in Wales, UK is 1085 metres (3560 feet). You get the picture.
Having been harassed by many a tout trying to sell us their trek, we decided to phone the number for the Rinjani Trek Centre that is in the Lonely Planet Book. We find out later on that this number does not connect you to the RTC, it connects you to a young business man called Ahmed who arranges the whole trip for us at a low price.
Unbeknown to us, the reason for the low price is that he will later drop us off at another tourist office who will bully us into paying inflated prices for transport, of which he gets commission. Beware, every vigilante tourist office has connections in each city and they all pay each other commission for passing on your business. They will all try to make a convincing argument that you are getting a good deal, but don't listen.
So anyway we set off at 5am, collected from our accommodation and taxi driven to the mountain entrance in Senaru (2.5 hours away). We stop and have breakfast while our guide and porter prepare to leave. We set off to the RTC about 9 and sign our names on the entrance book. The mountain path was well defined, and is broken up by numerous stops (POS 1, extra, 2, and 3).
The distance between each POS is between 1 and 3 kms in a steadily increasing steepness. The first stop was at the national park entrance; about 2 km from the RTC. It was no problem. We sweated a bit, but we were growing in confidence. If it continued like this we'd have no problem..!! POS 1 was then on 1.5 km further, a little steeper but very manageable. We were flying!!
The next 1.5 km between POS started getting steeper. We coud feel it in our legs. Kate only has little legs, so she struggeld with the big steps up over the thick tree roots... Thankfuly we were walking under the shade amongst the trees otherwise it would have been a real hard slog. By the time we got to POS 2 our legs were burning! The sweat was dripping off us big time! We met soe travellers coming down the mountain here; they warned us of the hard slog from POS 2 to POS 3.
We ended up stopping at POS 2 for a long time because of a rain storm which delayed our guides progress with cooking lunch (which seemed to take ages when they did eventually start). It was really nice though, and compared with the lunch we saw other groups getting, I’d say it was worth the wait and the portions were huge. When we eventually set off we had been sitting for over an hour, and although we had recovered our breath and our energy somewhat, our legs had stiffened up.
The slog between POS 2 and POS 3 is the longest at around 3 km. Now, just to put into context what the climb is like from this point, we are no longer walking up a hill-like incline, the roots of the trees in the forest have formed large steps in the path, some of which were huge and took me to give Kate a hand to pull herself up. Imagine walking up a set of stairs two steps at a time for two and a half hours… that is what the journey from POS 2 to POS 3 is like. Painful!!
Spotting the shelters at POS 3 in the distance was a massive relief. We staggered over to the shelters and collapsed for 10 minutes. There is a picture of me beside the POS 3 sign... You should get apretty good idea how we felt by looking at that, exhausted and very sweaty!! After a few minutes we realised we were not alone.
There was a rustling in the bushes and lots of hungry mouths eyeing us up. Fortunately the hungry eyes belonged to monkeys, and they were only eyeing up our snacks and not us; phew. These monkeys were a lot more wild than the ones from the monkey forest, and they didn’t seem to like the guides very much. They told us that the monkeys associate local people with danger, as so are quite volatile with the locals, yet they will approach tourists as they often feed them.
Anyway, after a short stop Kate and I took off on our own while our guides collected firewood. The trek from POS 3 took us to the crater summit. We were warned that this was the hardest bit, so we were very apprehensive before starting as the previous section had killed us.
So we set off, and in truth, we made a much better go of it by ourselves as we could keep to our own pace. Kate found it easier having lots of short stops rather than few long ones like we had been doing. It seemed to give us time to recover after a hard bit without cooling down so much that we stiffed up again. So on we walked; alone but gaining heart from our new found capabilities of mountain scaling. Just as we approached the rim of the volcano crater Kate had been telling me that she read in the lonely planet book about bandits which occasionally stormed the mountain and robbed tourists. No sooner had she finished telling me than we rounded a corner and were confronted with a gang of 8 men in balaclavas. In a blind panic Kate and I attempt to change our course and avoid eye contact or communication; but it was too late.
They had spotted us. One was calling out to me. I tried to ignore him but he kept coming towards me, saying something over and over… the same two muffled words. All I could think was that he is demanding ‘hands up’ ‘hands up’. Then I cocked my head so the wind wasn’t so strong in my ears… the voice was clearer now, and not so threatening. He spoke again … ‘keep right’ ‘keep right’ … What idiot’s. The man had been trying to direct us to the rest of our group who had camped off to the right. And as for the men in their balaclava’s; they live every day in 30+ degree heat, so they were just cold. Poor guys were protecting their faces. Anyway, we had finally made it.
We arrived at the campsite 10 meters below the edge of the rim of the volcano just before sunset at 5:15pm, and I have to say we were both particularly disappointed with the reception we received. Kate and I were expecting a procession of trumpets and a brass band celebrating our arrival.
A round of applause at least. But nothing. No-one even noticed us arrive, so we sat. The mountain was surrounded by cloud so we couldn’t see a thing. Not even the path we’d just come up. We were too tired to care; in fact we so tired that we forgot to pear over the other side of the crater rim to see what was there. So we just sat, waited for our guides to pitch the tent, and recovered.
Suddenly, just as the sun was starting to set, the clouds began to clear. A view opened up over the top of the mountain which reminded us why we came all this way. It was stunning. Remembering where we were, I motioned to Kate to come the final 10 meters to the top. Exhausted, weary, and not wanting to move Kate replied ‘Is there even anything up there?’ as if she would rather that there wasn’t so she didn’t have to move anymore. So we climbed the last stint, got to the top and looked up.
WOW… What a sight. I certainly wasn’t expecting what I saw, and I just don‘t have the words to explain it (although I‘m sure my human dictionary mother could give it a good go). As always, the actual view just could not be captured in one picture, although I tried and tried. It was incredible. Kate said I pulled a funny face when I got to the top; somewhere between shock and excitement. It made the pain of the 9 hour climb up 3 Mount Snowden’s so worth it.
As soon as sun set, we ate. After dinner out guide told us to go and look at the volcano in the centre of the lake in the crater below. We did, and too our surprise we could see a red glowing stream of lava pouring out the top of the volcano below and into the crater lake. It was spectacular, unfortunately my camera couldn’t quite capture it.
The next morning we were woken at 6:30 for the sunrise over Bali’s Gunung (mountain) Angung. As it rose the light of the sun slowly swept along the crater; first lighting the west side, and sweeping across to the east as it rose higher. The sky was so clear and we could see everything, including where we going nest; the Gili Islands. We had breakfast that morning and then left for the climb back down at 7:30am. We were the last group to leave again.
Kate hadn’t been looking forward to climbing back down the mountain, but once we gat started she was fine. The first stretch back down is very dusty and quite steep, so we slid most of the way. This seemed to save us some time as when we got to POS 3 we had caught up with the other groups. We kept up the pace for the next stint, and actually passed four other groups. We were flying.
In fact, we jogged quite a lot of the way down. It was easier than walking as gravity carried you, whereas if you try to walk at a slow and steady pace you have to fight gravity and it hurts your legs more. We made it to the bottom by about 11am, so what took us 9 hours to climb, only took us 3.5 hours to come down.
Once at the bottom we stopped for lunch. Our guides excelled themselves again with their cooking speed. Groups that arrived 30 minutes after us had eaten and were leaving by the time we got our food. Nevertheless it was very good. We were re-untied with our bags at a small home stay and were packed into a car and sent to Lomboks port town Bangsal for the boat across to the Gili Islands.
Now, for anyone travelling through Bangsal, most tour operators and taxi drivers have deals with the Bangsal tour operators. They will drop you at a tourist office where you will be treated very nicely. People will take you bags, sit you down, and ask about you. We were under the impression we were being brought here to wait for the boat, but really what they were doing was cornering us in their shop to sell us travel bookings. We were told that there was no boat until 6pm and that the only way we could get to Gili Trawangan was by their boat which they offered to us for 500,000 rps each. We declined quite forcibly.
But they persisted, and so many of them were telling us the same thing that we eventually succumbed to a deal that was for all transport to and from the Gili’s, then transport back to Lembar port in Lombok, ferry back to Bali, and bus to the airport, all for 450,000 (£30). This is not a good deal, although at the time it seemed ok as we were tired, hot and hungry, and did not want to be sat in a tourist office with these guys anymore. We were both annoyed with ourselves for giving in, but we didn’t know where to go or who to speak too to get across to the island.
After buying, we were given a lift to the harbour which was only a short walk away. Here there is a ticket office for the regular local passenger ferry (I say ferry, it was more of a small wooden boat with stabilisers either side for balance in the water). Turns out, if you buy here the ticket is only 10,000 rps (65 pence).
So if you ever arrive in Bangsal, do not stop at any tourist office and say no to anyone who approaches you trying to make a deal. Keep walking until you get to the harbour (which is a beach with a line of boats) then ask to be pointed to the ‘Loket’ (ticket office) and the locals will point you in the right direction. Also, take a bluebird taxi straight to the harbour, and make sure you keep the telephone number so you can phone one to collect you when you come back. Bluebird taxi’s are the only ones which use meters and are much cheaper than all other taxis.
Our next stop was Gili Trawangan. Blue sea, white sand beaches, and very friendly locals. Look out for the next blog all about life on Gili T coming in the next few days
Real Time Update: Today is Wednesday the 28th of October 09 and we are writing this mid-flight to Kuala Lumpur where we will stay for at least 2 nights before heading off to Thailand.
We decided after lots of debating to go and climb Gunung Rinjani, a mountain that stands 3700 meters high (that's 12,000 feet). To put that into perspective, the small mountain I climbed in the lakes with my family (cat bells) was only 1600 feet. Mount