23 - Mt. Rinjani Before The Shake (Lombok, Indonesia)
“Give me silence, water, hope. Give me struggle, iron, volcanoes.”
― Pablo Neruda
Tired, weary, and not so cheery. How to begin? The morning view was all I knew to ease my grumpled mood. Rescue spa and oh là là to punctuate the spin.
by Mr. Nos T. O’maniac
FOR ESCAPING Gili Trawangan, I lightly cupped my right hand and gave myself a vigorous “good game”. Truly miraculous. It was time to see a man about a mountain. I arrived back at the guesthouse in Senggigi to find my motorcycle untouched, if not looking a bit forlorn. Would it start? Would I remember how to drive? Check and check. It’s amazing what a little time off can do to your confidence. But, dammit, I got back on that horse, I mean hog.
I rode from Senggigi to Senaru (near Bayan), the gateway to Mt. Rinjani (12,224 ft, 3,726 m). At the time, Lombok was calm and silent. However, life on the “Ring of Fire” can change in a heartbeat. On July 29th, 2018, shit got real (see side article). Since then, earthquakes and aftershocks have numbered in the hundreds creating enough instability to spawn refugees and discourage tourism.
Even without a major catastrophe and threat of death, Rinjani was a real asshole. I found the going slow, the pace grueling. Although the volcano is described as such in the tourist literature, I had hoped to fare better. The reviews are often written with the lowest common denominator in mind. I aspired to be farther along on the bell curve. Nuh-uh. My ego likes to think I wasn’t at a hundred percent. It began with a fever which I’d hope to quell with 800mg of ibuprofen. Nuh-uh. Fatigue set in early on, at a much lower altitude than I was accustomed.
Another wrinkle. Perhaps climbing so soon after an extended time at sea level and a large volume of scuba diving torpedoed my stamina. Poor sleep hygiene and a crap diet rounded out my recipe for success. I should’ve spent more time in Senaru resting up and doing short hikes before attempting Rinjani. Should’ve. Would’ve. Could’ve. Didn’t.
Two days, one night. If you’re feeling spunky, you can cram it into one long day. That would’ve been tough in my condition. I went with tradition. After arriving in Senaru, I met the guide and my sole hiking companion, a French woman from Normandy on a three-month escape to Indonesia, Australia, and Thailand. In my experience, females traveling solo have above-average resilience and grit. “Normandy” was no exception.
The first day you hike to base camp and then ascend early the next morning, followed by a full descent. I’ve already mentioned the gruel, but you eat the lion’s share on the summit climb. As a bonus our captain neglected to waterproof the supplies leaving us with a wet tent and sleeping bags (Luckily, I brought my own bag). His failure to anticipate inclement weather seemed odd given his experience. However, it was his reaction that was a teensy bit frustrating. He looked at me with a shit-eating grin and said, “Sleeping bags wet. Maybe you not sleep. Hee-hee.”
“Hee-hee” yourself, fucker.
I was already functioning at seventy percent. Why not throw in a shitty night’s sleep? Normandy had the extra sleeping bag at her disposal, but this was of little consequence seeing as they were wet. We shared a tent and body warmth as a counter to the damp cold, hunkering under my bag. No innuendo here though she did give me a kiss on the cheek as a good morning. Well, she was French, right?
Our guide was nice, but not terribly motivated. This was his and the porter’s first trek of the season, so I guess they needed time to get their legs back. They felt like climbing like I felt like drilling another hole in my ass. The guide lagged at the start but rallied towards the end. That was my second volcano guide with an ambition shortage.
The porter, on the other hand, was a trooper. He made the climb using a bamboo pole with two supply-filled baskets on each end wearing flip-flops (or thongs to you European folk) and the inadequate clothes on his back. I loaned him a flimsy jacket to keep warm. He was ready to bear my children. With hindsight, I should’ve insisted on an extra porter. I carried my own shit but when you consider food, tents, sleeping bags, and cookware there was still plenty for two porters. This, of course, did not prevent him from taking the lead almost the entire way. Like I said, trooper.
It’s unsettling to see guides and porters eating inferior food and less of it. We implored them to share our supplies, but they refused. Par for the course and prohibited by the trekking outfit. If I had to do this trip again? Arrive in Senaru with days to spare. Find my own guide and porters (at least one for every hiker). Purchase enough food for everyone, working out the payment details myself. Pay them a little more. Feed them decent food. Smiles all around. Hard to enjoy your job when you’re hungry and cold. And this degrades the experience for the clients as well. Food for thought if you find yourself there.
And then there’s all the goddamn trash. It was everywhere along the way, especially at rest stops. Cook shit. Chuck shit. Move on. It wasn’t just depressing, but fucking confusing. You have a national park magnet for tourist dollars, yet there was little effort to maintain the trail. I was told there’s a clean-up climb three times a month but what about in the interim? Lombok’s governor kicked off the season days earlier. He apparently had quite an entourage. They left a huge mess. Rice, eggshells, noodles, tin cans, etc. And you can’t claim ignorance. There were signs imploring hikers to carry out their trash. Sadly, I would face this issue repeatedly and it never failed to bring me down.
The second day was the grueliest of the gruel with a steep ascent and unforgiving terrain. The track wasn’t solid, consisting mostly of loose dirt and pebbles (not unlike trudging through sand). It was exhausting, the going excruciatingly slow. With a short acclimatization time, I’m sure the altitude did nothing to help. I recognized the fatigue and lethargy from earlier hikes. Not fun.
But worth the effort. The sun had just come up as we reached the top, and the views were something to behold—a mixture of shadow and light that made me feel like I’d stepped through a wormhole to prehistory. I half expected a pterodactyl to blot out the sun. There was a definite chill in the air, but a lack of wind made lingering feasible. And so we did.
The descent was as equally rewarding. Clear sky. Bright sun. The island spread out below. A mini-volcano (Gunung Baru) accented with hints of steam. A monkey. A yellow pooch. Whiskers on kittens. Petals on roses…
I didn’t walk. I hopped, gamboling through the soft earth with pleasurable ease. By then, any residual sourness had dissipated. Misery with that view takes effort. I’d also regained some climbing mojo, a welcome relief and mood enhancer. Better late than never I s’pose.
How about some high drama? We spent the afternoon by the crater lake inside the larger caldera where the smaller, younger volcano sits (aptly named Gunung Baru or “New Mountain”). Not far from the shore lies a hot spring adjacent to a picturesque waterfall. The hot spring is (or was) visually unremarkable, a 10’ by 3’ walled off enclosure catching water via pipes set into the rock. Although only three feet deep there’s enough space for a rejuvenating soak. Team France and I relaxed, giving our sore legs a well-deserved respite. Being French, she wore nothing but panties. Being male and human, I held my objection.
And then shit took a turn. At the foot of the waterfall sits a turbulent swirling pool that was, unbeknownst to us, not suitable for swimming. Well, Normandy decided to follow up her hot water splash with a refreshing dip. I considered this myself but the pool, though small, was of unknown depth, and had a sketchy feel. I refrained. For the record, our guide never cautioned us.
When I saw her dipping her feet in the water’s edge, I was concerned but didn’t say anything because I assumed if she stayed put, all would be bueno. But no. She waded into deeper water where she was subsequently carried into the middle. Then she started to swirl. I looked on in horror hoping she might recover. No such luck. When she went under the second time, I was forced to act.
Probably should’ve taken a moment to formulate a better plan, but she was clearly starting to panic. Like her, I started to swirl. I managed to grasp her arm but was sucked under the falls. Fortunately, after my first go around, I gained suitable perch on a rock in the pool’s center and was able to catch Frenchy and steady us both with her arms cinched firmly around my neck. My objective was to then swim the short distance to the pool’s edge, but her palpable fear dissuaded me. Thankfully, four French tourists looked on. They found sticks and extended a helping hand. I latched onto a branch and pulled us to safety. And…end scene! Wow, that got my blood pressure up.
The other tourists had been warned by their guide about swimming beneath the fall. This might explain why they were dumbfounded by what they witnessed. And I have to admit even though we hadn’t been explicitly told to stay away, jumping in felt like an obvious bad call. But then again, who the hell am I, really?
Bystander effect, anyone? There was a collective freeze as Team France swirled the drain. For an instant, I too fell pray hoping she’d recover. The danger was minimal, but there was no way to know then. If I may abuse a pun, I plunged into unknown waters and could only hope if something happened the other bystanders would’ve taken action. Buuuut…I’m not so sure. I had the sense, afterward, they had no intention of endangering their welfare for someone blatantly disregarding an explicit warning (i.e. the one we never received). Maybe I’m wrong. Nothing beats a front row seat to a psychological phenomenon I’d only read about in Psych 101.
Normandy and I had chemistry before the incident. And after? Ummmm, you do the math. Unfortunately, the chemical bond had a short half-life. A few days later, we couldn’t stand each other. Still, nice while it lasted. I’m not blameless, but what do they say about amorous bonds forged under stressful circumstances being doomed to failure? Two psychology lessons in one post. Nice.
It wasn’t a Harlequin Super Romance, but it wasn’t so bad either. Having an attractive French woman whisper exhalations of pleasure in her native language was a highlight of my two-year trip, maybe even my life. I dreamed of moving to Paris and apprendre à parler français…or some shit. And yet, I can’t remember her name. I’m certain she’s forgotten mine. Ç’est la vie.
I suspect Lombok has changed dramatically in my absence. International airport construction will do that. I’m guessing the tourist volume has seen dramatic increases with consequences for Mt. Rinjani and the island’s other jewel, Kuta (in the south). I fear Kuta is now well on its way to the excess so rampant in its Bali counterpart. Hope not. Fingers crossed.