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.

1 comment:

  1. So incredibly beautiful...both pictures and words. What an amazing experience......