Crawled out of bed at 4am, as my pickup to the foot of the sacred Gunung Rinjani, Indonesia’s second highest volcano at 3726m, was arriving at 5am. I’d opted for the 2 day 1 night package, as I didn’t care so much about reaching the summit, preferring instead to hopefully take some beautiful sunrise photos from the crater rim at Seneru, with Rinjani as the backdrop, then trek back down.
The driver picked me up at 5, and I got in the front of the SUV. In the back were a Swiss couple, let’s call them Jeremy and Patricia. He looked like a Jeremy, she a Patricia. They were nice enough, but very quiet, and hardly even spoke to themselves, let alone me. She was a nutritionist, he a student at law school. They spoke German to each other, almost impeccable English to me.
The drive there was a 2 hour race through villages, the driver having zero disregard for the safety of others, seemingly on a death wish. He smashed into and ran over a dog at one stage and sped away as its death howl faded. The driver didn’t even flinch. Like he’d gone over a rock. “Too many dogs here. Nobody own them,” was his way of apology. Everytime he came across another dog or person, we all braced ourselves for the horrific crunch, but he’d always break just in time. I wondered if this was a game for him. How many dogs could he trundle over before reaching Senaru?
We reached a small hotel that served as the dropping off point for the start of the Rinjani trek, and crawled out of the car, breathless and slightly shaken by the death we’d experienced. Here, we could sit down and have a cup of tea, served by a pleasant chap with an insane grin who spoke just like Michael Caine – deliberately tried to copy his accent. So we sat and had tea with the Indonesian Michael Caine, and waited for our guide to show up.
Our guide came over, a shifty looking fellow dressed in a tight blue and green t-shirt and tight black leggings, called Badu. ‘The best guide on the island – over 300 ascents’, bragged Michael Caine. ‘Problem is, he smokes far too much.’ He did smoke a lot. Like a chimney. In fact, that’s all he did. Smoke. And walk. He led us to the rangers quarters, where we registered, then we set off on the long hike up to the crater rim, a hike that would take all day.
I wasn’t prepared for this at all. I had brought a bag stuffed with everything I didn’t need – a bag of toiletries (there was no shower), a few changed of clothes, a book, my diary, moisturizing cream….useless. My bag must have weighed around 15kg. I’d somehow expected a porter to lug it up for me, but our porter was laden down with tents, blankets, mats, and cooking utensils, packed in boxes strapped to either end of a sturdy bamboo pole balanced on one shoulder. I had to carry my bag. Amateur. I also had a pair of indie suede and leather trainers on that were totally inappropriate for the long hike up slippery wet jungle trails and loose scree that marked the higher altitude terrain. I was slipping all over the place, and it hadn’t even rained yet.
The Swiss couple were marching along, keeping a good pace behind the silent guide, who was obviously just going through the motions and waiting for his tip at the end. Patricia soon started struggling though, and Jeremy had to help her up many of the more difficult paths of the jungle trail, which was hard on the feet, as the trail was knotted with tree roots. The guide didn’t seem to notice – he was wearing a pair of white flip-flops.
We arrived at Pos I, 601m, and had a quick water break, before continuing on to Pos II, at our insistence, as the guide was in no hurry. ‘Slowly slowly’ he said…..he had a trick up his sleeve. Pos II was 2.5 hours away, but was broken up by Pos Extra. Pos II is at 1,500m, and there was shelter under 2 wooden shelters. The heavens opened. Other peoples porters had been cooking for 30 minutes, and had tea prepared for their wet and hungry climbers. Not our useless pair. They couldn’t even get a fire going. We had to wait 2 hours before getting our food –instant noodles, made soupy by leaving in water, and a cold unboiled egg, with a few chopped up vegetables to make it look less ‘instant.’ Instant noodles take 2 minutes, not 2 hours. We had had to watch, growing increasingly cold and hungry, as others sipped hot tea. Eventually our tea came, way after the food, full of tea leaves, and weak. Our guide and porter obviously scrimped on food so as to have more money to themselves.
The rain was merciless. A large group of French blokes were keeping spirits high, but each time the rain stopped, there was another sudden downpour. Eventually, we could leave Pos II, and climbed a difficult jungle trail, getting steeper, to Pos III at 2,000m. The porters were way behind. The trail was slippery and tough. Badu suggested we camp here, as the porters were tired. After a while, I agreed, but could smell a scam. No wonder the breaks took so long. We’d paid the porter, it was his job to be able to complete the climb to the crater rim. I realized that if the porter rested here, he wouldn’t have to climb up with us to the crater rim in the morning, thereby saving a lot of effort carrying the equipment up and down. Clever. They no doubt do this all the time, even on dry days. I wanted to kip on the crater rim, as promised, but a promise has little value in Indonesia. I was angry with myself for falling for an old scam.
A large monkey sat in the tree behind one of the three shelters in disrepair. He was solemn. He’d seen many a trekker, no doubt. Stolen many a food item. He looked like a wise old man sitting there. Darkness fell quickly, and our guide and porter rustled up nasi goring, tasteless but adequate. It took him ages to get the fire going, and he had only one flashlight, and a tiny one at that. It was lucky I had my mobile phone with me, whose torchlight was just as powerful. Earlier, he and the porter had put up our tents on the floor. He was going to stuff the 3 of us in one tent, but decided he couldn’t get away with it. Jeremy and Patricia had one tent, me the other. They were tiny, barely big enough for one, uncomfortable, and they leaked. We ate our food in silence. The Swiss couple didn’t even speak to each other. The guide made no attempt at conversation, he never even asked where we were from. The porter didn’t speak a word of English. After the plain meal, we spent a while looking at the stars. The sky had cleared now. The stars here on this mountain in the southern hemisphere looked so much bigger, shinier, more beautiful. It reminded me of Palebuhan Ratu. Amazing. Beautiful. I could have stayed looking at them all night. Instead, anxious to be alone and away from the miserable guide, I left and went to my miserable wet tent to read my book and try in vain to get comfortable. A weird, and not altogether pleasant day.