Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Gunung Rinjani: Part 1

Last Monday was my 30th birthday, to celebrate the occasion I decided to go “big” and do something truly out of the ordinary to mark the momentous occasion. What did I decide... to climb a volcano! With this in mind, I gathered together my posse, i.e. elder brother and parents, and headed to the beautiful island of Lombok in Indonesia, lying just 4hrs north of my family in Australia and 4.5hrs south of me here in Thailand.

Lombok is approximately 4,725 km² in size and with a popular of just under 3 million, it is located in the middle-ish of the Indonesia archipelago in the province of West Nusa Tenggara, about  25 miles east of its more infamous neighbour, Bali. The island’s most developed centre of tourism is Senggigi, spread along a 30-kilometer strip of white sand and blue waters on the coastal road north of Mataram (the island’s capital city). The other hot spot is the Gili islands (Air, Meno and Trawangan), just off the west coast. These two locations are also lovely and worth a blog post but I’ll save them for another time.

To sum up, proximity to Bali is both Lombok’s blessing and curse. In reality only 40 km separate the two islands; however, they are in fact worlds apart. Indeed, overzealous tourism officials notwithstanding, Lombok is not “an unspoiled Bali”, or “Bali’s sister island”. Lombok is not Bali at all, and that is precisely its charm. Lombok has retained a more natural, un-crowded and undeveloped environment, which attracts travellers who come to enjoy its relaxed pace and the opportunity to explore the island's unspoiled but spectacular natural beauty. Lombok only receives about 500,000 visitors annually, compared to a whooping 2.5 million next door. Now do you see the appeal...

Now on with the story, after a long day of travel by bus, ferry and bus (approx. 8hrs) we arrived at our quaint guesthouse at the foot of Mt. Rinjani in the sleepy town on Senaru. We arrived at dusk, just in time to see the clouds roll in and the skies open up as the God’s began to cry (rain), as Hindu Balinese like to say. I will now make a quick detour to extrapolate on the reason for coming here – Mt. Rinjani. Now, Mount Rinjani, or Gunung Rinjani, is an active volcano that lies 3,726m above sea level, making it the second highest (after 3,805m-high Mt. Kerinci in Sumatra) volcano in Indonesia. Its first historical eruption occurred in 1847, with the most recent being on 1 October, 2004. The volcano’s 6 x 8.5km oval-shaped interior basin is filled with spectacular Segara Anak Lake (Child of the Sea), which has a depth of 200m and contains thermal pools in its azure waters. Gunung Baru is the name of the new “mini” volcano which emerged in the centre of the lake; it too is still active.

That night over dinner we are informed by our tour guide, Andy (from Oz), and local guide, Machu (Lombokian), that the trek up to the crater rim (where we shall camp the night) would take us more-or-less 6hrs depending on the weather, our individual fitness level and enthusiasm. Well, there you go, not so bad eh... wrong! They also went on the mention that the climb up was steep, steep, steep and really “not” for the faint of heart. Gulp. It was at about this point that my 60-year-old parents looked at me with a mixture of despair and fear in their eyes. What had I done! Still, as the Apollo 13 lead flight director Gene Kranz once said: “failure is not an option!” And so we head to bed with thoughts of sore knees, exhaustion and foot blisters bubbling over in our minds.

And so, after a dogged night’s sleep broken up by intermittent but insistent rain, we all rose early for a brekky of banana pancakes and molasses like sludge coffee before commencing, around 8:30am, are hike up to the lofty heavens. The 10-km-long trek is broken up into four sections: there is an initial 1km-long “introduction” phase to the “official” starting point [note: many previous enthusiasts have turned back at this point sensing impending doom!], and from there you have “rests” spots about every 3kms apart, spaced at about 2hr intervals. When you break it up like that it doesn’t seem so bad. Stayed tuned for ‘Part 2’ to hear what happens next...

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