Indonesia sits right on what is called ‘The Pacific Ring of Fire.” The Pacific Rim of Fire is essentially a massive fault line encircling the entire Pacific Ocean that is responsible for approximately 90% of earthquakes worldwide. Indeed it is along the outline of this ring that there is the most friction between the massive tectonic plates shifting slowly beneath us. In addition to earthquakes, volcanic eruptions also commonly accompany this kind of geographic unrest. Sitting on the intersection between the Eurasian Plate and the Indo-Australian Plate, Indonesia is a chain of islands formed almost entirely by volcanic activity. Standing 5,633 feet above sea level, Bali’s Mount Batur is one of the more notable members of Indonesia’s 150 some volcanoes.
Although Mount Batur has been active as recently as the year 2000, its last major eruption was in 1968. In the 47 years since, Mount Batur has been (mostly) dormant. What does that mean for us? It seems to be the general consensus on Bali that this means it is about due for another eruption. So naturally, we decided to climb it.
There was an organized trip that would happen every so often where people hiked up to the summit of Mount Batur in time for sunrise. In order to be at the summit by sunrise we had to set out very early. We had yet to do anything too adventurous so we signed up for the hike. A van was to pick us up at 2am and we would embark from there. The trip cost us 300,000 IDR (30 USD) each. Yeah, you could do the hike yourself for free, but we were glad we paid for a guide.
Between our first hotel and our second (nicer) hotel we stayed in a slightly sketchier hotel for a night. It was down a rather long alley from the main road. We stayed there the same night that we set out for Mt. Batur. At 1:55am or so we set out from our hotel to walk to our rendezvous point with the van.
It was dark and the streets were quiet and deserted when we came out. But when we walked out our door we found ourselves surrounded by a pack of stray dogs. Perhaps we had inadvertently interrupted a meeting of the dog-council because there were a lot of them. And they were all snarling at us. It was scary. But I slowly put one foot in front of the other to walk off down the alley and none of them mauled me, so we dodged a bullet there.
The van picked us up and drove us up to a breakfast of fried bananas and coffee at what would serve as our base camp. We were all handed flashlights then led off into the blackness of the jungle.
Climbing Through The Wind & Rain
Fast forward 2 hours and our brisk jungle walk had turned to a nerve-racking ascent up a rocky cliff face. I was pretty unprepared for how intense a hike this was going to be. The volcanic rock was sharp and cut my hands when I had to catch myself from falling. We would stop for a rest every so often but never stayed in one place for more than 2 minutes.
In the beginning of the hike I asked our Indonesian guide how much farther to the summit. I was just curious. I’m not a Division 1 swimmer anymore but I’m still in decent shape so I was doing fine with the hike. But the rest of the hike he would come up to me every time we stopped, grab my forearm firmly, look deep into my eyes and in a deep voice say ‘OK.’ It was getting kind of weird.
Our rocky climb soon turned to a scramble up what seemed to be the world’s biggest pile of loose dirt. There was really no solid ground beneath us. At times it felt like trying run up the ‘down’ escalator in the mall as a kid, except in this case the consequences to slowing down were much more severe. I tried not to turn my head and see the heights I had climbed to the whole time. It was a really steep climb. It made my palms sweat to look back. I don’t do well with heights.
Reaching The Summit Before Sunrise
Eventually though, I lay my quivering body to rest atop the summit of Mt. Batur. From there we only had to wait for the sun to rise. Sunrise was in thirty minutes so in the mean time they served us hot chocolate from their mountain top shack. They charged us 25,000 IDR (2.50 USD) for a glass which I thought was annoying, but oh well.
It was very cloudy on the mountaintop when we got there. We were contemplating climbing back down a ways out of the clouds for a better view. Then, suddenly, the cloud that we had been shrouded in blew away and we could see out over the entire valley. Below us was a big lake (Lake Batur) and on the other side of the lake, opposite to us was another mountain.
As the sun got closer to peaking over the horizon, the world grew lighter and we could see and feel the clouds swirling around us. It was beautiful. Then, a few rays of light burst through the clouds off in the distance. And just as those clouds finally cleared to really let the sun through, another, much thicker cloud engulfed our peak. The sunlight turned the thick fog that blanketed us golden yellow. “God??” I heard somebody yell.
Here is a short video I threw together from the experience.
And here are some choice pictures I took:
On the way back down we stopped to take some time to look into the vast caldera of the volcano. Steam rose from vents and fogged my glasses up like a hot shower when I got too close. That was cool, but the real story here is the troop of monkeys that came to hang out with us. They were fun:
The walk back down took us a wide expanse of farmland that extended as far up the side of Mount Batur as was an easy walk. Gently nestled between this tropical volcano and a sparkling lake, I must say, this place felt a lot like paradise. The rolling fields and green grass put me in mind of the countryside in Switzerland. I heard this observation echoed by some of our fellow hikers as we walked. The tomatoes seemed to grow so easily there in the rich volcanic soil. The sun was warm but the air was crisp and refreshing. I wouldn’t have minded hanging out up there for a while.
The Luwak Coffee Plantation
As sort of an afterthought to all of this, we were taken to a coffee plantation on our way home. I didn’t even know that was going to happen. I was happily sleeping with my neck craned against the window when we came to a stop and were led into down a jungle path.
We were shown the process and fed lots of different kinds of coffee. It was (mostly) really good. There was one Ginger Coffee that I especially liked. But the reason that this particular coffee plantation was of interest though, was because it produces Luwak coffee. A Luwak looks like a cross between a cat and a weasel. It is nocturnal and loves to eat coffee beans. This is Google's image, not mine:
Supposedly Luwaks only eat the very best coffee beans. So naturally, this plantation makes coffee by sifting through their shit to recover said beans. They assured us that they wash of them all thoroughly. I already drank goat blood and ate buffalo penis so I guess it wouldn’t have been a big stretch to add a cat-poo-chino to the list (#peterspunoftheday) but it cost extra money and I’m cheap. Here are some pictures though: