On Top of the World

Trip Start May 04, 2011
Trip End Oct 08, 2012

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Flag of Indonesia  , Java,
Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Tonight I had already booked a midnight hike to Mount Merapi, the local active volcano. The van filled with seven others arrived at 10:30PM and drove an hour and up into the mountains. Not a smooth drive to say the least. Our fee was sold to us as including the hike and breakfast but they failed to mention that once we arrived to the guide station that we would be charged an additional permit fee. We all booked through different tour operators and all had the same reaction. It took about 45 minutes of one couple refusing to pay and all of realizing that this conversation must happen daily so why isn't there a better system in place. The guys that run the hut at the base act as if this is the first time they are having this exact conversation.

We got all sorted out, basically everyone was responsible for paying the additional 50,000 rupiah fee and we finally suited up and started the ascent. It was consistently steep right out the door. I was so glad that I had all of my trekking gear with me: head lamp, boots, layers, hat, rain jacket and camel back.

First rest stop was where the paved road ends and what the locals call "Hollywood Sign." It is a sign in big letters that reads “New Selo.” Selo is the name of the district.

We continued up following the guides and assisting each other over the huge rocks in the pitch dark. We hiked in 40 minute intervals, sometimes I wish we hadn’t stopped as much because it was getting cold and we were sweating. I don’t recall doing a hike as steep as this on such difficult terrain. The combination on slippery mud and loose rocks and rock scaling all in the dark, probably put this one on the top of my list for most challenging. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I am so out of condition right now, but all of us confirmed that this was a tough one.

At 5:00AM just before reaching the desired plateau, we stopped in a sheltered area, made a fire and watched the falling stars. The sky appeared close enough to reach out and touch.

After an hour rest of refueling and staying warm, we attempted the final ascent. We proudly reached the plateau, well above the clouds and watched the sun slowly reveal itself over the horizon. Even though it was cloudy and we couldn’t see the city below us, it was still a stunning view, with the peak of the volcano still steaming behind us and the other mountains popping through the clouds, it was spectacular. I felt like I was on the moon especially with the ground covered in a thick layer of ash.

Around 6:30AM a few of us began our descent while others opted to continue climbing up another hill. I figured the more I climb the more I have to go down and I was not looking forward to this part. The rocks are all loose and I knew from going up there would be plenty of places that I would be sliding down on my ass. And sure enough, managing the weight on my back and even with what traction I have on my boots, there were many moments of slipping and losing balance.

Meanwhile, it is hard to complain as you see the locals, women included, doing the trek barefoot with probably 50 pounds of gathered harvest on their backs.

Back at the base, we received a home cooked banana pancake and tea before the bumping ride back to town. I thought I was smart by pre-booking a room at Wisma Gajah so I could shower and crash as soon as I got back. Unfortunately, it wasn’t so simple. Room 1, the door didn’t lock and the scum build up in the tub was nauseating, room 2 the A/C was broken, so finally they were forced to put me in a better room.

It was imperative that I get some rest because in my attempt to do it all, I bought a ticket to the ballet at the Prambanan Temple for tonight. I managed to get in a 1.5 hour nap and a nice meal at Via Via before it was time to shuttle off. The ballet was nice but in my condition I could’ve done with a 45 minute presentation in lieu of the 1.5 hour performance. Most impressive was the stunning, lit Prambanan Temple as the backdrop.

At the end of the show, I had the shuttle drop me back to the Soswajan neighborhood so I could meet up again with Agoes and see about some night life.
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