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Hike it: Indonesia

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s Matthew Crompton take ok, east of ni on the island of Lomb ja volcano – the mighty Rin s he’s ever seen most spectacular setting Bali – in one of the

climbing M Indonesia’s second highest on

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Hike it: Indonesia


enaru smelled of quiet desperation. Here on the fourth day of April it was the worst of lean and hungry times. Mt Rinjani is the lifeblood of this town, a 3,726m stratovolcano rising like a monster from the pancake flats of north Lombok, its sole nonagricultural resource and 75% of its yearly economy. And with the mountain closed by torrential rains for the past three months, Senaru had been quietly starving. Still, there was reason for hope. Elsewhere in Indonesia, Javanese or foreign interests often control the local tourist trades, and the people of those communities contented themselves with scraps. In Senaru, though, all tourism on the mountain is organised on a community base. Guides and porters from the town all get work on a rotation system, and the body that oversees and trains them – the Rinjani Trek Management Board – is a non-profit cooperative that put its entrance fees wholesale back into the ecotourism program, park maintenance and promotion. It’s a unique system, and with the mountain just reopened for the year, I was eager to begin my climb of Indonesia’s second-highest volcanic peak, and see firsthand what this collective responsibility really meant. The next morning we set off at 8am with our guide Sam (“just Sam”) and our wiry, indefatigable porter, barefoot and smiling and carrying 35kg – tents and cooking pots, pineapples and bedrolls – in twin bamboo baskets slung on a stout pole over one shoulder. The path was mud and roots and mossy hardwoods, the clouds drifting in and out, moving through patches of hot sun and sometimes into lightly spitting rain. There were birds chorusing in the trees, and when we stopped for lunch cheeky grey monkeys, the most thieving of all creatures, appeared, greedily snatching at the cast-off scraps. Already our little group was winded. The first day’s walk was 2,040m of ascent spread over only 9km, and above the treeline, trekking through a thick cloud, the path quickly became steep and indistinct, a scramble up muddy stones following the vague shape of our porter through the fog above us. The ridgeline was a relief, and as we tracked

southeast to our camp in a shallow saddle it was 4pm, and the clouds were just beginning to clear. At the top of every climb there comes a payoff, a visual compensation for the hours of burning lungs and aching quads. It’s the Easter egg, the chocolate in the advent calendar, the uncertain reward; and as the clouds blew off and the sun appeared, it was clear that this reward would be spectacular. First a body of water – deep blue, known as Segara Anak, the Child of the Sea – swam out of the fog, nearly 700m down. Then the rounded, ash-brown cindercone of Mt Baru, slightly smoking. The crater walls, sharp and high, appeared; then finally Rinjani to the northeast, more than 1,000m above our already-lofty height, intimidating, severe and capped by clouds. The crater was sublime, an empty, elemental space almost 9km wide. It was like a cathedral, enormous and enclosed, a powerful physical presence to sit in quiet and feel awed by. Still, the mountain had not always been a peaceful place. “Oh, back before 2000, so many robberies on Rinjani,” my trek organiser, Ahmed Yani, had told me back in the town. “The tourism business was just fighting, only a few people getting all the money, and everyone else was angry. Finally, the NZODA [New Zealand Official Development Assistance program] came in and showed us how to share the mountain. That was when everything changed.” Indeed, Rinjani is now considered one of the world’s leading examples of how to do tourism ‘right’. The community won a prestigious World Legacy Award from the National Geographic Society in 2004 for ‘doing superb work in protecting its overall natural and cultural heritage,’ and visitors from other Indonesian islands and abroad regularly travel to Lombok to study its system. The next morning, however, I could see that Rinjani wasn’t without its problems. We descended steeply for two hours through a patchy forest to the edge of the lake, picking our way along its shore until, fording a small stream, we came upon the lakeside campsite that in the high season would see nearly 40,000 local Sasak people coming to bathe in the sacred hot springs. “We Sasak people come down to the hot September/October 2011 87

Hike it: Indonesia

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top tips for travelling in IndonesiaÖ

Scams, overcharging and rip-offs are unfortunately rampant in Indonesia, particularly in Bali. Prices for accommodation have genuinely risen in many cases since your guidebook’s last printing, but transportation prices are usually accurate. It pays to be sceptical and to shop around. ATMs typically note whether they disperse cash in 100,000- or 50,000-rupiah bills. Whenever possible, take the latter, as the larger notes can often be hard to break. Indonesia has some of the world’s best diving and snorkeling spots. Superb and easily-accessible locations include the Amed Coast of east Bali, Lombok’s Gili Islands, and Pulau Bunaken just off the coast of Manado in north Sulawesi.

A hired motorbike is perhaps the easiest (and most fun) way of seeing the relatively compact islands of Bali and Lombok. Automatic ‘step-through’ bikes can be rented throughout Bali for around 25,000-35,000 rupiah (about £2.50) a day, and in the town of Senggigi in Lombok for 35,000-40,000 rupiah a day. It saves the hassle of these islands’ sketchy public transport networks, but beware of police ‘checkpoints’, where bribes (typically around 50,000 rupiah) are extracted. An International Driving License (obtained in your home country) is the best way to avoid having to pay. Tasty Indonesian food: try gado-gado (vegetables in peanut sauce), sate (small skewers of marinated meat cooked over charcoals), and nasi goreng (a fried rice and egg dish). Check out tuak (homebrewed rice- or palm-wine), but give arak (the local version of moonshine) a miss.
Fine specimen: Matthew enjoying the 39° hot springs


ëThe cra was sublime, ter an empty, elemental space almost 9km wide. It was like a cathedral, enormous and enclosedí
Caught anything? A local boy fishing in the Rinjani crater lake

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Hike it: Indonesia
Who’s writing?
Teacher, writer, photographer and parttime metaphysician, Matthew Crompton has at various times called Cleveland, San Francisco and Seoul home; for 2011 he’s abroad in the world at large. Passionately devoted to trivia and the search for a freebase form of caffeine, he’ll argue at length about the relative merits of squat toilets and the complete validity of rice as a breakfast food. Women, zoo animals and most Marxists find him irresistible.
Matthew’s (self-awarded) photo of the year: clouds pouring on to the ‘Child of the Sea’ lake

On the Senaru Ridge: tiny tents, big sky

spring to make magic, for healing,” Sam told me, but the damage done by these pilgrims was immense, for the campsite was completely trashed. Dropping our packs amid the obscene litter of noodle packages and plastic bags, rubber sandals and rusting cans, food waste and plastic bottles, we hiked down below a crashing waterfall where the hotsprings flowed from the rock into four simple stone baths. The 39º water felt delicious after the previous day’s hard climb, and we spent an hour hopping between the steaming baths and the cold, turbulent pool below the falls. Still, the rubbish was disgusting, and impossible to ignore. “Every two weeks, we send people to clean,” Junaidi Surahman, the head of the Trek Management Board, told me back in Senaru, shaking his head. “But with so many visitors, what can we do? Cleaning up after foreign people is one thing, for the local people it is another. There is just not enough money to pay our porters and guides and to keep the lake clean.” Indeed, it was a relief to shoulder our packs again after lunch and put the squalor of the campsite behind us. We tracked across the grasses of the mountainside in the bright sun for an hour before beginning a sharp, rocky ascent 700m to the opposite crater rim, two hours of hard climbing that left our faces sunburnt and our legs completely jellied. When we reached the campsite on the Sembalun ridge, a TV crew from RCTI, one of the Indonesia’s top stations, was already camped out, their generator conking away as they filmed a trekking adventure program. “In Indonesia we say you haven’t officially been to Lombok until you’ve climbed Rinjani,” Emri, the crew’s creative director, told me. “It’s that famous.” The sunset from the rim was perfect. From 1,000m up we watched the clouds far below us as they filled the valley like smoke, creeping along the ground, thick and white and opaque, running all the way north to where the sky met the blue of the ocean. At the leading edge September/October 2011 89

Hike it: Indonesia
Cloud nine: looking out on the Sembalun crater rim

ëSam called us a wake at 3am. It was three hours and a full 1,000m to the summit for the sunriseí
Steamy: the hot springs below lake Segara Anak, the ‘Child of the Sea’

they filled the green ridges of the hills far below with wispy fingers, ebbing and flowing like a sea, until the last light of the day turned the clouds luminous, a chiaroscuro of pure light and dark on a monumental scale. Night fell and I shivered with the cold. Soon, beneath the bright stars and moonless night, I crawled exhausted to my tent and slept. Sam called us awake at 3am. It was three hours to the summit for the sunrise and a full 1,000m; we bolted gritty coffee and a handful of biscuits each, then with our headlamps cutting bouncing circles through the tired night, began the climb. We mounted the ridgeline and followed it for an hour in the darkness, until suddenly the real work – the final approach to the summit – began. It was an endlessly steep slope, a scree of ash and fist-sized stones that gave at every step. It seemed to go on forever. Time stopped moving. I was gasping, heaving my legs up and then sliding back, my entire body aching. But even when I was pouring with sweat, my fingers were numb with the cold. When Sam finally collapsed into a lee in the rock, saying “Finished, finished,” I could hardly believe it.

But it was true: 20 minutes later the dawn came, laying bare the earth so far below – the flat of Lombok to the north running to the open sea, and Mt Agung on Bali to the west. It lasted only minutes before the clouds rolled in, snatching the world away, but it had been enough. I thought of Ahmed Yani back in Senaru, of a community trying hard, together, to manage its most precious shared resource. “What do you think, Matthew?” he had asked me earnestly. “What do we do? How do we make it work?” And I thought: Ahmed, it’s enough. This place is so beautiful, and you’re really trying. Yes, I think it’s enough. As we stumbled down to the narrow approach, its steepness surreal in the flat dawn light, one of the young Dutch guys we summited with threw back his head and howled, then plunged at full speed down the mountain, leaping forward with enormous steps. I waited a beat to consider then plunged on down the mountain myself, a howl bursting from my lips. It was more flying than falling, the air buoyant all around me, my heavy body feeling suddenly weightless. ■ September/October 2011 91

Hike it: Indonesia

Want to do what Matthew did? Here’s how you can…

›› Indonesia Let‘s go
(bigger groups are cheaper), haggling ability, and how flush with cash the trek organiser is already. This price should include transport either to or from Sembalun Lawang, depending on if you start from there or Senaru. (The Senaru start adds 1,000 vertical metres, but concludes the trek with summiting the peak.) It’s also possible to eschew booking a package and to bring your own gear. A guide (again, mandatory) should cost around 100,000 rupiah per day, a porter around 80,000. The Rinjani Trek Center in Senaru or the Rinjani Information Center in Sembalun Lawang can reportedly rent tents, cooking gear and sleeping bags, though the quality of these is unknown. Prices should be around 75,000 rupiah per person per day. ›› MOney There are about 14,000 rupiah to the pound. ATMs are widespread in Indonesia and probably the best bet for money; there aren’t any in Senaru bu there are in the Gili islands. Living on a budget but not in flea pits, I was spending about $35 a day, including any transport. ›› When tO GO Rinjani is often completely closed during the rainy season of January through March because of the danger of landslides. June to August is arguably the best time to climb, as there’s minimal rain. Trekking outside of that window you may have clear weather, but be prepared to get wet at least one day. ›› What tO brinG Good footwear, waterproofs, a swimsuit for the hot springs, a torch and lots of layers. You’ll be hiking in shorts most of the time, but even in August, the summit at dawn can get cold (4ºC). Chocolate or biscuits to snack on between meals are also a good idea. Your guesthouse will happily store excess luggage while you’re on the mountain.

›› GettinG there Mt Rinjani is the highest point on the Indonesian island of Lombok, westernmost in the chain of islands known as Nusa Tenggara, directly to the east of Bali. The first order of business is getting on to Lombok itself. While the island has an airport with extremely limited international connections at Mataram, roughly two hours’ drive from Rinjani, most visitors take the daily fast boats available from Bali. These leave primarily from the town of Padangbai on the eastern coast, and to a lesser extent from Benoa Harbor in South Bali, with the fastest making the crossing direct to the Gili Islands just off the northwest coast of Lombok in about 90 minutes. Fares from Padangbai are about 200,000 rupiah (about £15) per person one-way. Much slower ferries make the crossing from Padangbai to the port of Lembar in South Lombok, taking about four hours, and costing around 32,000 rupiah, though you will have to arrange transport or make numerous public transit connections to reach the mountain, with likely onward travel times between four and seven hours. For all but the most budget-conscious or those with business along the way, this route is better avoided. The easiest route will therefore involve flying into Bali’s well-connected Denpasar International Airport and taking a fast boat to the Gili Islands, worth visiting in their own right for their beaches, diving and party scene. Agents offering tours to Rinjani are

everywhere on the Gilis, and typically roll not only the trekking service but also private transport to and from the mountain and often a fast boat back to Bali into the package, though the value of these deals will depend on your negotiating skills – shop around. For those wishing to make their own way, small boats to Bangsal harbour on the mainland cost 10,000 rupiah (under £1) from the Gilis, and from there transport can be hired or flagged down to Rinjani, though it’s best to walk or hire short-range transport away from the scrum of touts and hustlers at the harbour. Two small towns in north-central Lombok service the mountain – Senaru and Sembalun Lawang. Of these, Senaru has superior facilities. Taking a bemo (small public minibus) you will have to change at Bayan, 15 minutes to the north of Senaru, or take an ojek (motorcycle taxi), as bemo are frequently unavailable. ›› OrGaniSinG a trek In Senaru, lodging (all with attached restaurants) is spread out over a short section of road leading up to the base of the mountain. Everyone in town will try to book you into a trek, as guides are mandatory on Rinjani, but shop around – a few outfits offer a version of ‘luxury’, with thicker sleeping mats and toilet tents, but most have the same package of guide, porter, entrance fee (150,000 rupiah), tents and three meals a day. For the three-day trek, all-inclusive, I paid 1,000,000 rupiah (roughly £70), but rates will vary depending on group size

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