Week 33: Kintamani Volcano

This is what I’ve been missing. The quiet. The sound of rain falling and wind whipping through tall grass. In Singapore, we live in a shoebox (a very comfortable shoebox, but a shoebox nonetheless.) We’re surrounded by the shouts of neighbors, honks of passing cars, and we’re constantly within reach of our dreaded cell phones. So to escape it all, and find ourselves huddled under a eucalyptus tree on the side of an active volcano in Bali, is just what I needed. The hike is closer to therapy than exercise for me. A way to shed the worries of my everyday life, and remember why we’ve come so far and continue to push ourselves. A chance to look in, and an overdue one at that.

Kintamani is a village in northern Bali, and is much less touristy than the south around Denpasar and Ubud. On the two hour drive north we wound our way through terraced rice fields trailing off to the horizon. Coming upon the edge of the city, we were literally rendered speechless. Rolling jungle makes its way up the steep hills to the foot of the village. From the top of the hill, you’re surrounded by inexplicable beauty. A high mountain lake rests between two mountains. One, Mt Batur, is our impending climb, which is also an active volcano. Even from a great distance, the view of the massive crater created from continual eruption over the years is impressive, if not a bit intimidating. I’m determined though, and I’ve convinced Kels it will be a walk in the park… or up a volcano. Same difference.

As we begin the ascent, the sun beats down on our exposed skin, making our biggest worry a lack of sunscreen. If only we’d known. Twenty minutes later, we were being relentlessly pounded by a tropical storm. When weather hits on the equator, it hits fast, it hits hard, and it hits without warning. The upside- it usually doesn’t last long, and the temperature is always bearable, so long as you don’t mind getting drowned.

In regular fashion, we push on and continue the climb. Our guide, a true mountain climber and potentially Macgyver’s long lost Balinese cousin, quickly grabs two pieces of volcanic rock, forms a make shift axe, and chops us both a banana leaf umbrella. Welcome to Bali: Awesome. I quickly discover the umbrellas main function isn’t so much to keep you dry, but rather to allow you to see where you’re going through the torrential storm. Mine served as protection for our precious camera, and thanks to Madé-the-Mountain-Guide, the ol’ Canon made it through the storm dry!

Just short of the crater we took cover under a shelter, and now out of the rain, happily watched the storm grow. Thankful that Madé got us to the shelter so quickly, we went to show him our appreciation, but found that he was already fast asleep. Later we discovered he’d already made the climb three times that day- what a champ! Finally the storm passed, and we hiked down into the heart of the crater. It was a majestic, mysterious place. Steam and smoke billowed out of small pockets along the walls and floor of the crater. Ceremonial offerings had been left at openings where one could sit and feel the geothermal warmth, and collect dripping water straight from the heart of the mountain. There was something truly spiritual about this place, and hearing the ancient stories and beliefs from Madé himself only added to the mood.

After exploring the crater and taking in its beauty, we reluctantly headed down. As I watched Kels bounce down the mountainside like a wrecking ball, I realized what an incredible experience we just shared. A moment spent completely in the present, and I was so lucky to be sharing it with this crazy, nut-job little lady running down the mountain. Now there was only one thing left to do: get a big Bin-Tang (Bali’s beer of choice), indulge in some local cuisine, and laugh at each other’s drowned rat appearances.

This was a good day.

-Joey

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