I spent longer on the island of Lombok than anticipated - in a good way. It's nice to have unexpected adventures pop up. It would be sort of boring if everything went according to plan. Lombok is a small island with a big mountain. It is a place of spicy food and where a horse and buggy is not an uncommon means of transportation.
I met Poan on the ferry from Padangbai, Bali to Lembar, Lombok. He is a friendly guy that can speak a little English. That's all you can really ask for in this part of the world. He was excited to share Lombok culture with me, and I was excited to learn. We talked and played a couple of games of chess on the ferry. I guess chess is pretty universal. We exchanged information while having a meal, the first of many delicious and spicy meals I had on the island, and agreed to meet again later. Then I was off to Senaru to start my trek up Mount Rinjani.
Senaru is situated at the bottom of the this very large volcano. I left the guesthouse in Senaru about 8am the next morning and started walking. I wasn't totally sure where the trailhead was, but I was told there was only one way up. So I went up. Most people have a guide and porter and tour group they climb with. I went on my own, carrying all my own equipment and food. I like going at my own pace, and saving over a million Indonesian Rupiah is a bonus too. And this ain't my first mountain rodeo so I figured I would be alright.
I met a couple of French dudes who were up there on their own too. Alex and Leo. We formed our own tour group for the night. We were probably the most popular one too after we started a camp fire to keep us all warm in the chilly mountain wind. My friends weren't sure we would be able to start a fire in such a windy and exposed camp, but I didn't live in the mountains for five and a half months for nothing. They were impressed with my fire making skills. When someone would come to join us and comment on how surprised they were that we had a fire going, Alex would point to me and say, "He's from America, anything is possible."
We slowly made our way up the mountain that first day and everything went well, even when we heard the eruption.
It sounded like super thunder if super thunder were a thing. But the skies were clear and there wasn't an airport nearby where a large jumbo jet might be flying over us to land. I just dismissed it. Living in Huntsville, Alabama, you hear loud noises all the time. Redstone Arsenal is nearby and is always exploding bombs and testing rockets so loud explosions are ordinary. Next time I'm on a volcano though, I should remember that I'm not in Alabama anymore.
I guess I got lucky. We must have been upwind. Other parts of the island reported ash in the air, and they closed down the major airport in Bali. Two other volcanos erupted nearby around the same time too. I had no idea about any of this and neither did anyone around me it seemed, even the locals. We all just kept climbing up the mountain to camp. A wise man who got a B- in Geology once told me that if you survive the first twenty minutes of an eruption, you're probably good.
At camp we were rewarded with a beautiful sunset and our first views into the crater at the very recently active volcano. Here we learned that it had just erupted, and it was obvious when looking at it. The volcano was smoking, and the left side of the cone was blown away. You could see where the trail of lava flowed. It had cooled off now and was black, but there was smoke still coming off of it all the way down from the cone to the lake that surrounded the volcano. It was an amazing place to be. A smoking volcano on my left and a gorgeous sunset over a distant Bali on my right.
I woke up in a crowded tent of three just before sunrise. We packed up and started one of the best days of hiking I have ever had. It rivals the day I hiked the Northern Presidentials in New Hampshire. Hard to choose between them. We watched the sun rise at the crater rim then headed down into the crater for the lake. The views were other worldly. Very new to me. The sun rose and light filled the crater. We went deeper into this bowl. The walls rose high and steep on all sides. The volcano got bigger and bigger. The lake grew into a sea. When you reach the bottom, you realize how big this entire scene is.
Once you reach the bottom of the crater you are treated to hot springs. Best hot springs I've seen by far. The water is a weird opaque green color, but the temperature is heavenly. The pool is deep and there are perfect rocks for relaxing on. There are two waterfalls feeding this natural hot tub, and you can even jump from the top into the pool below. It is a perfect place to relax after a long hike, and it takes some serious mental toughness to leave. Especially when you are headed back uphill, even if it is a beautiful uphill.
At the second night's camp I was on my own. My French friends took a different trail off the mountain. I camped high up on the mountain ridge. The summit was seemingly just next to me. I set up my hammock and went to bed early after watching the sunset and an impromptu yoga session with a Kiwi and some Canadians. My hammock set up kept me warmer than I expected all night on a very windy and exposed ridge. I just peeked out a couple of times to look at the stars. A crazy infinite amount of stars.
Around 2am I heard people start rustling and getting ready to make the hike up the summit for sunrise. During the day I could tell there were a lot of people on the mountain, but at night when everyone had a light and they were traveling in one line up the mountain, it was shocking to see just how many people were there. It seemed like there was a line of lights stretching from the summit all the way back to camp. Like a line of people five miles long. Obviously I tried to beat them all up to the top. I left around 3am.
Hiking up Rinjani was like hiking on a beach that was somehow tilted 60 degrees up. The distance was not so far, but the terrain made it impossible to move with any speed. The goal with each step was simply to move forward and not slide down the sand or ash or dirt or whatever it was farther than you stepped up. Over the coarse of the two and a half hours it took to summit, I passed most people who started before me and was maybe the 20th person at the top at 5:30am. By the 6:30 sunrise there was about 75 people up on the small summit. Quite a bit more than I would have preferred but at least we could huddle penguin style for warmth. It was freezing up there. The best view was the shadow of the mountain itself stretching across the crater and land and sea and clouds behind it.
The way down was much quicker. It was very much like skiing. Sliding down on the sand and rocks a few feet with every step. You could get going pretty fast.
The only negatives in regards to Rinjani where the amount of people on the mountain and worse, the amount of trash on the mountain. There was trash everywhere. All the way up and all the way down. It was sad to see such careless pollution in such a naturally beautiful place. I don't know who's to blame - tourists, guides, porters, locals. Probably all. It looks terrible, and it's unhealthy for the animals, environment, and people. Pack it out, people.
After the trek I was ready to relax, and the Gili Islands were the perfect place for that. I spent two nights on Gili Trawangan, the largest of three small islands that make up the Gili's just off the northwest coast of Lombok. There are no cars or motorbikes on the island. You have to watch out for horses though. I stayed in the center of the island which was perfect because I could walk to the east coast to watch the sunrise in the morning and head to the west coast for a nice sunset in the evening. Food was delicious and plentiful. And Bintang is actually a pretty decent beer. I napped on the beach in my hammock, walked around the entire island a couple times, unsuccessfully tried to find some sea turtles while snorkeling, ate lots of food, and enjoyed a few beers at beachside restaurants. It was a lovely couple of days.
I got in touch with Poan during my beach vacation and made plans to meet and go spend some time with him and his family in his hometown of Gantis. He showed up in Senggigi, Lombok, on a motorbike. I jumped on with my full pack on my back and we set off on the hour and a half ride to central Lombok. It was fun whipping in and out of traffic.
The way people drive in Southeast Asia seems crazy and dangerous at first but it works well. In America they teach defensive driving. Here they live it or they get seriously hurt. I promise you that no one is texting while driving, and there is not much speeding going on. Maybe it's even a little safer than the structured, organized, make you fall asleep at the wheel kind of driving that we have in the USA. I don't know. Just a thought.
I spent the next three days with Poan and his family. They welcomed me in and treated me so well. It was really nice to be part of a family after being on my own for a while. I stayed at Poan's mother's house with Poan, his wife, his mom, his niece, and lots of chickens.
I was well off the tourist path here in Gantis so everywhere I went people were very curious about me. I think word spread pretty quickly in this small community that there was a foreigner around. Wherever I went there were always kids hiding around the corner trying to sneak a peak at me. Sometimes I would try to wave and they would giggle and hide. If I tried to go over and say hi they would run away. My favorite was when I would quickly turn and take a photo of them. They would run away laughing hysterically. After some convincing they would eventually become brave enough to gather around for a selfie. They would get really excited when I would show them the picture afterwards and then they would push and shove to get to the front in the next photo. They were pretty damn cute.
It's funny being around a group of people and knowing that they are talking about you but having no idea what they are saying. They all looked directly at me and spoke loudly and quickly and I just sat and smiled. They would laugh or come up and touch me. Again I just smiled. Through my translator, Poan, I got that the consensus was that I was very handsome and I had a big nose. So I guess I'll take it.
All the food we ate was simple and traditional Lombok food. There were chickens roasted over coals from a fire. There was beef that was kind of like fajita but a little drier. There was bean soup, coconut soup, boiled eggs, squid, fish, noodles, and of course always rice. For every meal there was also a traditional Lombok "salsa". It was crushed tomatoes, onions, and chilis. Always served with cucumbers. It was really good and really spicy. I put it on everything as did all the locals. Everyone was constantly worried the food was too spicy because Americans don't like spicy food they said. Well not this Mexican.
The first night we all had dinner they all laughed at my eating technique. We all sat on a mat on the ground and ate with our hands. It definitely takes some skill to eat with your hands and apparently I was doing it all wrong. I thought it was okay. I mean it worked well enough to eat all the food I could reach. After a couple of days of practice I think I got better based on the ability to get food to my mouth and the amount of laughing at me around the circle. I still prefer my spork though.
I had a good time and met some nice people in Poan's town. The last day there we were able to rent a truck to take the whole family out to a park near Mount Rinjani with a really beautiful waterfall. They brought a huge lunch for a picnic by the waterfall where we swam and hung out all afternoon. I'm glad everyone got to get out. I'm not sure how often they get to tour around their own beautiful island. They definitely don't ride in a vehicle too often. One little girl even got carsick on the way to the park. Once there everyone had a great time, and it was so good to see.
My new Indonesian family kept telling me to come back anytime and that I was always welcome. And I believe them. Maybe one day I will. On my honeymoon is what they kept suggesting.