As I scrambled upwards through dirt and weeds in the pitch black, I started to feel extremely faint. Our local guide Eddie was quick on his feet, bounding ahead across the grit so I called out urgently to request a break. A one-thirty am pick up from Bali’s beach-side hot-spot Seminyak meant that we had had minimal sleep and the persistent cough from a bout of flu I had picked up a few weeks previously certainly wasn’t helping.
It was four AM. We were climbing Bali’s magnificent Mount Batur, an active volcano in the North-east of the island, aiming to arrive up in the clouds in time for sunrise.
The atmosphere had been strange from the moment we arrived at the base of the volcano shortly after midnight. We were handed a torch each by our tour company before being introduced to our guide Eddie, a local boy in his early twenties who lived at the bottom of the volcano with his family. Eddie climbs Mount Batur several times a week and later as I struggled during the hike, I recollected this fact, full of awe.
As we started our ascent, we were joined by several flickering flashlights; more tourists, although not too many for the hike to be uncomfortably busy. I was soon drenched in sweat, beads of moisture rolling down my forehead and my hair soaked as if I’d just had a bucket of water tipped over my head. The first half an hour was challenging, and as I took my second break my heart was thumping, and I was feeling wobbly and uneasy. At that moment I wasn’t too sure if I could manage it, not with a tremendous cough at least.
Every ten minutes or so, a motorbike heaved past us on the track, trembling through thick dust and mud. ‘In case someone need help and can no longer walk’ Eddie informed us. Yet somehow, the more I trudged on, the better I felt both mentally and physically. Up we trekked past throngs of panting travellers until finally, we reached a narrow rocky path leading us up to the famed viewpoint. No more motorbikes available to save us at this point.
As we clambered to the top, we were awash with joy. It was still dark, and as our bodies started to cool down it even started to get a bit chilly. Eddie guided us to a bench overlooking the surrounding mountains and the silent villages below and informed us that he would be preparing our breakfast before shuffling away into the small tin shed next to us.
The grey sky started to lighten. Eddie returned with a bizarre but satisfying breakfast of cooked eggs, warm banana sandwiches and some kind of breakfast bar. ‘I cook the eggs from the volcano steam’ Eddie smiled proudly, and we feasted, famished from our trek.
The clouds began to mist over the mountains and we sat quietly, soaking up the views before taking the obligatory photos as the sun started to peek through the haze. More trekkers started to join us at the peak and soon there was a buzz of activity; lots of chatter and excitement on the morning’s accomplishment.
We scrambled along a dusty pathway across the top of the peak with Eddie and he showed us where the hot mist from the volcano wafts out from the earth. There was lots of laughter as we took it in turns to blow through a cigarette into the steam, causing it to billow out in magnificent puffs.
As we began to make our descent down the volcano, I was momentarily distracted by a fast-moving being darting across the rocks; a monkey! We moved closer and more started to appear. They sat there nonchalant and unafraid, chomping into orange peel gifted to them by tourists. I was surprised to see a couple of chubby local toddlers playing outside one of the sheds perched above us, and wondered to myself – is this volcano also their home?
The route down was was steep, and it didn’t take long for my legs to start quivering like jelly. Thick clouds loomed above us, creating an atmosphere of foreboding. Other groups rushed past us running, stumbling and tripping over stones and branches but we took our time, delighting in the early morning fresh air. As we arrived on steady ground, we ambled past stretches of crop fields and Eddie explained the origin of each vegetable and how they are grown.
Finally, Eddie whisked us off to the nearby Toya Devasya hot springs where we soothed our aching bodies in a warm infinity pool that looked out to the tranquil Lake Batur and the encircling mountains. Exhausted, yet completely satisfied, I reflected on the grueling dawn ascent, and wondered about the everyday lives of our guide and the toddlers on the mountain. How strange we too must seem to them!
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