Week two with Cushla :)
19.08.2013 - 26.08.2013
A title like that is a little ambiguous in a country that's full of islands and volcanoes, but after Flores we spent a fabulous three days on one volcano, followed by a much needed four days chilling out on a very sleepy island. From Flores we'd to fly back to Bali as there are no direct flights between Flores and Lombok (there are boats, and boat-bus combos, but they take a lot longer and we didn't want to spend our time travelling as we didn't have enough of it). We ended up spending yet another night in Kuta (on Bali). This time however, our accommodation was on the beach and the waves were big, beautiful and inviting when we arrived. So we spent sunset playing in the waves. The following morning we were up at the crack of dawn to get a bus to Padangbai, on the east coast of Bali, to catch a boat to Lombok. We arrived in Senggigi (on Lombok) and found ourselves a driver to take us to Senaru, where we were going to organise our trek up the volcano. Public transport in Senggigi is not easy to organise, unless of course you have a lot of time and can go by bemo (the small public mini-vans that travel relatively short distances but can be joined together to travel long distances). But we really wanted to begin our trek the following day, so we didn't have lots of time to spend travelling. The first stop with our driver was a toilet-stop, which very conveniently was in a travel agents... One minute we're on our own doing it our own way, next minute the smooth-talking tour operator has us paying for our trek, our accommodation that night in Senaru, our transport to and from Senaru, our boat to Gili Meno after the trek, our accommodation on Gili Meno and our boat back to Bali – WOW! That's way more advance paying than either of us would ever normally do, but it really did sound like a good deal (fortunately as it turned out, it was!). Everything was locked in, apart from the date that we would leave Gili Meno for Bali – that was open and all we had to do was call him one day in advance of when we wanted to leave.. Being locked in to stuff like that is not my style, nor is it Cushlas, but luckily it all worked out and it was easy – we didn't have to worry about organising or paying for anything for the following week. So we headed for Senaru and got ourselves ready for the trek.
The trek we did was a three day/two night trek in Gunung Rinjani National Park. Rinjani is Indonesia's second highest volcano and, as Indonesia is sitting on the Pacific Ring of Fire, this, like most others in the country I guess, volcano is still active – it has erupted twice in the past thirty years. There are a number of different trek options on the volcano, but we chose to begin in Sembalun and finish in Senaru. On the positive side, this meant that our ascent was going to be less taxing than had we gone in the other direction as Sembalun is at a higher altitude than Senaru. It also meant that we were going to hit the hot pools after we'd tried for the summit, rather than the other way round, which seemed a far better way of doing things in my mind. However, the route from Sembalun to the crater rim is thro' a savannah landscape, whereas from Senaru to the rim it's thro' jungle – so we weren't going to have any shade from the sun on our first day.
Anyways, the trek was fan-frickin'-tastic! I really enjoyed it. It was very tough physically, especially as I'm far less fit than I used be due to a serious lack of regular exercise – something I must remedy now! But the amazing scenery and the different landscapes really made it all worth it. Trekking in Gunung Rinjani N.P. is not allowed without a guide and porters. So everybody who goes up pays for a package which includes a local guide, some local porters (depending on how many trekkers are in the group) aswell as food and camping equipment. The porters carry a ridiculous 60 kg each over one shoulder! And most of them wear flip-flops and practically run up and down the volcano! There were eight trekkers in our group: a French couple, a Spanish-Basque couple, two Italians (who live in Australia) and the two of us. We got a good group – everyone was lovely and we had a good laugh together. Four porters were necessary to carry the tents, sleeping bags, camping mats, food, cooking equipment etc.
The first day we climbed about 1300 m from Sembalun to the crater rim (2639 m). Here is a 360° view from that evening. There we set up camp for the night. It was ridiculously windy on the rim and so it quite difficult to sleep that night. The paper thin camping mats didn't help! But the sunset was fabulous! And the views of the crater lake down below us (when the clouds parted) were fab too. We were woken at stupid o'clock in the morning to get up to climb to the summit in time for sunrise. The summit is at 3726 m – so we had a good 1000 m climb to do in the dark. The full moon was out when we were doing it, so often we didn't need our head lamps. But it was a dangerous walk – along the rim of a volcano, in the dark, with the still very strong wind blowing about! We had hoped the wind would die down during the night, but unfortunately that wasn't to be. The climb to the summit was absolutely freezing! Cushla even brought her sleeping bag with her so that when we reached the summit, she could wrap herself in it! I hadn't brought any proper trekking gear with me (apart from my boots), as I'd so little space with all the diving gear, so I'd borrowed a jacket, hat and gloves from the trekking company we went with. The jacket however could have fit two of me into it it was so big! I don't think that made me any colder tho' (than I would have been had I had my own gear), because the Basque couple were avid trekkers and had come prepared, and they were freezing too! Sadly we didn't actually make the summit that morning. We figure about fifteen people made it to the top – there were about 70 or so who tried. We made it maybe three-quarters of the way. By that stage the sun had begun to rise and we were frozen, so we just huddled behind a big rock for shelter while trying to enjoy the sunrise, before making our way back down to camp for breakfast. Part of what made it a tough climb is that the terrain is like sand – you sink into it and it's often a case of three steps forward, two back. It's filthy black volcanic sand, and so with the wind blowing it all about, by the time we got back to camp we were filthy (we hadn't started out squeaky clean of course - we had gotten pretty dirty the previous day too)! I had decided not to wear my contacts after the first day as I didn't want to get another eye infection trying to put them in and take them out with filthy fingers! That same terrain made the descent from the summit quite easy in my opinion – it was like soft snow, so you could really almost run down sections of the track, especially as the wind was behind us. There were sections, however, where you had to be very careful as the track was very narrow with a steep drop into the crater on one side, and a fairly steep slope down the volcano side on the other side. There were some parts on the way down, that I wondered how I'd managed on the way up – but it was dark, so I guess I just hadn't really noticed, and had just concentrated on the small circle of light made by my head lamp.
After breakfast we headed down into the crater to have lunch beside the crater lake (at 2000 m). There were hot pools nearby too, so we had a soak in those before lunch. Our camp that night was back up on the crater rim (a different spot to the previous night but also at 2600 m) and it was in a sheltered spot, so the wind (which was still blowing) didn't affect our nights sleep. The following day, our last, we began our descent into Senaru. It was pretty tough – the descent to the lake the previous day had left some of my lesser-used muscles in a sorry state, and my knees weren't much better. I did a lot of slow sideways walking to get down in one piece. It was a 2000 m descent from 2641 m to 650 m. Most of it was thro' jungle, which was lovely. I saw so many different species of fern on the upper part of the track. One of the Italians was a geologist, and he was as interested in the flora of the area as I was, so we spent our descent pointing out new plants to each other. I wish I'd taken photos of all the fern species – I swear I'd have at least 15 to show! And all from one small area. There were some lovely flowers too as we got lower and back to more tropical temperatures.
One thing about Rinjani that was different to a lot of the other treks I've done, was that there were a lot of Indonesians also doing the trek. The volcano is sacred to Hindus, Balinese and Sasaks, so people go on pilgrimages to it. I passed a few elderly gents walking up barefoot!!! I'm not sure whether there's a link between the Indonesians climbing and camping on the volcano and the fact that there is rubbish EVERYWHERE up there, but I'm pretty sure that most people I know would take their rubbish down with them. It is the one big downside to the beauty of the volcano. The first evening while we were sitting on the rim before the sun set, we noticed all these things floating in the air over the lake – at first they looked like birds, then they looked like the kites you see flying in Bali. Then we realised they were plastic bags, just being blown around on the thermals in the evening – disgusting, and such a pity. And speaking of rubbish, there are no buildings of any sort on the volcano, apart from a few open-sided shelters, and so toilets are also a bit of an issue. Most of the groups (there were a lot of groups apart from our up there, each with their own set of guides and porters etc) had a “toilet tent”, which consisted of a hole in the ground, dug when we arrived, surrounded by a 4-sided open-topped tent about 5 foot tall. In the morning when we left the camp, the guide would fill in the hole again (altho' generally it was already full at that point and it was more a case of covering it over). Neither our guide nor our porters used the toilet, it was only for us. They just found a bush somewhere to hide behind. So you can probably begin to imagine the amount of human waste and toilet paper, as well as the rest of the rubbish lying around up there. It really is something that something should be done about. It's a national park after all.
That afternoon, when we'd reached Senaru at the foot of the volcano, it was straight on to Bangsal to catch our ferry to Gili Meno. Gili Meno is one of three small islands, collectively known as the Gili Islands (altho' Gili is the Indonesian word for a small island, so calling them the “small island islands” is kind of ridiculous!), off the north west coast of Lombok. Gili Trawangan is the party island on the west, Gili Meno is the quiet island in the middle, and Gili Air is the semi-party/semi-quiet island on the east. The French couple and the Italians were headed to Gili Air. So they stopped at Bangsal too. The Basque couple were on their way home, so they continued on to Senggigi to take the ferry back to Bali.
When we arrived on Gili Meno, we weren't able to go down steps easily. Going up was also difficult. Going from standing to sitting, or vice-versa was also a challenge (not to mention using squat toilets!). So we decided to stay there for as long as we could to allow our leg muscles to heal. Fortunately the island was flat, and walking on the flat was easy! We really didn't do a whole lot of anything on Gili Meno. We did a bit of swimming, a bit of snorkelling, lots of eating and lots of chilling. One day we hired bikes to cycle around the island (which you can walk around in two hours – it's not very big at all). There's a bird park on the island, originally set up to collect and sell on tropical birds, but as that is now illegal, it has become a sanctuary for certain bird species that are endangered in the wild. There are other birds there that are not endangered, and so certainly do not need to be there, says me – the fan of free animals. Some of the birds are stunning! But the cages are all a bit old and tired looking. The guy who owns it is trying to sell it. I'm not sure whether the birds come with it – a few of them are extremely valuable – probably moreso than the premises itself! We also visited this very small turtle hatchery, where they grow baby turtles until they reach eight months, and then release them around the island. Apparently you're nearly guaranteed to see a turtle when diving or snorkelling around the island – we didn't! In all we spent four days on Gili Meno, lazing around. It was difficult to leave – the island is a mini-paradise! Fortunately we left for another paradise: Bali