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Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, Indonesia, Java, long term travel, Southeast Asia, Travel

My Love/Hate Relationship With Mount Rinjani


From Ubud, I had a few days in Kuta (yes, I actually found myself in this debaucherous city again) and then a few days relaxing in a little bungalow on Gili Air. I had reconnected with the Frenchies, Alex and Flo, again, and we were making our way to Mount Rinjani.

April 1st marked the opening of the trails, so we booked in with a guide and a porter for a 3 day/2 night trek. The day started out really warm and clear and we began our hike to Rest Post 1. About one hour in, the rain began and it wasn’t just a light drizzle, it was monsoon like rain, drenching rain that soaks your clothes within minutes. Of course, what had I forgotten in my small overnight bag? My poncho!!

Our guide Tarid did all he could to help keep us dry. I had a plastic sleeping mat draped over my head and hanging down my back to keep my bag dry. This was tied around my waist with a plastic piece of string. Alex and Flo were hiking while holding a plastic tarp over the two of them. It was a sight.

We reached the rest area at Post 2 around 2:00. We were all soaked, my shoes were gushing water, and the trail had turned into more of a ravine than a trekking path. We headed for cover while Tarid prepared some coffee and lunch. The problem was, we were freezing. We wanted to put on dry clothes, but we also had to conserve what we had, knowing that we would want to be dry and warm at night when the temperatures dropped.

The rain continued for another two hours at least, and we just sat and watched, and tried to stay warm. It finally cleared up around 5:00 and we made our way 2.3 kilometers up to where we would sleep for the night just as it got dark. The trekking for the most part hadn’t been too challenging on the first day, it was just the weather that put a damper on things.

We set up our tent, put on dry (and warmer clothes) and I positioned myself as close to the cooking fire as possible to try and warm up my feet. Tarid prepared a delicious dinner of Nasi Goreng, and I managed to somewhat dry my shoes by the fire. We headed to our tent around 10:00 knowing we had a 4:30 wake up call, but none of us slept that well. I was squashed between Alex and Flo and those sleeping mats mentioned before were better at protecting us from the rain than they were at cushioning our bodies. Each time I turned over I could feel my bones roll over the wooden beams.

The cold air and a cup of coffee was enough to help us get going the following morning, and we packed up our campsite and headed for a 2 hour trek up to the sunrise viewpoint. We hadn’t been afforded many good views up until this point as most of the trekking the first day was through the rainforest, but as the sun rose, we had amazing views of the surrounding landscape, the Gili Islands in the distance and Bali’s Gunung Agung.

We weren’t at the rim for sunrise- the trek had taken longer than expected, but there was no reason to be disappointed because when we did finally make it, what we saw was breathtaking. It’s difficult to sum it up in words. In front of us and just off to the left was Mount Rinjani (at 3,726 meters tall). It looked really steep, and that’s what lay ahead of us on the last day! Directly in front of us was Gunung Baru- smoking away. This actually sits in a crater lake of blue and sulfur yellow waters, the black lava base of the volcano jutting into the water like little black fingers. And to the right were steep, green cascading mountains. I think we all just stood in awe for a few minutes and let the views soak in.

We were in the middle of nowhere, so far away from the rest of civilization. It was nice to just sit and enjoy the silence, interrupted occasionally by the rumble of the volcano below.

Tarid and Jamal (our porter) met us at the rim, and we began our 2 hour hike down to the lake. To be descending instead of ascending was a welcomed change, and the weather was perfect for us- phew! The views were beautiful, and as we climbed further down, we realized just how big Baru was and how high Rinjani was. The volcano continued to gurgle and give off little puffs of smoke and as we got closer, I realized that the gurgling sounds were actually rocks being projected from the mouth of the volcano and rolling down the sides. Then out of nowhere came a noise like thunder, and Tarid started to yell out to us. We looked up to see the volcano erupting in front of our eyes. I couldn’t believe I was witnessing this. You secretly hope you’ll see something like this, but you never think you actually will. Tarid screamed out to us “Super Bloody Mega Bagus (good)!”

Needless to say, this provided some extra adrenaline for the rest of the climb down. We got down to the edge of the lake and rested for lunch for about an hour, and then we watched as heavy clouds rolled in and covered our views of everything. Still, we weren’t too worried as next on the agenda was a trip to the hot springs. This was glorious. The four of us just sat and soaked our tired muscles for about 30 minutes in the bubbling springs.

Feeling re-energized and trying to not pay too much attention to the impending rain, we began the last part of the days trekking- 3 hours up to the campsite. The rain began about 30 minutes in, but wasn’t as drenching as the day before. The first 2 hours were ok, but the last hour was trying. It was raining harder, the path was getting steeper and it was beginning to get dark.

When we got to the campsite, we set everything up as quickly as we could in an effort to keep everything dry. I got into the tent and directly into my sleeping bag in all my clothes minus my wet socks and stayed there. I was wet, cold, tired and cursing Alex and Flo for choosing the 3 day tour and not the 2 day one.

After some soup, we attempted to sleep. The following morning, we knew would be the toughest. We had a 2:30 wake up call, and a 3 hour STEEP climb to the top of Rinjani. I was wondering if we would wake up to clear skies or not, and I’ll admit that a (very) small part of me wouldn’t have been disappointed if we couldn’t make the final climb.

At 2:30 am the following morning, my watch alarm went off, and Flo jumped up and was ready to go instantly. Alex and I sat in the tent not wanting to move. It was damn cold, but it was clear, and I was thankful despite what I had felt the night before! I sat contemplating putting on my wet socks and shoes, but a hot cup of coffee made it all a little easier, and before long we had set out for the final 3 hours up.
The first hour was tough. I don’t’ know what it is about mornings, but I just don’t have that extra oomph and seem to struggle with my balance. Now pair this with the fact that we were climbing a giant black sand dune, and with every step forward that I took, I seemed to slide a half step back. I was asking Alex and Flo if this was really their idea of fun, and they just appeased me with the promise of cold Bintang and a Magnum ice cream as soon as we returned to level ground.

The second hour was a bit easier and we actually got to see red lava flowing down the side of the volcano at one point in time, such an awesome sight. The third hour was the most challenging of all. I literally thought about stopping and sitting down and enjoying the sunrise from where I was. I would have been okay with that, but I plowed on and began counting my steps in sets of 100. Then I tried swearing. With each step, I said “Never” “Again”, “Never” “F*cking” “Again.” I began asking myself what kind of self-inflicted punishment this was, but then I reached the top! Finally! We could literally see everything – Bali to the west, Lombok to the east, not to mention the views down to the lake and the rim of the volcano. It was all worth it in the end.

There was a sense of accomplishment, but I couldn’t help but wonder how difficult the climb down was going to be. Fortunately, due to the fact that most of the climb was sand, we were able to slide our way down, turning it into a sort of race to see who could slide the most, me spending some of the time on my butt, giggling all the way back to the campsite.

Tarid was already back at the site preparing coffee and banana pancakes, and we packed everything up to prepare for the 6 hour hike down. When we started out the weather was fine, but the climbing was steep and slick. And you guessed it, by the second hour, it was raining again. We donned our plastic tarps and did our best to power through. I just kept thinking about a warm shower and dry clothes and didn’t really think about the rain that was getting heavier and heavier. We stopped under a rock for shelter and met 2 women from Jakarta who were on their way up. I couldn’t help but feel grateful that we were on our way back and not our way up. Don’t get me wrong, it was well worth it, but it was intense.

The rain finally let up after 3 hours, and after4 hours we stopped for a light meal. I had to take off my shoes to survey the damage. Because my feet had been wet for so long, I could feel the blisters beginning to grow. I decided to try and wring out my socks and put some bandaids on, but the damage was already done! Then the rain began again. We finished the last 2 hours of the hike in a light drizzle, but we were only having to tackle rolling hills which made things a lot more enjoyable. We finished the hike through a rice paddie. Behind us were rolling hills that disappeared into misty, cloudy skies, and in front of us, the rice paddies looked like they disappeared into the sea.


We finished the hike and jumped into the back of a pickup truck that was taking us to Labuan Lombok, so we could get a boat to Flores the next day. I was so excited to sleep in a real bed and to take a shower (hopefully a hot one). We got to Labuan Lombok after dark and finally found the one guesthouse which had one room left. We surveyed the room- one big bed, then we surveyed the bathroom- no shower, just a bucket and water. We had no choice…I came to the realization that it was going to be a while before I was able to have a “real” shower. However, the thought of having to pour buckets of cold water over myself was so unappealing at this point in time. Still, we took turns getting cleaned up, and went out to scour the town for some cold Bintangs, which was no easy feat. We dined at the local market, while the “DJ” played Beatles tunes and kept coming over to us to see if we liked the music. Pure exhaustion had set in, and when the power went out around 9:30pm, I took it as my cue to retire.

The last couple of days had been filled with adventure, but had been physically draining. The upcoming days looked like they were going to prove to be no different, but at least I would have dry shoes and a mattress- or would I? This is Indonesia afterall!

Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, Indonesia, Java, long term travel, Southeast Asia, Travel

The Kindness of Strangers

When traveling, I am constantly surprised by the kindness of strangers. But in Bali, no one is a stranger for long. Indonesia is known as the “land of smiles,” and rightly so. A smile is always returned and immediately followed by the question, “Where you come from?” Before you know it, you have a new friend.

Yansu is my newest friend in Bali. He seemed to take a liking to me during the drive from the airport the night I arrived, and the following day he began talking to me about taking a trip to his local village so I could meet his family and see the end of a religious ceremony that had taken place over the last couple of days.

After sharing our coconut in the afternoon, he said if I wanted to go with him, I should get ready and we would leave at six o’clock. This is the point where I wonder to myself if this is an authentic invitation or if I might be getting myself into a bit of a situation. Yansu seemed harmless though, so I accepted the invitation, and after getting ready, we hopped on his motorcycle to make the 30-minute drive to his village.

Yansu comes from a village called Tegal Besar, which sits east of Ubud and just below Candi Dasa. The village is home to 350 people, and Yansu explained to me that it is a poor village, but one that’s filled with very happy people. We arrived at his home, and within five minutes, I think I had met his entire family, because they all live within the same quarters. His father, who strangely resembled Obama, however, was still working in the rice fields at that point in time.

He showed me around his home and then took me over to the family temple which sat to the back left side of the house. Here, 3 people were praying and making an offering. I sat and watched for a while, before taking a tour of the village and the black sand beach. We ran into Yansu’s uncle and cousin at the beach. They all seemed so excited that I was there to visit and to participate in the ceremony that evening.

From here, we made our way to a local restaurant for Lalapan Ayam. This is a dish of chicken, served with a rich chili sauce and rice. Then, we headed back to Yansu’s home for the festivities. Before I could participate, I had to put on the correct clothes. Yansu lent me a sarong and a tie (amed) for my waist, while his uncle began to explain to me the meaning of the holiday.

I found out that the name of this festival is Odalan. This is a Hindu festival that is held every six months. (Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim country, but Bali is 95% Hindu). During this specific ceremony, families pray to the God of sun, the God of ground and the God of family (or the family temple), and make offerings of crushed flowers and holy water.

I sat down with the family and town people and participated in the prayers and offerings that were ending the 3-day Odalan festival. I felt so fortunate to be a part of this, but was more touched by how the entire family had welcomed me in. After the festival, I sat with Yansu’s father, uncles and brother and we shared a kopi tbruk, a sweet, strong, black coffee before heading back to ubud. I left with persistent invitations to return for the following week’s full moon festivities.

I arrived back at the guesthouse and sat reflecting on the evening. To me, this is what it’s all about. Bali can be quite touristy and I had the opportunity to step away from it all and really get off the beaten path, thanks to Yansu, his generosity and his pride for where he comes from. These are the moments that separate a visit to a place, from really experiencing a place and another culture- moments that separate a trip from a journey.

Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, Indonesia, Java, long term travel, Southeast Asia, Travel

Back to Bali

Is it true that a place can melt away stress?? If so, then I have to believe that this place is is Bali. I only passed through here on the first half of my trip, but it was enough time to realize what a special island this is and to know that I needed to come back for an extended period of time. So, I find myself in Ubud for the next few days.

I arrived very late from Jogykarta. My flight was delayed, but Yansu, who works at the hotel I had arranged to stay at, was at the airport in Denpasar to pick me up. We made the hour drive to Ubud and arrived just after midnight. The following morning, I awoke to a treat. It was a gorgeous day! For some reason, the colors in Bali are so vivid, it’s like everything is glowing and electrified. The sky is bluer than most places (if this is possible) and the green of the rice fields and palm trees seem to pop against the blue background. Small yellow and pink flowers grow in every tree, and give off an exotic aroma of ginger-lime and rose.

I am staying at the Dewi Ayu Inn. I must say it’s a bit of a splurge at $15 a night, but it came highly recommended, and I figured 3 nights wouldn’t break my budget. It’s a treat to have a hot water shower, and a pool sits just a stone’s throw away. Each morning, one of the workers places a thermos of tea on a table on my veranda, and as soon as I venture out, someone is there to see if I’m ready for my breakfast, which usually consists of a plate of fruit and a banana pancake, all ordained with the intoxicating flowers mentioned above. Luxury if you ask me!

The plans for my first day were to chill out. I had a good book and a pool and it was hot. I ventured across the road to the Ubud Inn for lunch- an open air restaurant that backs onto a lilly pond. Huge red bouganvellia-like flowers surround the lillypond, and a small water feature sits in the middle. The atmosphere is made that much better by the Balinese trance like music playing in the background. I tasted a lemon and ginger juice, which I see as becoming highly addictive.

After lunch, I strolled along Monkey Forest Road, taking a peek in some of the galleries and shops, and then headed back to spend a few hours by the pool and chilling on my veranda (I just like saying that). Yansu made periodic visits throughout the day to make sure I was happy. I told him, “This place makes me happy.”

He climbed a tree and retrieved a coconut which we split for an afternoon snack. Life doesn’t get much better than this, and I find myself contemplating staying longer or finding a reason to come back here for an extended period of time in the future.

Around the world travel, Backpacking, Borabudur, Bucket List, Indonesia, Java, long term travel, Southeast Asia, Travel, Yogyakarta

That Buddha Is One Cool Dude…

Yogyakarta is a nice city, but there’s not a whole lot to see here. The two main attractions, Borabudur and Prambanan, sit about 30 minutes on either side of the city center. Still, the local padong food is delicious, I was staying in a great guesthouse with some friendly travelers, and I found a supermarket that sold blue cheese (!) What more could I ask for? I ended up staying in Yogya, called “Joja” by the Javanese for about 4 days.

On my first day, when I actually started feeling human again, I vetured out for some local food and then treated myself to an hour long Javanese massage. This cost me about $6 and really, I should have gone back everyday after that. It was glorious.

On the second day, I somehow found myself waking up at 4am AGAIN! This was for a sunrise view of Borabudur. I had organized a trip with three others and as we left town, an Aussie guy decided to join our group and jumped in the van. He’d had a good night out in Yogya, in fact, he hadn’t made it home yet. During the hour long drive, he proceeded to preach to us about what a “fine dude” that Buddha was, with a Smirnoff Ice in hand, often times forgetting his thoughts mid-sentence…hilarious! By the time we’d finished touring Borabudur, he was nowhere to be found. We ran into him later that evening at a local bar, and he gave us a hazy look like he recognized us from somewhere, but couldn’t place it. When he finally figured it out, he came over to say hello and showed us the new tattoo he’d got that day- half-finished, probably due to his condition! Never a dull moment, I tell you.

Borabudur and Pramabanan were impressive. I personally enjoyed Borabudur more, and found the architecture more interesting, but it could also be that by the time I reached Prambanan, it was nearing 40 degrees, and I was flailing. I headed back to town for a chill afternoon, and then met up with the group from the temple tour to see a Javanese puppet show.

This isn’t really something I would usually attend, but I appreciated the invitation and went along for the 8:00 show. Now, while I can appreciate the art and craft behind this, the story was read aloud in Indonesian, and all we had was a dodgy English translation of the story. An hour in, when I found out the show was 2 hours long, I slipped out the back door. In town, I ran into an American couple who I had met on the journey back from Ijen, so I spent the last hour of the puppet show enjoying some Bintangs with them! Time well spent.

Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, Indonesia, Java, long term travel, Southeast Asia, Travel

The Wonders of Java

After chilling for four days in Derawan, and doing a whole lot of nothing, I felt recharged and ready to set off to see more of Indonesia. I flew to Surabaya, and got out of there quickly. It’s a muggy, dirty city with little to offer a traveler (in my opinion). I hopped a local bus to Probolingo, which is the in between point for seeing Mount Bromo and Ijen. By the time I got to Probolingo, there were no more buses making the trip up to the mountain, so I spent a night in town and made friends with a local tour guide, Tony, who loved English football and “smoked like Bromo,” as he said. We went for some good local food and some Bintangs.

The following morning I made my way up the windy roads of Probolingo to the village that sits at the edge of Mount Bromo. As we climbed higher, we entered the clouds and the temperature began to drop. It was getting proper cold! The villages we drove through were small farming villages, nestled on the hills of lush green mountains. I felt as if I’d been transported back to medieval rural France. That’s the only way I can describe the villages themselves. Little one story brick homes sat at the edge of the farmland and smoke from fires blew out the chimneys. I almost expected a Frenchman carrying a pheasant and a baguette to be walking down the road. Yet, we were in the middle of Indonesia.

I checked into Yoshie’s lodge for the night, an eccentric and colorful guesthouse. Home was a little basic bamboo room, but in the courtyard was a working hot shower! The following morning, I had a 4am wake-up call, as I was heading up to Penanjakan to watch the sunrise. Here, you can see Bromo and Mt. Semeru, both of which are smoking in the distance.

We got to the mountain with some time to spare, enough time for a cup of coffee to warm up and a chat with some Indonesian students from Jakarta. (It’s always nice to meet people traveling in their own country, and I saw a lot of this in Java). From here, we made our way to the viewpoint, which to my surprise was a short flight of steps- such a nice change from the hour long treks I have become accustomed to on this trip.

The sunrise was a bit cloudy, and therefore not very colorful, but the clouds did eventually give way to the volcanoes in the distance, and shortly after sunrise, we made our way by 4-WD down to the “Sea of Sand,” which is the barren land surrounding Mount Bromo. From here, we were able to hike up to the top of the volcano (via 400 steps). You can actually peek down to the hole in the earth and watch as smoke billows out- a sight I had never seen before! I also managed to walk about half way around the entire caldera, a moment where I definitely had to pinch myself to assure myself it was real.

Mount Bromo is obviously an active volcano and last erupted in 2004, killing 2. Mount Semeru is also active and at this point in time, is not open to visitors, due to its high level of activity.

I headed back to Yoshie’s for some breakfast and packed up to make my way to Ijen. I believed Ijen to be right next to Bromo. That’s how it looked on the map anyways, but it turned out to be a 6 hour-drive. Still, we passed through some beautiful villages, coasted along next to the ocean for a good portion of the drive and then finished up with a drive through a coffee plantation. In fact, I stayed at Arabica guesthouse which sits on a coffee plantation. Needless to say, there were endless cups of free coffee here, which helped for yet another early wake up call.

At 4am the following morning, we were on our way to see Lake Ijen. This is a volcanic crater, now filled with water, that sits next to another active volcano, that pumps out so much sulfur you have to cover your mouth and nose at times because of the strong smell. But given the natural elements, the color of the lake is beautiful, almost like a glowing soft green color.

We hiked about 3 kilometers from the park entry to the top of the caldera, where unfortunately, due to the direction of the winds, we weren’t afforded very good views of the lake, but after about another hour’s hike down, we were standing lake side and were able to avoid the sulfur stream and get a good look at the size and beauty of the lake. The temperature of the lake felt like a hot tub and you could see little bubbles climbing up to the surface.

We were also able to watch the men harvest the sulfur. Big metal tube like structures, literally lead to a furnace like building, where sulfur billows out. It eventually hardens and forms a dark yellow crystalline object (which looks like an entire candle has melted down). The men then break up these pieces of sulfur and put it into baskets which they carry up the side of the volcano. These must weigh upwards of 200 lbs, yet one basket may only yield them about 6,000 rupiah ($.60). (The product is used as a preservative in dried fruits, as well as in makeup.) Sometimes I don’t know how these men do this hike with an additional 200 pounds, in flip flops, most of the time while puffing away on a cigarette!

After hiking back up from the lake, we were able to get some better views of Lake Ijen. Then, it was time for the ride back to Probolingo followed by a 3-hour wait for my luxury minivan to Yogyakarta. Well, it was far from that. The van was from 1980, had no AC and it sounded as if the wheels were going to drop off. The promised 7-hour journey took around ten hours, probably due to the fact that the driver pulled over every 3o minutes to try to figure out what was rattling underneath the van.

Still, we did not breakdown!! And we arrived in Yogyakarta around 5am, just steps away from the guesthouse I had scoped out before arriving. Luckily there was a spare room, where I would spend most of that day, recovering from my journey and one too many 4am wake up calls.