Thursday, February 20, 2014

Indonesia: Mt. Batur

I should never have told T about the volcano.

Once T heard that we could hike up Mt. Batur to see the sunrise, it rose to the top of her must-do list (right after swimming with a sea turtle).  Which is how I found myself blearily trying to keep up a conversation with our homestay owner's son, Made, as he drove us toward the mountain at 3:30am.  CL, T, and my sister had given up the fight within the first 15 minutes of our hour-long car ride and were sleeping away, leaving me to make awkward small talk.  Those traitors.

We were told by our homestay owner, Ketut, that a tour guide up the volcano cost about 400,000 IDR (around $33) regardless of group size.  But when we arrived at Mt. Batur, we found out that the cost was actually per person and that there were different prices according to what route you wanted to take.  This discovery caused a bit of panic as we didn't think we had to prepare that much cash.  Luckily we had just enough on hand to cover the shortest route.  Taking the short route turned out to be the best choice for us anyway since we starting quite late (most people start their treks at 4:00 and we were getting close to 5:00).

The guide assigned to us was named Ketut, just like our homestay owner.  When we asked our guide if his name was really popular among the Balinese, he explained to us that in Bali, children are given names based on the order in which they are born.  The fourth born child is named Ketut.  Whereas the second born child is often named Made (which made sense because Made, our driver for the day, was the second of two sons).

Anyway, enough on that.  Let's get back to the volcano.  And how we were hiking up in total darkness:
















There was absolutely nobody else around.  We were the last group to head up the mountain.  It was windy and dark and miserable and we were rushing to catch the sunrise.  Ketut told us that the hike usually takes two hours, but because of our late start, he wanted to try to make it in one.

T and CL were wearing flip flops, but they bounded ahead with Ketut like a bunch of mountain goats while my sister and I struggled behind.  We moaned and groaned the entire way.  Multiple times, my sister and I thought about stopping and just waiting there for the rest of them to finish the hike and return.  But Ketut kept coming back to drag us along.  He actually took us by the hand and pulled us up.  He joked with us that he was going to call a taxi for us and then squatted to offer us a piggyback ride.  I told him thanks, but I would rather have a helicopter.

We asked Ketut if he ever had people complain as much as we did and he laughed.  He said that in his ten years of working as a guide, he had never had a single person complain.  Well, then.  We told him he would never forget us and he replied, definitely not.  Heh.

In the end, we didn't beat the sunrise.  But it was so foggy that it basically didn't matter.  At the top, we saw a bunch of people hanging around a cafe of sorts.  Ketut led us past the cafe to this little shack further up the mountain:
















He left us on a bench outside and went in to prepare breakfast for us.

Breakfast was part of our tour package.  We could have gone without it and saved a bit of money, but we figured we would be starving by the time we got up to the top and elected to keep it in.

When it got too cold outside, we followed Ketut into the shack.

Breakfast was simple and perfectly so.  There were sandwiches with roasted banana inside:
















As well as the most delicious peanuts ever and hard boiled eggs:
















The peanuts were brilliant.  They were sweet and crunchy and we went all fancy by putting them into our banana sandwiches.

Drinks cost extra.  We ordered one coffee and one hot chocolate:























At 50,000 IDR or about $4 each, they were most certainly tourist prices, but hey, beggars can't be choosers.

We took our sweet time finishing us breakfast.  Afterwards, Ketut took us to look at the giant crater nearby.  Since we weren't in a hurry to start back down the mountain, we took our time taking photos and exploring.  As the sun rose higher in the sky, the fog started retreating.  And as the fog started retreating...the monkeys started appearing.

I remember talking to someone, seeing something move over their shoulder, and then yelling like an idiot, "MONKEY!  MONKEY!"

Make that monkeys, plural.  There was a whole troop of them:
















When Ketut spotted the monkeys, he sprinted for the breakfast shack and ran back with a bag of food scraps.  We got to feed the monkeys bread crusts and fruit by hand.  The monkeys were in no way shy.  I even got attacked by one.  Some sneaky monkey grabbed me by my forearm, swung himself up, and then launched himself off my chest.  It was over before I even knew what hit me.  I looked down to find two dirty paw prints on my jacket.  What the hell?  I didn't even have any food in my hand at the time!

Once we went through all the scraps, we meandered back to the front of the volcano.  By that time, the fog was completely gone and we were treated to this spectacular view:
















Thank goodness we started late.  All the people who started on time had already started down the other side of the mountain before the fog lifted.  We would have missed this if we'd started any earlier.

We ooh'd and ah'd and took silly photos (Ketut was kind enough to take quite a few for us) for a while longer before finally starting back down.  Because we chose the short route, we went down the way we came.  Going down was almost scarier than going up.  With all the loose rocks, we slipped and slid our way down.

Ketut, on the other hand, practically ran all the way down.  He told us that to qualify to be a tour guide, you have to be able to make it up the volcano in 45 minutes and down in 30.  Holy moly.  That's insane!

Climbing a volcano is definitely a once in a lifetime thing.  As in I'm only going to do it once.  The view was great, don't get me wrong, and Ketut was the best guide ever, but I'm never going to willingly put myself through that kind of torture again.  And of course, now that I've said that, I can guarantee that I'll find myself on another volcano someday.  It'll probably be T's fault then too.

Strenuous exercise is not for me, but for all you hiking junkies out there, don't miss Mt. Batur when you visit Bali.  And make sure you ask for Ketut by name.  Except there are so many guides named Ketut that our Ketut advised us to bring a photo of him.  If you need a photo, let me know and I'll send you one!  I can't emphasize enough how awesome Ketut was.

And just in case you're curious, Mt. Batur is owned by the Indonesian government and even though they charge over 400,000 IDR per person for the tour, the guides themselves only receive 100,000 IDR total per group.  So tip your guide well!

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