Not Another Walk in the Park

Trip Start Jul 12, 2009
Trip End Nov 04, 2009

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Where I stayed
On top of Mount Rinjani, overlooking the volcano

Flag of Indonesia  ,
Monday, September 14, 2009

I am not a morning person and was not happy to wake up at 4:30 a.m. in order to make the two hour journey to the town of Senaru, where we would begin our trek up Mount Rinjani, the second highest volcanic peak in Indonesia. Tours to Mt. Rinjani are either two days, one night or three days, two nights. However, the two night option was unavailable as there was a bit of activity at the volcano and it was not safe for people to climb to the top so I booked the one night trek instead.

When we arrived in Senaru, we were presented with a dish called a jaffle - its basically two pieces of bread grilled together sort of like a pannini. This one was a butter and banana jaffle which really delicious. Peter, the Dutch guy that we met in the tourist office when I booked the trip, came with me from Senggigi and when arrived in Senaru, there was a French guy in his twenties that would join us on the trek as well. Unfortunately, I couldn't understand what his name was when he introduced himself so I still don't know it. Consistent with the other French people I've met on this trip, he barely spoke English and seemed to not understand most of what we were saying when we spoke quickly. He was fairly mute the entire trip. Peter, on the other hand, was fairly talkative and knew a lot of interesting facts about Indonesia, as it used to be a Dutch colony and there is a lot of Indonesian influence in Holland.

At approximately 7:30 a.m., we started our trek up Mt. Rinjani, which was approximately a six mile trek to the top. Unfortunately, I don't have a great sense of reality when it comes to kilometers in height, and I didn't register that a 6,000 feet trek over the course of six miles equals a VERY steep hike (for example, Yosemite falls is only 2,500 feet). In the past, trails that I have hiked have been a mix of uphill and flat, with an occasional downgrade and a lot of traversing. This trail was apparently created by some very ambitious Kiwis because it was literally 95 percent straight uphill. About 50% of the uphill was moderately steep and the other 50% was extremely steep. I felt like I was on a stair master for about half of the trek. For the majority of the jungle portion of the trek, serpent-like tree roots coated the ground, created foot holds and stairs in the mountain. At first, I tried to keep up with Peter, who is 6'3" and has trekked several times since his arrival in Indonesia. Very soon, it was apparent that I was not equip to keep pace with him. I started to commiserate with the contestants from the Biggest Loser - it seemed that I was literally pushing my body to its limits, and I was only a quarter of the way up. Finally, after the second rest stop, I gave up on keeping up with the boys, and kept my own pace. Our guide made me a walking stick and it helped relieve some of the stress from my legs which had begun to feel like they were made of stone.

At 11 a.m., we stopped for lunch. Our guide and the two porters that carried all of our equipment (water, food, a tea kettle, a wok, a small pan, tents, sleeping bags, mats, etc) made us vegetable noodle soup with a boiled egg and a rice cracker, along with white rice. It was quite good actually. The portion of the trek after lunch was particularly grueling, but I was completely reinvigorated when I passed two pairs of hikers that were struggling to make their way up the hill. The last top before the trek to up the peak was a surrounded by monkeys. We stopped for about thirty minutes and fed the monkeys. Once again, the alpha male monkey was greedy and ruthless. When we tried to feed any monkey besides him, he would literally sprint over to them and attack them in order to get the food. He even attacked a mother who had a baby attached to her belly! Our guide played a trick on him and stuffed a couple of crackers into a large water bottle and threw it at the alpha male. He was distracted for about two minutes while he ripped apart the bottle with his teeth in order to reach the crackers inside. During this time, we were able to throw crackers to the other hungry monkeys.

Next we began the summit trek. At first the landscape was fairly similar to the rest of the trek, but slowly the trees started to thin and the dirt on the ground became less compact. Soon I reached the bottom of the summit and literally said to myself "Are you kidding me?" I was already exhausted beyond belief and looming ahead was a massive uphill battle. Wind whipped through my hair and pelted sand against my body and into my eyes and hair as I began the climb. I precariously and slowly made my way up the summit, taking small steps in order to avoid slipping down the mountain. I used my walking stick (made from a tree branch of course) to help avoid falling. The worst part was that I couldn't see my final destination.  I would scale one portion of the mountain only to turn a corner and discover that there was another endless section to ascend. The rest of my group was so far ahead that I couldn't even see them, but I did pass a few people, including one porter, on the way up. Eventually I could no longer see behind me - there was so much fog that
the view was completely obstructed. It felt like I was completely alone
and it actually felt amazing.

Finally, the sand turned into rocks, and I knew I was almost to the top. A sign indicated that I veer left and soon I was practically jumping from stone to stone, traversing the mountain until I finally saw the campsite ahead. Once I reached the campsite, I was presented with an absolutely stunning view of the valley below. The massive volcano peak sprung out of the turquoise lake, beset by the azure sky. When I finally reached Peter and the French guy, I threw down my walking stick and announced that it was the most physically challenging thing I had ever done in my life. Peter asked, "was it worth it?" Of course it was.

Soon the rest of the porters arrived and set up our tents and began to cook dinner. They cooked traditional nasi goreng special - starting with pan frying pieces of chicken and steaming the rice. Next, they sauteed onion, carrots and green beans in the pan with butter, added the rice, and mixed it with chicken seasoning, sweet soy sauce, ketchup (surprising but true) and hot sauce. The presentation of the fried rice dish was beautiful - a cup of rice topped with the fried egg, chicken, and a tomato carved into a flower. It was one of the best nasi goreng dishes I'd had so far! After dinner we climbed to the top of the hill on the campsite to watch the sunset. Although it was too hazy to create a beautiful spectrum of colors, we were able to get some awesome photographs. Peter taught me how to change the exposure on my camera in order to capture the beauty of the sunset. It was officially cold at this point - the summit gets to below 50 degrees at night and of course I didn't pack for cold weather. I bundled up with a t-shirt, a long sleeve shirt, the fleece that Whitney let me borrow, and my rain jacket. Unfortunately the only pants I brought were my mid-calf length workout pants. Afterward, we headed back to the campsite and sat around the fire with our guide and several porters, talking, eating cookies and watching the red hot lava flow down the volcano until we headed to bed, exhausted, at around 8:00 p.m.

Luckily, I was allowed my own tent and the boys had to sleep together. I climbed into my green army camouflage sleeping bag (using the only remaining clean clothes I had as a pillow) and tried to get a good nights sleep, despite the hard ground pressing into my bones as I lay on the very thin mat. The wind whipped all night, slapping me in the head and sides. At about one a.m., the wind knocked half of the cover of my tent off, and I had to get out to fix it. Luckily, we didn't have to be awake until 6:30 a.m., so I think that in the 10 hours I was in my tent, I was able to get a decent amount of sleep, despite the many interruptions. At 6:30, the guide woke me up with breakfast in bed - a plate of warm banana pancakes and fresh hot tea. Afterward, we packed up the camp and began the trek down.

As you all know, climbing down a mountain is completely different than up and can even be more difficult. In this case, it was especially a challenge as the peak of the mountain was covered in loose sand and it was extremely steep. The best method for getting down is to literally run. The peak that had taken me an hour and a half to scale the previous day only took thirty minutes to get down. We dashed down the mountain, using whatever we could as a foothold in order to avoid falling, although almost everyone took a tumble at some point. Once we arrived at the monkey rest stop, I cleaned off my face with water and tissues but it was pretty pointless. Every inch of my body was covered in dirt. During the next portion, I followed the boys most of the time. We basically jogged down the mountain, flying over rock, and jumping off of the roots that had created the laborious steps that I dreaded the day before. I was keeping up well with the group until after the second rest stop, when my toe nail jammed into my shoe and sent a very sharp pain up my leg. I yelled out and sat for a second, feeling my toe nail through my sock. It was unbelievably painful. From this point on, I couldn't keep up. Every time I tried to run, my foot would slide to the front of my shoe, pushing my toe against the front and sending more pain through my body. I had to take it easy from here on out. The rest of the trek down was difficult and at one point I hurt my other toe, although not as badly. We reached the bottom by 11 a.m. and had lunch before making our way through the final stretch to the hotel Senaru. I have never felt so dirty in my life - I was completely covered in dirt and my clothes were filthy. Luckily, we were allowed to take a shower at the hotel before getting in the van for the two hour ride back to Senggigi. A couple from Britain rode back to Senggigi with us and we got to talking and I found out that they work at the hostel that I stayed at in Hanoi (Hanoi Backpackers Hostel). I actually had met the girl, as she worked at the front desk and pretty much interacted with everyone that stayed at the hostel. Small world! She made me feel a lot better about the trek, also saying that it was literally the most physically challenging thing she had ever done in her life.

We arrived in Senggigi and Peter and I got (separate) hotel rooms equip with hot water, air conditioning and HBO in order to reward ourselves for our hard work. We had dinner at a restaurant on the beach and then hit up the Internet cafe. Afterward, I eagerly went back to my room, excited to watch a movie on HBO. Unfortunately, the only movie playing was "The Ruins" which is a horror film about four college-aged students that visit some ruins in Mexico and end up dead. I was so desperate to watch a movie that I sat through it, hoping to avoid nightmares despite the gruesome (and quite relevant) plot. Instead, I fell asleep thinking of the white sand beaches that awaited me the next day in the Gili Islands.

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