The Young and Wild Roam The Earth. Yes, but with purpose.
Towering above the tropical beaches of Lombok Island is the seat of Indonesia’s Mt Rinjani — the country’s second highest active volcano. An arduous trek across these roaring heights takes you past green savannahs, quicksand swamps, and sulphurous waterfalls; all in an effort to catch a glimpse of the mighty Gunung Rinjani.
Indonesia – best kept secrets.
It was by some stroke of luck that I found myself far from the tourist clamour of Bali and deep in the bosom of Indonesia’s hidden finest, Lombok Island. Here, thriving equatorial forests are encased by pristine white sand beaches bringing to mind an emerald lathered with diamonds. My nomadic journey across Indonesia led me to discover Mt Rinjani in August, last year.
Gunug Rinjani, literally ‘Fire Mountain’ – rests smack in the heart of the Ring of Fire accessible via the Sembalun Lawang and Senaru trails. I took a short 30-min ferry from the Gilli Islands to get to the latter. Although Lombok was the ideal tourist attraction, not many travelers were enamoured by the prospect of a 3-day sherpa trek to the summit of the volcano. As I huddled together with my group, the only disclaimer our guides gave us was that our 3-day trek was not for those short on grit. But all I could think about was the crater lake, Segera Anak, nestled in the heart of Gunung Rinjani. I crashed early, clutching my camera, eagerly awaiting my 8 am start! I make images for a living, they sometimes move. On Land, Air and Sea. But tomorrow was going to be something else, I just didn’t know it yet.
Ascension – walking on air.
Nervous good morning, as always with these things. Our group of 5 gathered around our guide and the two wind-weathered sherpas, here to porter our food and supplies all the way up. Milestone moment. The kind that makes you realise you’re doing things, differently. Not that it matters, but goddammit it helps.
Lush foliage in varying shades of green paint the landscape as we began. We took regular pit stops to fuel up on noodles, fried rice and black tea. Soon enough, we were greeted by a canopy of clouds and the mercury dropped sharply. We’re talking, thermometer style. We powered through the haze and amidst sighs of relief, were met by a waterfall that also happened to be a hot-spring, courtesy our sleeping volcano.
The water bubbled at an exquisite 38 degrees, even though the surrounding temperature at that altitude was a spine-chilling windy 10 degrees. So, this was the perfect cure to our throbbing extremities. There’s only one rule here, always jump into the water, headlong. That night, after the swim, we camped. Water. Fire. Music. Food. “We’d be leaving early the next day,” were the last words I remember. First night there, I was 2700 ft above the ground, heady with anticipation of what’s tomorrow going to be like.
Bravura – humbled by beauty.
Silent night save for the soft whistle of wind. The next day, as I stepped out of the tent, I was met by a sight to behold. Tailor-made for the well-rested. The cumulus clouds had parted at daybreak to reveal an open horizon laying bare a bellowing volcano. There it stood, a few feet below us in a caldera almost 50 km wide. The large crater lake of Segara Anak. Nothing can prepare you for these surreal moments in life. Transfixed as we were by its sheer beauty, it took a fair amount of spurring by our versed guide before we continued onwards.
This was when things got hard. We were meant to reach the summit by sunrise, and the trek required us to push through knee-deep volcanic swamp at speeds that you didn’t think you were capable of. Head winds beating down with ash would push us against the cliff, threatening to flick us off the mountain. And as we scaled to higher altitudes, it just kept getting colder and colder around us. But to the top, we made it and lo and behold lay the true majesty of Mt Rinjani feast-like for all to witness. As I sat down in wonder, small was all I could feel. I guess the reason we keep going back to nature and why we do these things is because we’re always looking for some perspective. The scale of things, explained in an instant.
My lenses soon began framing Rinjani’s. The viewfinder made its way after a laidback first day. Soak it in, like the wise say and that I did. Volcanoes face the sky for a reason, and a decent enough camera does the fact justice. Shortly after breakfast at the summit, we would soon be ushered by our trained hand on our descent down to Lombok — the distance we’d covered in 2 days would now be drawn down in a day. Life imitates downhill running this way too, if you’re not smart early enough. Do not run down mountains or volcanoes ever without expert guidance. But when you do decide to do it, try a volcano slide. Gravel the size of your fist litter the side of this mountain and dense dust gathers quickly. Breathe deep, find your centre and let go.
Exhausted, but satisfied, finally on solid ground, I clutched desperately at what I just went through, hoping it’d stay a while. A head full of flashes unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. I was glad I scrimped and prepared for the right to experience Gunung Rinjani’s jewel in the crown. Nothing in life comes easy and we only want it that way why because we make ‘easy’ so special. Why? Every day, climb a few stairs. For every day can be one step further to a place like this. A hidden volcanic paradise. Visit the fire mountain with care.