Friday 12 February
Difficulty - Shan 10, Sam 8
Distance - 10km walking, 70km motorbike
Weather - Cold, rain, hot, sun, humid
It seemed we’d barely fallen asleep when the alarm went off and it was time to get up. We forced ourselves out of bed to dress and wait for our guide. Outside we could hear a light thudding sound coming from the kitchen, and soon the door opened and Wayan’s mother stuck her head out to say “Puggi” (“Morning”). It seems she was still up preparing food for the household.
The guide had agreed with Wayan that he would meet us outside the house since he had to ride past anyway to get to the temple, where the climb begins. We were waiting outside right on time but nothing. Twenty minutes later Wayan’s mother called Wayan out of bed, despite our protests, when she saw us still waiting. Wayan called the guide who said he was on his way. It was annoying having to wait, another half hour in bed would have been nice! While we waited though we were able to enjoy looking at the thousands of stars above us in the clear sky. We could see lightening flashes occasionally and wondered if there was a storm on the mountain.
Eventually we heard the motor of his scooter and he arrived. I jumped on the back of the guide’s more powerful bike and we rode to the end of the road. In the carpark we put our jackets on and pulled out our headlights. It was 2.30am and time to climb.
The first thing was to climb the hundreds of stairs up to the temple. We’d done this the day before but we were much more tired this time and our breathing quickened immediately. Instead of going into to the temple we moved to the left and took a path around the back of the compound. Straight away the path was littered with rocks of all shapes and sizes which meant you had to concentrate with every step to avoid slipping. It was also quickly evident how steep the path was. I was hoping that this was just a small section, and the dirt track of a nice gradient would begin ascending soon. Little did I know that we were on the easiest section of track for the day.
We climbed steadily and stopped every half hour or so to have a drink and often to eat some food. It was hard going, very steep the whole way up, and we needed to keep our bodies fuelled. The guide had brought along some bananas and a Balinese cake which he offered to us each time we stopped. We in turn shared with him our fruit and rice cakes which Wayan had given us to bring. Whenever we stopped we looked at the lights all around Bali. We could see the bright patch that was Kuta, and across the water we could make out the lights of Lombok.
After about an hour we came across another guide with two German trekkers. We stopped with them for a few minutes before they motioned for us to keep going while they kept resting. At this point, although it was grueling work to keep going up, we were feeling very strong and making good time, so thought we’d make it to the top well before sunrise.
Another hour saw us hit an even more difficult section of path. It became even steeper, often at angles of more than 45 degrees, and we spent a lot of time on our hands and knees climbing up sheer rock – reaching for handholds and testing rocks for their strength before climbing on. Luckily it was dark, so I couldn’t see how far I would slide if I misjudged a rock.
Just before dawn, I kept looking up expecting to see the summit getting closer. But each time I could just see the shadow of the mountain continuing to reach impossibly high into the sky. The climbing was tough, my legs were tired and I began thinking I couldn’t make it. The doubts were vocalised but there was really nothing to do but keep moving arms and legs upwards. Fatigue and not enough food started to take its toll and when I smashed my hand into a rock I started to whimper and cry as I kept climbing. Sam heard me and made me stop to rest and eat some food. But I felt sick and fought against eating. Sam persisted and I ate some not very appetizing Balinese bread.
With food in my stomach and new batteries in my headlamp so I could see better we started climbing again. The edge of the sky began to light up and all of a sudden it seemed as though the summit was getting closer. We would make it after all.
We climbed up the last sections of rock slowly and with frequent breaks to catch our breath. Then we were there. On one side we were looking down into the volcano and on the other we were looking at – clouds. The clouds had gathered during the last section of our climb and now we couldn’t see anything.
We started taking photos and within minutes the clouds cleared and we had a spectacular view all around us. The Germans and their guide arrived and their guide (who spoke English, unlike ours) told us stories about lost climbers, mystical monkeys and Hindu worship. He twisted all the stories together, starting one, then continuing another, until we weren’t sure if the monkey had led him to a lost climber or just the body of a dead fellow monkey. Or maybe it was the body of the lost climber?
Looking down from the summit we could see Mount Agung’s large crater. The volcano is still active and often belches smoke and ash into the sky. It last erupted in 1963/64, when it killed thousands of villagers and devastated the surrounding country side. Because of its size it in comparison to the low lying, very flat countryside beneath it, it dominates the climate, drawing the rain to its surrounding area and causing other areas to be barren and dry.
Our guide motioned to us that it was time to descend and we were keen to get back ourselves so we bid the Germans goodbye and started the downward trek. I was not looking forward to this. Climbing down steep volcanic rock was just as hard and sometimes harder than climbing up. Lots of time was spent on our bottoms, using big rocks as footholds as we occasionally slid downwards. I reassured myself that eventually we’d come to the section where I could stand up. Some sections were slippery mud from volcanic ash, and in these sections the guide held my hand and helped me keep my balance. It was daylight now and I could see the life-threatening fall that awaited me if I slipped the wrong way.
Eventually we made it down off the sheer rock face but the track was much steeper than I’d realized, and the shale all over the path made it impossible to stand upright. I had to apply the brakes with every step to make sure I didn’t fall and often I ended up back down on my butt just to make sure I got down safely. The angle of the path was so steep that I felt like gravity wanted to pull me face first down the mountain to the bottom and my balance was thrown completely. Being tired and hungry didn’t help this either. It was mentally exhausting concentrating so hard on every step and I could feel the strain on my legs.
About halfway down we met Wayan coming up with a group of four trekkers. One of the group was particularly struggling and Wayan doubted he would make it up. We spoke to an English traveler for a while and he said the group had met at a retreat where they ‘shake’ for three hours a day. They stand on the ground and (pay lots of money) to shake their whole body for hours – apparently curing all manner of ailments. He recommended it as preparation for our bike ride. We said bye to Wayan and thanked him for allowing us to stay with his family, and we continued down.
Around this time I developed ‘jelly legs’. I was struggling to walk and often my legs would give way under me as I picked my path amongst the rocks. Sam found this very amusing (Shanna’s sookyness) and filmed me stumbling along the path. I was frustrated but had to concentrate on getting down off the mountain! The guide helped me a lot of the way in this last section and eventually we were back at the temple. Walking down the stairs to the bike was difficult, but at least there were no rocks and I could relax my concentration.
We were both exhausted and despite Wayan’s family’s coaxing to stay and eat and rest, we packed our things and got on the bike (not before we had left a gift and some money to say thank you) to ride back to Kuta and get the ATM card. Wayan’s wife told us it had recently been in the news that bank employees were involved in taking ATM cards and stealing money in a massive scandal that involved at least 30 staff. It was raining and cold as we rode down the mountain, but when we finally reached the lowlands it was suddenly hot, humid and dry, and the hot sun seared down on us as we ducked and weaved our way through the traffic back to Jimbaran.
We stopped off in Kuta to pick up the ATM card and were very relieved when it was there. Back at the hotel we checked the balance online and fortunately all the money was there.
The next priority was to set off in search of a cheap massage for our weary bodies. We walked down a beach where we’d been told we could find one but everyone we asked looked at us blankly or said no, there was no massage around here. One guy grabbed his van and offered to drive us “five minutes to massage, $40,000” but wouldn’t tell us where it was. Just as we were about to give up we stumbled upon a place in a side street, where we could get a Balinese massage for an hour for $50,000 each (less than $6). For 60 minutes we were kneaded and pushed and pulled, experiencing pleasure and pain (and Sam was offered a happy ending, to which with a muffled laugh he politely refused…).
Sam and Shanna Evans are from Melbourne, Australia