DESTINATIONS

Jane Verses the Volcano

When S, B, and I visited Bali, we knew we wanted to see as much of the island as possible. One way to do this was through a sunrise hike, where we would experience a sunrise after making our way up the side of a volcano. What follows is our actual experience.

Sunrise Hike means Pre-Sunrise Alarm

The van picked us up from where we were waiting on the side of the road at 2:30 a.m. S, B and I climbed bleary-eyed and not quite functioning into the eight-seater passenger van and drove around Ubud for another 30 minutes picking up the remaining passengers: a girl from France and a girl from Germany. What was the reason for our nocturnal gathering? The allure of a sunrise hike up one of Bali’s biggest volcanoes: Ganung (Mount) Batur.

From Ubud, our driver drove to a small village at the base of the volcano called Toyabungkah. We didn’t see much of this town as it was only 3:45 IN THE BLESSED MORNING and still dark. We met up with our adorable little guide and his helper who would take us up to welcome in the sunrise.

The Rain Started

The hike itself was listed as ‘moderate’ in difficulty and takes about two hours to get to the summit. The whole purpose is to hike to the top in the dark and then be at the summit to see the sun rise over the lake in the middle of the caldera (the center of a volcano). Sounds great, right? Well, that’s how S and I talked B into doing this particular venture. If she would have known what was actually going to go down, there’s no way she would have agreed.

Here’s what happened: about a quarter of a mile from Toyabungkah, the sprinkling began. Being the prepared Janes that we are, S, B and I pulled our rain jackets out of our packs and put them on over our headlamps. We were fine for about ten minutes….until the real rain started. Within the first 15 minutes of our hike (in the dark, at four in the morning), we were soaked. Not just a little wet, but all the way soaked. In the part of Idaho where we live, it is a desert that receives about 10 inches of rain per year. I’m pretty sure we got 10 inches of rain during our hike alone. It was so wet in fact, that our waterproof raincoats were useless. There was as much water in them as there was out.

A soaking wet group after hiking in Bali
Our guides were so cute and little!

Sidenote: Background

Let me pause here to tell you a little bit about how cool Gunung Batur is. Batur is located on the northwest side of Bali and reaches to 5,600 feet above sea level. It is in the middle of two huge calderas and is close to Gunung Agung, the highest point on Bali. There are several villages in the area and the locals farm the green (probably from all the rain) and lush landscape. There are dark lava fields all over and in the middle of the lake in the caldera is a smaller volcano that is still active–last erupting in 2000. Here’s what Lonely Planet says about it: “The Gunung Batur area is like a giant bowl, with its bottom half covered by water and a set of volcanic cones jutting out of the middle. Sound a bit spectacular? It is. On clear days – vital to appreciating the spectacle – the turquoise waters wrap around the newer volcanoes, which have old lava flows oozing down their sides.” I love how the LP caveats it…the day of our hike was not clear and we definitely didn’t appreciate what we were looking at. Or for rather.

Although Bali is a part of Indonesia, Islam is not the predominant religion. Instead, about 80 percent of the island practices Balinese Hinduism, a version of Hinduism that incorporates worship of non-human entities. Balinese believe the Batur is one of the four primary sacred mountains where the Gods live. The lake in the middle of the caldera is sacred to the Goddess of the Lake, for which it is named. Tour companies request that women do not climb the volcano during their menstrual period. This is pretty common in Indonesia and while I try to be culturally sensitive, it rankles my feminist little heart. But back to the hike.

Sunrise Hike, minus the Sunrise

Since we couldn’t see anything because it was dark, we didn’t notice the thick fog that we were climbing in until it got a little lighter and we finally made it to the summit. There is a little tin/rock shack on top of the mountain and by the time we reached it, it was pretty full of other hikers waiting for their chance to catch the ‘spectacular’ view. While we all hunkered down to get protection against the wind and rain, we were treated to a cacophony of voices in different languages and bananas and sandwiches. These were much appreciated, but not quite the eggs cooked in the steam of the volcano that we had been told about. Oh well. We waited in the shack for about 45 minutes, with an intrepid soul leaving the protection against the elements to go check on the sun’s progress every few minutes.

The shack on top of a volcano in Bali
Our international shack where we found refuge.

Since Bali is close the equator, the sunrise and sunset are pretty predictable…it rises around 6 a.m. every day. Well, 6 a.m. came and went. All we saw were wet tourists and a lot of fog. It was a bit anticlimactic. Around 7 a.m., our guide apologetically told us we were not going to be able to see anything and that we should head down the mountain. The rain had mostly stopped by this point, so at least we weren’t still dealing with that on our descent, but it was really sad to know beautiful things are hiding just behind the clouds.

Calling It

We got back to the van around 9:30 a.m. a little worse for the wear. Except the Europeans, who had that inexplicable and innate talent of looking stunning and fashionable in totally improbable situations. Guaranteed, I would not have looked as chic in cut off jeans and black nylons, but such is life.

Clouds covering up a sunrise in Bali
A stunning vista…or a wall painted gray?

Conclusion

Seeing the sunrise over Gunung Batur is an amazingly beautiful experience. So I hear. On the plus side, this was probably the only time that we were in Indonesia that we weren’t hot. Our poor guide was shivering at the summit, but we finally felt comfortable.

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