Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Gunung Batur Volcano and Hiking Along a Caldera

6AM, sunrise from Gunung Batur Volcano.

This feels weird. I'm actually typing this at 3am from a hotel at Stamford Bridge, London. It was a last minute trip that I had to take on Monday night. Anyway, below is Adventures of Chindiana Trails and the Volcano of Doom.

"Great, ANOTHER sunrise from a mountain..." I thought to myself at Gunung Batur, the still active volcano at Kintamani in Bali. I still never saw the drama in it but probably it's the thought of scrambling around new terrain in the pitch dark with a dodgy torch at 4am that turns me off these early morning excursions.

That is UNTIL I got to the top, UNTIL the mists came in and hung low over the lake just before the early morning dawn, UNTIL the sun peeped out behind the eastern caldera, UNTIL it's rays spread out over the valley, through the crags of the mountains opposite us and settled like a warm golden blanket on the mists beneath us. FUKIN SURREAL AWESOMENESS!

It was one of those perfect moments. The golden panorama before me, sipping hot strong and sweet Balinese coffee after a simple breakfast of a lightly toasted banana sandwich and salted hard boiled eggs. I had to force myself to put the camera away and just take in the sight before me. I wanted to remember it for as long as I could.

After the sunrise I needed to get to the top. It was what I ever wanted since I first set eyes on the volcano 4 years ago. It took about 30 more minutes of scrambling on loose volcanic soil before we reached the peak and walked along the edges of the crater with at least a 400meter drop into the crater on one side and another drop so far down I would end up in another district if I ever tripped on my shoelaces! It was an awe inspiring moment as my guide Negeh, and myself walked along the rim, a shimmering lake on one side and a plateau on the other. Some parts of the path were only less than two feet in wide and I nearly shit my pants when i walked past a steam cloud coming out from the volcano that fogged up my glasses and blinded me at the point the path was the narrowest. As the steam was still coming out all my scrubbing of glasses didn't work as they kept fogging up so I had to embarrassingly puppy crawl on all fours past the steam cloud to the slight amusement of Negeh.

Coming down was tricky because of the loose soil so I ended up sliding or 'surfing' down some parts which did not really help my unused thigh muscles and dodgy knees.

Walking around the crater edge. Negeh looking on at fellow guides who were sitting on a ledge where the still active volcano was spewing hot steam.

It's best to get guides from the Gunung Batur Guides Association. Their office is in the one street village of Toya Bungkah and is just opposite the Analisa Cafe (if Analisa is behind you they are slightly on the right) .The cost of packages range from 300,00RP to above 500,000 depending on how extensive an area you wish to cover on the volcano and if you want them to make you a simple breakfast. The hotels tend to over charge as they need their markups. All guides will come from the association so it's best to go to them directly and cut out the bullshit from hotels and tour agencies as they're always trying to sell you something extra.

It was funny, Negeh and myself were happy chatting in our hybrid Indonesian/Malaysian but when we hit the top of the volcano he went into Official Guide Mode and started talking to me in English. " Umm... Yes and this volcano last erupt in 1999. The ash and lava is all over Bali and if you see here you can see..." I was like wat the fuk dude....." but decided to let him be as I blanked out his tourist speech and concentrated on not falling off a volcano.

The loose volcanic soil - the reason for my sore thighs and knees. You can see a bit of the lake on the top left side. Imagine that view almost 100 degrees to your left as you come down the mountain.

The view outside the crater of the countryside surrounding the volcano. The lake is on the other side.

The one of 4 sheds along the mountain path to lepak in. This is the highest one at the top of the volcano.

The path around the crater. A looooooong drop down either way.

A prayer alter somewhere just below the foot of the volcano.

The trek up the North East Caldera.

The view of Gunung Abang from the start of the trail near the little farming hamlet of Songan.

I wanted to utilise my full day. Since the whole trip up and down the Batur volcano brought me back by 9 am I had hired another guide to take me up the north east caldera mountain range. It normally takes 5 hours but we managed to do it in 3 and half as normally the morning crowds take longer as they are waiting for the sunrise. I wasn't expecting much but this was lovely!

What caught me by surprise was how close Kintamani was to the Pacific Ocean! It was fantastic! Under the noon sun, the strong mountain winds blowing in my face i reached the top and on my left...

...was hillside farmlands that stretched out to an gorgeous blue ocean that seemed to seep into a brilliant blue sky.

And on my right was the Batur Lake with the district of Kintamani laid out before me. (includes complimentary volcano, farmlands and fisheries:)

The trail started on a narrow dirt road that the farmers used. We eventually left it for a mountain path that took us along the edge of the mountain range, down into forests and eventually...

...down to the burial grounds of Kuban near Trunyan village.

The guide cost me USD45. It's a bit high but I really wanted to check out this trail so coughed up the cash. This trail is supposedly run by ANOTHER Guides association but they seem like a dodgy outfit, at least the dude who was pitching the trail to me. So be careful who you speak to these Caldera dudes will try to convince you to take their route instead of the Batur experience so it's best to stand firm as the experience up Batur is awe inspiring and the Caldera is lovely but between the both I would recommend Batur.

My guide Ketek was a young likable kid who was slightly embarrassed that his boss had pissed me off by trying to force feed me the caldera hike. Oh yeah, the official price for one person is USD 80 till I told him to fuk off. And these Caldera Guide fukers were saying that all packages must have a minimum of 2 people or the one person will have to pay for 2. With the Batur Guides Association there was no such nonsense. One is one. A hundred is a hundred.

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