Monday, August 30, 2010

Taming A Volcano

We've got back from our hike to Gunung Batur (Mt. Batur), the second highest volcano in Bali, and had breakfast and a little rest. And here I am, to tell you all there is to know. ;)

About the adventure
It was huge fun! We left our place in Ubud at 2.45am (yes!) and arrived at the start of the trek near Toya Bunkah at 3.30. At 3.45 we started hiking. It was difficult to wake up after only 4 hours of sleep, but now I'm quite used to my "sleeping sickness", so it made no difference. =) Also, I was quite excited about the whole thing. I'd read so many things about this hike and while everyone goes on and on about how difficult it is, it is also considered breathtaking. So I was really looking forward to it and my excitement kept me awake all through the journey.

About the hike
Then we got to the start of the trek by the Association office (HPPGB), and let our driver handle the business. (About prices, etc. please see below.) We got our guide and off we strolled in what looked (sounded)  like a forest in the pitch darkness. We left behind the forest and the volcanic sand, only to start searching the rocky slopes for a foothold -- soon we left behind all the other groups as well. You'll read estimates that the hike takes around 90 minutes or two hours to complete. Well, a lot depends on your "equipments" and your speed. Knowing that it would only be a relatively short hike (done in the dead of night), we opted for only a couple of very short breaks. It's not really advisable to eat while climbing or to drink cold drinks (these are bad for your body when all your muscles and veins are otherwise hot), so we kept to climbing and only took a couple of pics and deep breaths. =)
We also had nice hiking shoes that are both comfortable and reliable, so no problems in that department. I saw people attempting the hike in sandals, thongs (and barefoot!), and they were doing, well, I wouldn't say they were doing fine, but they were doing it, so I guess it's possible. That doesn't mean it's necessarily a nice experience. But sneakers are fine, I guess, if you don't feel like investing in anything else.
All that said, it took us an hour to get to the first shelter, and from there we just walked over to the second, at our leisure, not feeling the need to press on. So basically if took us 70 minutes to get to our vantage point, well ahead of the others -- and the sunset. =) Many people stayed at the lower hut, but I think it's foolish. Once you've climbed so far, it's an easy stroll to the second, higher point. You can also go to the top, 200 meters above the second hut, but we didn't bother.
I really enjoyed this hike. It's fun doing it in almost complete darkness, watching your step, while holding a torch (you'll need one) as if onto some mischief, or using a headlamp, just like cave experts. And looking back at the long serpent of little lights all through the valley -- our fellow climbers. ;) It was definitely huge fun, if sometimes demanding (think ascending long stairs with considerable distance between steps), and I'm still laughing at our guide's comments about starting as the twelfth group and finishing as the second.
The sunrise was truly amazing (video coming up!), but I have to warn everyone that it is unimaginably cold up there. Not so much the temperature but the wind. So take a jacket or sweater, and definitely take a clean T-shirt. Otherwise, what you'll get is a nasty cold. (I'll tell you, I was enumerating silently all the jackets and sweaters I had left in Geneva...) We warmed ourselves with the incredibly hot, sweet tea our guide got us. But we were fine, huddled like penguins, till the first rays appeared around 5.45. Around 6am the sun started to appear, and in like 5 minutes it took its place above the clouds. From then on, there was not much for us to watch.
We had a breakfast of boiled eggs and "banana sandwiches" and decided to take the longest way down. There are at least 3 ways to climb down from this point. You can take the same path or similar, directly down. You can also do a small tour of the top crater (+30 mins). What we did was the longest tour, including the top crater and some of the outer treks, all round to a path that leads down. On the way we checked out the hot, steaming holes in the ground (the mountain's nostrils, so to say) and the older and newer lava flows of all the eruptions. We started the descent at 6.30 and by 9 we were already heading home in the car. So I'd say the crater rim, etc. took us around 90 minutes, plus the 45 minute descent. The longer trek is really worth it, if you're interested in volcano stuff. =) Also, there's no more real climbing, so it's rewarding as well.

About guides
Our guidebook told us that it is inevitable to pay the Association around US$30-40, and have one of their guides tag along, even if you have your own. And that having your own is necessary (only during the night), and costs around another USD$30-50 (for one or two). Well, this is not really true. It seems that the system has changed, and you don't have to haggle with the guides at the bottom of the trek, plus be harassed by the Association. I don't know exactly how much the whole thing costs (see the next point ;]), but guides are allied to the Association and have their own number. A group gets the guide with the next number, and the numbers rotate, so one guide can do more trips a day, if he wants. So basically it's all fair, there's no competition, only the monopoly of the Association. (Sarcastic? Me? =D)

We were group no. 12 this morning, and got guide no. 1 (Wayan). He was really nice, even when we changed our mind and wanted to do the long trip. Our "package" covered only the shortest one, and he explained to us that he wouldn't ask for more money, for him it's more important that we like it and we can tip him whatever we consider fair. He mentioned that most people tip around US$10-20, so we tipped him $10 in the end and I thought it was alright. He was really nice, and got us breakfast,seeing how hungry we were, even though our hotel "forgot" to pay him for that...

About the price
Well, we asked around in Ubud, and bargained at a handful of places, but the cheapest they would have gone was Rp.700.000 (around US$75) for the two of us. That seemed to be the magic number, and we guessed it's all agreed among them that they wouldn't do it cheaper. So we took our hotel's offer (Teba House, more of a guesthouse, review coming up!) and paid our driver that amount to get us a guide as well. What was included in the price? Offices will tell you the same: the medium tour, a breakfast with eggs boiled in the steaming holes, and after the hike a visit to the beautiful rice terraces. Well, our "organizers" forgot about breakfast, so we were left to the kindness of our guide, who fortunately was an angel about it. And then, though we were too tired to bother and make a fuss about it, our driver took us back to the hotel, instead of the rice terraces. But we had had our fair share of rice fields, so we didn't mind. But we'll definitely let others know to watch out for these potential annoyances. On the whole, I think it was a good deal. Anyway, this is the only price you can get (this way), and we were of no mind to haggle and spend our precious honeymoon time fighting over a couple of dollars.

For your fun =)
This is the story of three guys, climbing Gunung Agung (the highest volcano in Bali), with only a pack of Oreo biscuits. ;)

Thank you for reading.
Have an awesome day! ;)


  1. Dearest Fleur of mine,
    we were waiting with hopeful expectations but also with some anxious feelings for your next letter - we do read and hear many frightening news about earth and vulcano movements in Indonesia; the latest ones are telling about Cunami to reckon with too.
    We only hope that you can avoid all these frightful gappenings - please keep reporting, so that we know for sure that you are OK.
    Lots of love - and all the best to you!!!!!

  2. Not moving for sure. ;) Tested it. =)