were quickly on our way, although the drive home seemed to take forever and I was desperate to get back and take a shower after my exertions. I had sensibly booked a massage for later that afternoon and, I have to say, it helped work out the stiffness really well. Of course I was still rather sore for a good couple of days afterwards, but it was definitely worth every step. I had got my mountains fix, with added stars and lightning clouds and a tiny bit of sunrise, to make everything well in my world.