It’s in a search for an authentic Indonesian experience that we landed on Lombok, Bali’s lesser known sister island. We chose Lombok over Bali, because the latter’s popularity in recent years had definitely taken its toll on the island, partially denaturing its beautiful landscape and culture to cater to an ever growing horde of tourists looking for their own Eat, Pray, Love experience or simply looking to drink themselves silly. Because we prefer going off the beaten track when it’s possible, Lombok seemed like an obvious choice.
We had heard great things about Lombok: with waves fit for surfing, beaches, snorkeling, waterfalls and a big volcano, it definitely had a lot to offer. What no one had prepared us for, is just how warm the inhabitants of Lombok are! After bright, modern, but also very impersonal Singapore, the contrast was notable and very welcome.
It’s hard to put into words the variety of emotions this island made us feel: from laidback to exuberant, we went through the whole spectrum.
Our adventure took us first to the Gilis…
The word gili means “small island” in Sasak, the language spoken by the ethnic group that makes up the majority of the population on Lombok. There are a bunch of gilis scattered around Lombok, but “the Gilis” typically refers to three tiny islands right off the northwestern coast of Lombok. Each island has its own personality and one must choose wisely which island to visit. I felt much like Goldilocks picking her porridge: Gili Trawangan, notorious for its loud and alcohol infused parties, felt too hot, so to speak, Gili Meno, a.k.a the honeymooner’s island, sounded a tad boring, but Gili Air who combined a bit of both, seemed like the perfect choice for us.
Other fun fact: air actually means water in Indonesian; it’s somewhat confusing the first time you buy a bottle of air at the convenience store.
Gili Air was indeed exactly what we were looking for: imagine a place where both time and people move slowly, a place where both humans and turtles frolic in waters clearer than crystal, a place where I could shamelessly engage in dolce far niente (after 5 months of running around South-East Asia, I definitely needed just that). The Gilis are quite a curious place in the sense that law and order isn’t enforced by the police. In fact, there are no police officers on the island so the local mafia has risen to the task of maintaining peace. Before you start to imagine scenes out of Scarface or The Godfather, let me reassure you that things on the Gilis are very peaceful. We’ve been told that offenders are required to march through the island so that everyone can see their face and know what they have done. Now I know where Game of Thrones got their idea for Cersei’s walk of shame.
Kuta Lombok, or the “Other Kuta”, is not to be confused with Bali’s city of the same name. Kuta Bali is a world class surfing spot and a great place to have fun. Unfortunately, it somehow became infamous for vice, decadence and, apparently, methanol poisonings. The latter is not a joke: people travelling to Indonesian party spots, including Kuta Bali, should be mindful of their alcohol potentially being diluted with methanol, whether it is in a cocktail at a bar or in a bottle purchased at a convenience store. Methanol, as you might have guessed, is fatal in too high a dose. Better just stick to beer! Similar to the Gilis, one can choose the Kuta better suited to him or her. We opted for the infinitely more relaxed vibe of Kuta Lombok.
In terms of surfing, Bali is not the envy of Lombok who has its own great waves to boast about. Most of them are located near Kuta, so Julien didn’t miss out on the opportunity to try mastering the sport. I, personally, was quite content to relax on the beach with my book and watch him, more often than not, fall head first into the water!
I’ll tell you right now, I have a love/hate relationship with the 3,762m high volcano that towers over Lombok. The three day and two night hiking trip we signed up for caused me SO much pain, but was also VERY rewarding! Here’s a glimpse of what we went through.
Our day starts at 6h30. After breakfast, we all pile up in the back of a pick-up truck that brings us to Sembalun, a tiny village at the foot of Rinjani and the starting point of our trek. The first bit of the hike, taking us over hills covered in shoulder high grass, isn’t difficult. The sky is cloudy which provides us with cover from the sun’s burning hot rays. At this point, I’m quite optimistic about this hike. I had no idea what I was in for.
A first wave of light rain hits us as we’re having lunch, but stops after a few minutes. « Not a problem”, we all think, “A bit of rain can’t hurt us!”
We reach Post III just as the rain starts again. We huddle under the tiny shelter, shivering, waiting. When the rain thins out, we set off for the last leg of the hike to the crater rim, where we would spend the night. This is when things start to go downhill (this is a figure of speech, obviously, as we only ever went up, up and up some more): the climb gets steeper (like, really steep) and my legs grow tired (as one would expect, after already 5h of uphill walking). I feel like a wimp when I see the porters dart by wearing only flip flops on their feet – it’s a miracle they don’t slip more often – and carrying ten times the weight I have in my small backpack.
I don’t see anyone else around me quitting, so I hold back a few tears and push on.
At 17h00, after a total of 7h of walking, we FINALLY reach the crater rim. I am exhausted. I am moody. I am freezing cold. At an altitude of over 2,500m, the cold wind is blowing hard and I have a difficult time getting warm. Worst part is: our view of the sunset, which was meant to be our reward at the end of a hard day, is blocked out by the still present clouds. We only catch fleeting glimpses of the magnificent view below, through holes in the clouds.
I settle down in my tent to warm up. When I finally dare come out of my tent again, the sun is long gone, the sky has cleared and the stars shine bright. On that evening, everyone on the rim goes to bed with hopes that the sky will stay that way.
The alarm wakes us at 2h00 – yes, that’s 2AM. I feel as if I haven’t slept at all. Our porters prepare tea and biscuit which are meant to give us the energy necessary to climb the remaining 1000m to the summit. At 2h30, we all set off, flashlights in hand.
We’ve already started to climb when I realize that my down jacket was left in the tent. I’m faced with a choice: quit or go back to get it, and start over. Summiting without a proper coat is out of the question. Julien continues to climb as I turn back. Despair overcomes me: it feels like we had been walking for ages already and the idea of having to start over was just too much. I consider foregoing this whole part of the hike, but I quickly discard the idea. This time, I do let a few tears of frustration roll down my cheeks.
I start to climb once again. This time I am alone (there are probably a hundred other hikers, but I feel quite alone nonetheless). As I climb, my mind is numb: the only thought I have is to keep putting one foot before the other. The sky is clear and the Milky Way shines right above our heads. In the night, I can barely make out the ridge and summit; all I see is a trail of lights ahead, distinguishable from the stars only by their movement as each one slowly gets closer to the top.
It takes me 2h30 hours to get to the top. The wind, which is blowing at about a million km per hour, and the cold is so unbearable that I barely appreciate the extraordinary feat I’ve just accomplished. I eventually do find Julien; I’ve never been so relieved to see him in my life!
Together, we stand at the very top of the Rinjani and take a look around us. To the East, the view is simply extraordinary with the glittering sea in the distance and the sun slowly rising over the clouds. To the West, ours eyes lay upon the Child of the Sea – that’s the very poetic name given to the lake – and the volcano’s crater. A cocktail of emotions brews inside me: pride, exhaustion and elation. Julien and I try to take it all in, but its hard to conceptualize just how immense and wonderful what we’re seeing actually is.
Back at the camp, we’re allowed 30 minutes to relax and grab a bite to eat before we take off again and descend into the volcano’s crater where we bathe in the volcano’s natural hot springs. It is now lunch time, we already walked 9 hours, but the worst is still to come. The morning clear blue sky started to cover up.
We finish the day with a hike back up to the crater rim in the pouring rain. Yep, more rain. I’ll spare you all the swearing that streamed out of my mouth during those three hours and just say that I was annoyed. The rain transformed the path into a muddy and slippery river of death. Before long we, along with 90% of our gear, are soaked through and through. The bits of vertical rock climbing (that’s how steep some parts of the path were) that would have been dangerous on a nice day are now suicidal.
We reach the rim in record time; I guess that’s the only positive aspect of hiking in cold rain for hours on end. Our guide or porters are nowhere to be seen and there is basically nothing to shelter us from the rain. Everyone’s “survival mode » kicks in and we try to assess whether we should attempt the 6 hour walk down right away, knowing it would mean walking down incredibly slippery paths in the dark. In the end, everyone agreed it was perilous to say the least.
Eventually, the rain cleared out and we found our campsite. Luckily, our tents, and sleeping bags were only slightly wet. A few people didn’t have any remaining dry clothes, so it was nice to see the group come together to share whatever dry clothes were available to make sure everyone was as comfortable as possible given the circumstances.
After 12h of walking, needless to say we were all happy to be in bed by 19h00!
Honestly, Day 3 made up for everything: the rain, the wind, the cold, the vertical climbs, the lack of proper sleep, the tears, the frustrations, etc. When we get up at 6h00 the sky is clear, the sun is shining and the view is breathtaking. The trail brings us first through a pretty evergreen forest, then through a magnificent rain forest where we slow our quick pace in order to admire the surrounding beauty.
Six hours later, we finally sit down to have a celebratory soda, exhausted but happy… happy it was over to have accomplished something so difficult both physically and mentally. I had just broken so many of my personal records – highest altitude climb, longest walk in a single day, etc. – and proved to myself that I can endure much, much more than I thought so long as I put my mind to it.
And so to the question “Hey Daphne, would you do it again?” I would answer “Absolutely. But I’d check the weather forecast first.”