It’s about 30 degrees at 1am when the alarm goes off, and yes, you have only been asleep for about 2 hours. Whilst not exactly bouncing out of bed you’re up and about and before long our driver Komang is waiting for us at the front of the Villa.
A drive through Denpasar at 2.30am is surreal to say the least, in a city where the cars often create five lanes of traffic on a three lane highway, we are one of the few cars around, until we drive past the markets, people milling around, getting ready for what promises to be a long day. It’s a reminder that although we are in Bali for a week of Adventure, fitness and relaxtion, the world still goes to work, people still bargain and barter to pay their bills, wanting nothing more than to feed their families and make a few extra rupiah to buy their kids the things ours often take for granted.
On through the colder mountain areas, the temperature dropping to around 17 degrees, and Komang is complaining how cold it is. He’s never climbed Mt Batur before, but he is keen to see what the fuss is about. In a few hours he won’t be quite so excited about it all.
We get close to the town of Kintimani, and we are reduced to almost a crawl, with thick cloud covering the road. A simple message asking Komang if he has ever driven in conditions like this, common place in Australia elicits a one word answer, “No”, whilst looking at me. A quick suggestion that he focus on the road again and we keep going, crawling behind some slow trucks that are already on their way to the bottom of Mt Batur where the volcanic rock is mined and taken to make all manner of things, including bricks and tiles seen in some of the temples elsewhere on the island.
We arrive to the tourist office, the next available guide beckons us to follow him on his motorbike and we head off to the carpark, make our introductions and find our guide Nyoman has had a four month break from guiding, but has over 20 years experience. The fact that he is wearing jeans and we are wearing shorts, we shrug our shoulders at.
We push on and before long Komang is asking how long we have been walking for. The news that it has been 15 minutes doesn’t sit well with him but we plod on, walking along what we later realise is simply a dirt path past some villages, using our torches to make sure we don’t take a tumble in the dark.
Soon enough the going gets a little steeper and we are introduced to another guide, and informed that he will carry our drinks, what they mean is he will carry soft drinks we are expected to buy from him later on, but he does his job and helps us all get up the steep incline and work our way past some slower moving groups. Eurpoeans that have all the trek gear and poles, people wearing dresses, some kitted out as though they are about to scale Everest.
Our mission is to reach the peak before sunrise, so we can watch that magnificent sight overlooking Lake Batur and towards Mt Abang, and behind it the sacred Mt Agung, all 3000 metres of it. Apparently you have to start climbing that at 1am to reach the peak by sunrise, and already the plans are hatched to get that one done next trip.
There is suddenly a shift in the light, and what previously felt like a massive presence in front of us starts to take shape, and looking back down we can see the procession of people below us snaking their way up the mountain, their torches making a fairy light dance as they trudge their way up.
We pick up the pace, a few of our group going a little slower, but anxious not to miss the sunrise a couple of us push politely some people taking a breather, and then we are suddenly at a guest house area, where a group of people have congregated. This is apparently the end of the road for many people, with a few hardy souls prepared to push on another 20 minutes of hard scrabble up to the real peak. We are going hard now, anxious not to miss this experience, and it takes me back to some nasty hills on the Kokoda Trail, pushing through because there isn’t any other way to the top.
And we are there, and just in time to see the sun slowly rise. The cloud at 1717 metres is inconsistent, and the entire bowl of the volcano is obscured. But for brief moments we can see across the lake at what is a stunning view, we are all pretty damn proud of ourselves, and there are hugs all round for us. Even Komang has made it as far as the guesthouse , below, and Lyne, 65 and a veteran of my previous Kokoda Trek appears below us, having shown the same determination that saw her complete that trip the year before.
Feeling pretty damn proud of ourselves, we get the photos done, some video and are then asked if we want a coffee and a hardboiled egg from the elderly lady that has climbed the volcano an hour before we arrived carrying eggs, bread, milk, bananas and firewood. The fact that she is about 80 stuns us and puts us back in our place very quickly, full of admiration for the Balinese spirit, their willingness to do what has to be done to get the job done.
We spend a few minutes at the peak, enjoying our efforts and then make our way down, passing a troop of monkeys that call the mountain home, passing within a few feet of us. These are not the feral critters that roam the Monkey Forest at Ubud, these are truly wild creatures that will respond to aggression in the only way they know how. So we make like statues until they pass serenely by us, and we continue down, getting a few more snaps to record our first volcano climb, all the while looking across at Mt Agung and determined to add that to our list next time.