9 - Mount Batur: Part One & Deux (Bali, Indonesia)
A volcano so nice, I scaled it twice. And why not? Time was on my side. Don’t forget the sunrise. Don’t ever forget the sunrise. Ever.
by The Nostomaniac
ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER VOLCANO. This time? Mount Batur, northwest of its neighbor, Mount Agung. Batur’s current incarnation is centered within two much larger concentric calderas. The older iterations are massive (see image). Hard to fathom the geological turmoil that gave birth to its ancestors. Batur III is just a wee lad in comparison. Lake Batur is within the boundary of granddad. Agung is the one currently misbehaving, but vulcanologists can’t discount its little brother. Only a matter of time. Indonesia. Pacific Ring of Fire. Feel the heat.
A government organization controls all guided trekking on the mountain. If you hire a guide, he/she must be a member. From what I read at the time, some could go a little “old-school Sicilian” with those hiking sans guide. Do you really need one? No, not really. The way is straightforward, but it’s always a good idea to support the troops. No acrimony. No hard feelings. And it might not be worth the trouble. Guides have been known to show up at guesthouses unsolicited, ambush the guideless on the trail, or even threaten those who refuse services. More than one way to play with fire in this volcano…ya heard.
So, it should come as no surprise I was approached immediately in Kintamani (small town on the edge of the larger caldera). Someone probably radioed ahead with, “Incoming!” Rain forced me to find cover and don my gear for the last leg of my motorbike journey. A gentleman rode up and gave me his pitch. He seemed a decent fella, so I accepted his guesthouse suggestion and offer to guide me up the volcano. I was to join two women (French and German). He sweetened the deal with a $10 discount. Score. This was $15 more than the rebate he gave the ladies (I learned this later), but it’s hard to compete with a French accent and other female accoutrements.
Departure time? 3:30 am. Why? How else can you experience a sunrise you have no hope of witnessing? It rained. It rained a lot. I seemed to be one of the few prepared for the hike (rain gear, decent footwear, etc.). Gracias, Agung. Por ejemplo, Helen of France had no rain jacket. She was afraid of overheating. And Helga of Germany was wearing white canvas sneakers. They were not outliers. It reminded me of the Russian retreat on Agung. Um, hello—volcano, tropical island, wet season, so on and so forth and all that shit. Luckily, I had extra gear which I shared with the ladies. This hike was much less arduous than Agung, so most made it, though a few still bowed out. I believe the guides bear some blame here, assuring anyone and everyone it’ll be “tidak apa apa”, no problem. Um, hello—volcano, tropical island, wet season, so on and so forth and all that shit.
No view. No vista. No vista of no view. Total whiteout, like the inside of Casper’s ass. Couldn’t see jack…or jill. Still, it wasn’t a total loss. The mist enveloping the summit was somewhere between otherworld and horror movie, the fog leaned toward otherworldly while the aggressive monkey troop toward horror. Tourists and landmarks fazed in and out of the haze. The wind caressed my face. We boiled eggs in the dirt. I liked it, but I still wanted to see something, anything really. So I vowed to return the next day…without a guide. Bum, bum, bum, buuuummmm…Salacious.
After the hike, I soaked my parts at the local hot springs. It’s organized like a resort with two hot pools fed by spring water and an Olympic-size swimming pool. A nonstop revolving door for Timmy Tourist, but relaxing nonetheless. Then again, this was the offseason. Prime-time might make the place unbearable.
Back to my abode for bizarro Indonesian massage experience part two. Lodging is (or was) relatively cheap. To compensate for this, owners beseech guests to buy meals, artwork, massages, etc. A female employee (Wife? Sister? Daughter?) asked me repeatedly if I wanted a massage (about eight times in two days). Finally, I relented. An hour massage for less than four dollars? Just tell me where to sign. I entered the message area (an empty hotel room) to discover two women and a small child. Um, not quite what I expected. Curiosity? Piqued. Spidey-Sense? Tingling. Let’s get the whole family involved, shall we?
Ever been massaged simultaneously by two women as a toddler looks on from the adjacent bed? If you have the chance, get ready to live. The kid impressed me. She (or was it he?) actually spent twenty minutes in silence before going batshit bananas. Up till then, I could almost hear her ticking. The women, while working out the knots in my back, arms, legs, feet, and ass region, carried on what I can only assume to be everyday chit-chat. Ever talk on the phone while ironing? Kind of like that. And it felt a little like they were trying to iron my skin with their hands. For the most part, it was decent, but there were tense moments in the foot and chest area. I think I was a few units of torque shy of having my toes broken. And if you massage someone’s chest without enough oil, you might as well use sandpaper. Those were short detours in an otherwise decent massage experience. I mean, hey, four dollars, right?
I befriended another employee by the name of Made (pronounced Mah-Day) who turned out to be quite a character. He spoke a bit of English and wanted very much to learn more. I’d been flirting with Indonesian, so we had a fairly fruitful linguistic exchange. We sat with our respective dictionaries and asked questions about meaning and usage. He had me giggling with his curiosity about obscure high-level English words. These included acumen, abloom, effeminacy, and kibosh to name a few. Even if I could explain what these words meant in simple English, I sure as hell couldn’t point him in the right direction grammatically. Who the uses the word effeminacy? And how often do you hear “abloom”? “Kibosh”? Umm, right. Why not “transmogrify”?
“Yes, Made. That’s right. The caterpillar transmogrifies into a butterfly. Excellent. Tomorrow we’ll discuss somnambulism. Sleep on it.”
As Made departed for the evening, he informed me he was going home to make “boom boom”. Earlier, when I was typing away on my computer, he asked if I had pornography and was sorely disappointed to discover I was pornless.
And then there was Nyoman, a part-time guide who frequented the hotel restaurant. He spoke English well enough to have meaningful conversations about a variety of topics. One of the more colorful subjects revolved around mushrooms. Yes, those mushrooms. According to him, the wild psychedelic version grow all over the area on “shit from cow.” And only after a thunderstorm. Huh? Only after a thunderstorm? Curiosity? Piqued. Spidey-Sense? Tingling. I assume by “thunderstorm” he meant “rain” as I know of no fungus stimulated by sound waves.
Drugs are a serious no-no in Indonesia (you can get the death penalty for selling heroin), but mushrooms don’t count. Nyoman is rather fond of the occasional “trip” and he had in-depth conversations with the local police on the topic, offering to “read them in” so to speak. Most locals have no idea they’re sitting on a psychedelic bonanza.
Not long after our mushroom summit, two young German males entered and struck up a conversation with Nyoman. Frankly, they were space cadets. One was a literal mess, having sustained injuries from a motorbike mishap. His feet and hands were bleeding. Though a hotel employee brought Betadine, he wasn’t concerned enough to accept my offer of a bandage. They blamed slippery roads, but the two large beers they were carrying upon arrival set my Spidey-Sense ablaze for the third time.
I don’t recall his name, so I’ll just call him Deter. Well, Deter “The Wounded” claimed clairvoyant powers. He had a dream. A sad dream. World’s end was approaching. 2012? Mayan Apocalypse? Dunno. I was too riveted to demand clarification. At a temple that day he noticed the horizon resembled the doomsday vision he’d had two months earlier. In the dream, he was in Mexico, somewhere he’d never been, driving around haphazardly, searching for an unknown destination (not sure how that’s possible). But, alas, he was forced to turn back. When he did finally arrive wherever the hell it was, he saw the end coming…so on and so forth, blah blah blah…It was hard to focus and not laugh simultaneously. And he was so goddamn heart-attack serious about the whole thing.
Later, he informed Nyoman (who discovered over the course of the exchange he’d be their guide the following morning) he might not be able to wear shoes due to injury. Shoes on a volcano? Who needs ‘em? Oh, and his personal philosophy was something along the lines of, “I believe in nothing so I am open to everything. Sex is good. I love sauerkraut.” Okay, I made the up last one. Stereotypes save time.
I awoke the next morning, looked outside, saw the mountain was fog free, and decided to give the volcano another shot, this time solo. I was concerned I might meet an angry mob of Balinese guides with torches and pitchforks demanding I hire one, but no. Although I passed two groups coming down, neither guide said a word.
Nyoman had suggested a place away from the guide office to start the trek and that I should tell any discontents I’d already paid for a volcano tour. Good advice but I didn’t need it. Smooth sailing.
“Mount Batur: Part Deux” was an excellent decision and made for a fine morning. My tardiness paid off. I had the volcano to myself…mostly. There was a woman near the top selling drinks and small snacks (I enjoyed a bowl of noodles), but besides her, it was just I (unless you count the primates and an adorable doggy). The views were excellent, the vista superb. And the vista of views? Top notch. There was a minor standoff with Curious George and his crew, but after a few threatening waves of a stick and some harsh language, the tension dissipated. Also, I ran away.
I skirted the rim…of the volcano. Fog prevented this the previous morning. I now understood why. Poor visibility could spell doom for the reckless and uncoordinated.
In a word: Wow. Or awesome. Whatever. All this brought to me by patience and curiosity. I wasn’t on a schedule. I had time to waste. Time to listen. Time to learn. This would be a constant theme throughout my journey, and though it could lead to frustration and angst, more often than not, it led to treasure. If the second hike was like the first, I’d have made a third trip or even a fourth. Why not? Time. More valuable than money. Wait a couple hours, horde evacuates. The volcano was my oyster. Solitude my pearl. Time and patience were all I traded for a quasi-mystical experience on a volcano’s brim. What was missing? How about a heroic dose of Nyoman’s “shit from cow” mushrooms? Next time…