Lombok and the hike up the Gunung Rinjani
They say is good to not over think some things. From Bali to the neighboring island of Lombok, I was still trying to make up my mind about hiking up the Gunung Rinjani, an active volcano of enormous cultural significance. I hadn’t read too much about it; had just had a couple of friends recommend the trip. But in the port in Bali I was offered a trek that would take me up the volcano the very next day. So I said yes without much hesitation, which is great, because if I had given it much thought I would have realized the magnitude of the endeavor and chosen to sip margaritas on a beach instead.
I got picked up from Sengiggi, the port town, at 5:30 in the morning. The call to prayer, which does a better job than my alarm clock ever could, reminds me that I’m now in Muslim Indonesia. It’s a two-hour ride to Senaru, where the rest of what will be my trekking group awaits. The main reason I agreed to go on this so quickly is because I was told that a couple had already signed up with this company. I am a toughie on many things, but camping out by myself with local guides is something I am not willing to do. So with other people I shall go. The friends I made in Bali did not seem to enthused at the idea of spending three days hiking up a volcano, so we parted ways.
“How can you be hiking this in jeans?” asked me a Canadian girl from another group as we ascended the first eight hours of our trek to our first camp site on the crater rim, 2,600 meters above sea level. (who said Bogota?) The answer was cause I have no idea what I’m doing. I kept thinking, it’s going to be cold, so I’m wearing jeans. I forgot that at the beginning we would still be in the tropic and that hiking up means need for mobility, and oh, the sweating. After the first 4 hours my shirt was completely drenched already.
I met a Portuguese couple in my group with whom I fell in love within the first 10 minutes. They were doing a one-year world trip, and were so sweet, and a perfect couple in the way they handled themselves around other people meaning, not making them feel uncomfortable by being couple-y, which happens more often back home than here but yeah. Grace and I spent the entire day fantasizing about jamón serrano and other foods we missed while in Asia. Like cheese. The rest of the group were two French firemen and two French scientists. The Firemen, from Montpellier, made the wrong impression on me by making a cocaine joke right after meeting me. It had been a while since a European made this joke to me, especially the traveling ones who tend to be more cultured. I decided to label them as stupid and move on. The other two were nice Parisians, quiet mostly because of their poor English.
The first night my main concern was my tent. Grace told me that they were for two people and alas, I am one! Again, sharing a tent with the guide is not an option, so I asked over and over again if I had my own tent on our last two hours up. In the last four hours the group split in two, since the firemen were too impatient to wait for Grace and I. I was very glad to have another girl in the group who needed to rest like I did. Quickly enough I realized she and I were not particularly slow, we were just with the testosterone group. At the top of the rim I forgot how tired I was because the view of the crater lake and cone were so magnificent. We even saw a DOUBLE RAINBOW. I indeed got my own tent, and by wearing my sweater, my wind breaker, my Indian pashmina and my pajama pants I got a descent night sleep.
My lack of right gear became evident as we made our way down from the rim to the crater lake. My Adidas shoes, which I bought in Turkey last year, are barely good enough to walk around a city, let alone withstand sharp rocks on a volcano. I could feel each and every one under the thin sole of my flat shoes as we descended the precarious 600 meters with the aid of strings and rails. I kept cursing myself for my lack of preparation, and quickly enough discovered this did no good. Instead I kept thinking of jamon serrano. Down at the lake, at other times of the year, the water is warm and you can swim in the hot springs. For us, it was cold, raining, and no one was in the water. We had an hour or so to rest before hiking up to our second camp site.
The hike up was hard, but much fun, and since Grace lent me some shorts the trek was much easier. Took us about 4 hours of uphill climbing. At the top awaited one of the best sun sets I have yet encountered, and many of the people I met, who have done this is New Zealand and Nepal, said the same thing.
The summit. I was scared as I curled up in my tent. I kept imagining slippery rocks and having to climb in my awful shoes that caused me to slip continuously. We were supposed to leave at 2 am to make sure we would reach the summit before sunrise. Then a group of Indonesian girls in the tent next to me would not stop talking and making all sorts of noise. I kept gritting my teeth in both anger and cold, although the former overpowered the latter, leading me to crawl out of my tent to ask them politely to shut up. Midnight, they start again. I go to the bathroom. Ask them to shut up again. I hear the howling of a wolf, pretty close by. It starts to rain. Will I go up to the summit if it rains? For the past two days my guide kept asking me over and over again if I was going to summit, not adding much to my confidence. My feet hurt insanely. I put on some band aids to cushion the pain. The girls still won’t shut up. It stopped raining. It’s time to go.
This time we could not split up, but after only the first half an hour I already wanted to give up. It was climbing up gravel, so your feet would slide down half of what you had just climbed. The French firemen suddenly became heroic, Herve taking my backpack and Lucas pulling me by the arm. I couldn’t dislike them any more. The first hour was excruciating, and I began to believe that I did not possess the physical ability to do this. I asked them to let me stay there, they wouldn’t. I was using my small reading lamp to see the way. After, we reached the plateau. We indeed split up. Herve had taken my backpack, with my water and crackers. My stomach begins to make noises. Not only is this hard, I need food! The rain falls and I’m glad for my windbreaker. Grace is telling me to “believe!”. I start naming the names of all the saints I can remember.
The sunrise arrives and I’m still about 100 meters from the summit. Its ok, I watch it, as my guide gives me some of his water with electrolytes. At this point all I can think of is the crackers. I need to reach the summit because up there is where the crackers are, and my hunger is overpowering. When I reach it, all the rest of my group, which was already up there, greets me happily and with pride, but all I can think about are the crackers. Yeah yeah I made it, 3,700 meters. Where is the food? To my own credit, I was about in the middle of people making it. Two of my team mates were the first to reach the summit, and I’m glad we split up because there was no way I would have been able to do that.
The way down was painful, specially after two of the teammates had sprained their ankles. Grace and Herve, the two who helped me the most. I felt lucky and somehow guilty, since I was the one with the bad shoes who kept slipping yet ended up unharmed. As we were reaching town it finally hit me, I made it! I reached the summit! Me, who has never even played a sport with any type of success or had a good relationship with nature. Happiness, joy, self accomplishment. Time for the Gillis.