Thursday, June 17, 2010

Mt. Gunung Rinjani, June 2010, Lombok, Indonesia

June 7, 2010. We (Sashwa, BrodRob, and Myself) begin our ascent up the second tallest peak in the country, the highest mountain on the island of Lombok, an ominous addition to Indonesia’s “Ring of Fire”, called Mt. Rinjani. Having already blown its top years ago, Rinjani sits as an aged mother does casting shadows, but in the shadows a child writhes in her belly. Like a kicking baby growing daily in the womb, a miniature and highly active volcano named Gunung Baru (“New Volcano”) rises from the center of Rinjani’s crater bowl. We are going to visit her, to sleep by her, and breathe her smoke.

Day 1:
Inside Rinjani’s crater is life: trees, monkeys, a vibrant lake, and little red birds. Sounds from boundless insects greet struggling hikers here. The smell is damp. Flora and fauna experts can lose themselves for hours in this sometimes jungle, sometimes prairie, sometimes lava rock and stone landscape - but always paradise - housing trees by the name of Kali Bambang, or the Klak, with its furry branches of light colored moss and peach-white trunks. We struggle along for four days hiking with high and labored steps.

Amongst all this life is also elemental life, the fiery kind. Within the last 200 years or so, a smaller volcano cone began to rise from the middle of Rinjani’s crater floor. Gunung Baru is the active part of Rinjani - its belly button, its solar plexus, its turbulent center force. Grumbling constantly with an upset stomach of gasses and lava screaming to be released. We hear it all through each day and every night.

The rains pack in the filth and garbage that is everywhere at lake camp. Trails are land mines of human shit and toilet paper. To our surprise a crew of teenage boys arrive with potato sacks to clean. The cleaning leaves no mark. There is too much garbage. There are garbage cans, but the Macaques, devious little rascals, dive in and tear the contents of the bins all apart. They are the bad boys of the mountain.

The nights are cold. Firewood is far and that which is collected is wet. We hunker down for the night after fried rice and crackers next to the lake that surrounds her. Gunung Baru is a loud and proud lioness of lava and awe. We sleep at her feet, seeing red spews crack through her sides so often that by morning light Gunung Baru has changed shape.

Segara Anak Lake means “Child of The Sea”. Balinese, Sasak, and Lombok people alike pilgrimage to Segara Anak to make offerings at her calm feet. They consider this lake the abode of the gods. Things not allowed here: sex, complaining, or saying dirty things.

All night in our sleep we toss and turn with every eruption, some last a really long time, the aftermath a gurgling swaying sound like waves on a beach as the steam calms. I have always loved Hawaii’s volcano goddess, pretty Pele. A beautiful and loving goddess in one breath, and a temper of fiery rage in another moment. It’s easy to see her in Gunung Baru - a volcano drunk on its own power to make us revere it. Would it not be erupting for two years straight if it didn’t want some attention? We wonder as we see bright red through the two layers of our tent walls, is this it, the big one that we must run from? Then we fall back into a fitful phase of sleep, visited by disturbing dreams that may be brought on by Pele herself.

As if sleeping next to a bubbling volcano is not pleasure enough, in the bowl of Rinjani is also the most perfect swimming hole maybe ever, and the result of a hot and sulfur river that makes its way down a lush and green hillside. It is turquoise and winding, leaving trails of orange and green on the rocks, then dumping itself in a perfectly warm waterfall that ends in a hot spring swimming hole before continuing on its path. I can’t even touch the bottom in the middle of the pool.

The rain pours down in our faces, the straight-up pathway turns trails into river beds. We hike in all this rain, our boots becoming puddles, no dry end in site. I give thanks for rain even when drenched like a rat. It feeds everything here on Lombok. Even my underwear is soaked as I sludge into camp, which is wet too, tents, food, sleeping bags, people are huddled under a leaking single tarp. Lunch turns into dinner, dinner turns into midnight snack, then it is 2:30AM on our final day already.

Day 4:
The bewitching hour is upon us, with a rising moon lighting the way, stars and the milky way, we head up the rocky cliff-side in the middle of the night to the top of Rinjani - 12,224 ft. 3 hours of slipping steps in piles of lava rock will yield a perfect pyramid shadow mysteriously cast into the distance by the uneven outline of Mt. Rinjani.
Gunung Baru will put on its final fire show for us, we will stand atop divots of land pushed together by moving tectonic plates, orange sky, Bali Gunung Agung in the distance, Lombok on all sides, and the vast and crystal blue ocean.

A magic sunrise is our reward.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Kathmandu - Nepal

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View from Swayambhunath Stupa

Swayambhunath Stupa after dark

Lighting Prayers


Local market just south of Thamel Disrict

Boudhanath Stupa

Friday, April 16, 2010

Pokhara Valley - Nepal

Annapurna Range, Sunrise from Damside, Pokhara

Sunrise view from Panchase, Annapurna I, 8,091 m (26,545 ft) 

Sarangkot Sunset, Pokhara Valley

Panchase Bhanjyang - Where we stayed on our 2nd and 3rd night of the trek

Ann battling the cold resonating from the mud floor

Sunset after the hail storm

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Rajasthan, India

Artist Hotel Jaislamer India from Sashwa Burrous on Vimeo.

We sat facing the falling sun some 40 miles from the Pakistan border, after an afternoon of camel riding through the low level brush and rippling sand dunes of the Thar Desert. My head was wrapped in an orange scarf. My camel smelled just like a horse. Our footsteps were the only prints in sight; the Indian wind not taking long to erase even the beetles path away into corduroy patterns of sand.

Our food was being cooked by our Muslim camel guides and their families 200 meters away inside a series of mud huts surrounded by young children, many goats, and a cow. The dark and leathered skin of the adults told of days of blaring sun and lack of moisture. The mirrored dresses on the women, and flashing silver hoops hanging from the ears of toddlers, all winked pretty pleasure from under vibrant turquoise, and patterned shawls - feminity even in the most rugged of places. This may have been the only outfit these ladies had and their daily task might have been herding goats and beating chapaties against rocks next to a dung fire used for dinner, but they dressed up daily in pretty fabrics and mirrored bling, and I appreciated this small act of womaness in the dusty desert. To me their care for beauty was like my putting on lipstick and wearing hoop earrings while camping in the mountains.

Looking out into the water-starved desert I thought of a time when tribal people thrived in this landscape making money from the camel caravans passing from west to east and back again, crossing over Rajasthan in search of all that is decadent. I could almost hear them whisper, playing music, and laughter. I felt strongly that somewhere in my DNA I already knew this place. Looking at these Muslim women, desert people dressed in mirrors reflecting back on myself and I acknowledged them as sisters. I saw a time where there was more rain, and felt the squish of sand knowing that the ocean once swirled below and brought the beautiful shells that decorated my new Rajasthani purse. I imagined lifting my bright pink sari with real coins jingling across my face so as not to drag it in the mud, and in a later season the dust.

The desert whispers secrets hushed only by the wind.

Our camel guides live on land that their father lived on, and his father did as well. They are desert people.
One of the teenage daughters has a kidney problem that the doctors can't seem to fix. Suzette looked over her X-rays and documents as the entire extended family watched, sipping chai beneath the smoky haze of a cooking fire inside a one-room mud hut. What the young girl needs is to drink more water, lots of it. The men go by camel every couple of days to provide enough water for livestock and family. Water is a precious jewel in the desert. No one is taking a sea salt bubble bath here in the Thar. This is the life they know and the life they will hand down to their boys. The daughters will eventually be married off to another family somewhere off over another sand dune where the life will be much the same, family survival a daily chore, making food and raising babies the entertainment of the day.

We closed our eyes to the stars and an almost full moon, with the faint sounds of gypsy bands entertaining tourists in a camel camp far away in the distance. Gypsy bands and then silence.

That night we slept on cots placed in the open desert. A mangy mutt found our discarded blanket and made a bed next to our heads. We opened our eyes again to bright light rising over the sand ridge. I watched it begin to glow in front of my face from the warmth and comfort of my down sleeping bag. We discovered that Suzette's camel had run away in the night looking for female camels to make camel babies. Apparently it is the habit of this particular frisky camel.

I am in love with Rajasthan. That is, in love with the smaller towns, the places that still speak of village life, ghosts in the desert, a history not yet eaten up by noise of a massive city. I like the sounds of a harmonium and one old man playing a water vessel with the rings on his hands. I took a Khabelia dance class in Pushkar - the dance of the gypsies - and felt quite at home; the hand movements similar to my old belly dancing days. I want to move like gypsies both in dance and in travel.

Across the sandstone colored landscape is the Jaisalmer Fort. It is the last "living" Fort in India, which means it is still occupied and owned by the people. It is on the endangered list and in need of massive support, but I hope they never take it away from the people who make their livings there and own it. I met a man selling books inside the fort. We had a great talk about the beauty and tragedies of India. The book he recommended was A Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry. He said it's a book to be read after visiting India, but never before because it will make you not want to come here. He blessed the money I handed him, handed back 500 Indian rupees, and cut me a deal on the book because we had a good conversation. This sort of interaction I’ve found to be the rarest occurrence in India.

A bird-couple built a nest in the light hanging in our hotel room. We watched the birds build diligently for 4 days and then said goodbye on the 5th. The Artist Hotel where we were staying donates to local artists and musicians. They sell products made by women in remote villages; the money all goes back to the women; they sew images of women carrying water. The issue of clean water and will there be enough weighing on our minds everywhere we go as we travel - the harshest being when a young girl needs more water for her health in the Thar Desert. These thoughts make a person skip showers in Rajasthan.

I could stay here for a really long time.