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Lombok to Bali - Mount Rinjani says "hi"

INDONESIA | Sunday, 28 June 2009 | Views [1651]

"One ringgit. One ringgit ok?"

I hold up the note in front of my face so the man behind the counter can see. His eyes widen and his lips purse. His is the face of someone who has been offered an extremely good deal but doesn't want to let on.

His nod is quick. My sigh of relief follows equally fast.

I've been on this ferry from Lembar in Lombok to Padangbai in Bali for the past six hours. I'm dying for a cup of tea but I have no Indonesian rupiah left. The going rate for a cup of hot water on this boat is 2000rp, or about 25c New Zealand, which is about 50 sen Malaysian, or half a ringgit. I suppose when you look at it that way, my one ringgit is twice the asking price, and that may be the reason for the man's excitement.

I hand over the money and he fills a glass with water from a rice cooker while his mates examine the note with equally disproportionate excitement. I now have a glass of boiling water. Success! I lower my tea bag into the water and wrap the handle-less glass in tissues so that I can lift it without burning my fingers.

The man sees my precarious situation and hurries to open the door for me as I clutch my prize between two hands. My thankyou is profuse. His is too. We both feel like we've swindled the other. I think that's the best outcome you could hope for from any transaction.

I climb the stairs to the top deck of the ferry. My calf muscles scream. My thighs join in. I'm a spastic carrying a glass of boiling water. If Madeleine were here instead of ten metres away sitting with our bags she would deadpan: "Mount Rinjani says 'hi'."
We are into the sixth hour of a four hour ferry crossing. We have been sitting outside Padangbai harbour for the past two hours. Word on the street is that there's something wrong in the port and we can't dock. About an hour ago we thought we might be moving, but it was just the ferry turning in a big languid circle.

In the meantime the sun has set over Bali and threatening clouds have rolled over the hills behind Padangbai.

We have no food. We have no money. We had 20,000 rupiah (about $2 USD) at the start of the day in Gili Trawangan, but that has been spent on four packets of rice + noodles + spicy chicken wrapped in a banana leaf, one hunk of watermelon, nine bananas, two packets of peanuts and one large bottle of water. The food was wastefully scoffed hours ago when we thought that dry land, an ATM and banana juice were not so far away.

I sit down with my tea. Rinjani says hi as I do so. I try to catch some soothing whiff of jasmine but it gets whipped away by the wind and diesel fumes. Madeleine gets up and goes for a walk.You can tell the people who have just come down off Mount Rinjani by their walks. They'll be stiff, slow and purposeful. You can also recognize them by their groans: Every change in elevation, every uneven path, every step up or step down is a fresh agony. If you watch them getting up from a chair you could be mistaken for thinking them prematurely aged to feebleness: Watch them grab hold of poles, pillars, rails and arm rests and use them to propell their bodies in the right direction, since their legs can no longer be relied upon.

And watch them laugh at the ridiculousness. This is Rinjani saying hi.

To climb Mt Rinjani you need to ascend 2000 metres in one day. It takes eight hours, more or less, with stops for drinks, lunch, gasping, crying, looking at disbelief at the forest that just goes on and on in an endless identical procession of roots that are just slightly too high for you to climb up without holding onto something.

For me it was eight hours of saying "oh my god" and singing "Total Eclipse of the Heart" over and over.

After six hours of forest and tree root it turns into two hours of loose gravel and no trees. At this point my arse and legs in conspiracy with my lingering cold decided to give up the ghost. I was shuffling centimetres with every step. I wanted to lie down and dig a hole in the gravel with my hands and bury myself in it forever and ever. So our guide, the lovely if silent Anton, carried my bag and I hauled only myself up the volcano for the next 45 minutes.

When I was researching this back home I had a mind to do the three-day trek: To the rim, down to the crater lake and hot springs, and then back up to the rim and down the mountain again. Fortunately Mt Rinjani is currently erupting from the new cone that is forming in the middle of the crater lake, so nobody is allowed to go beyond the rim. No lake. No summit. Thank god. If it had been possible I would have booked it and my leg and ass muscles would have bludgeoned me to death in my sleep.

So I climbed the mountain. It was my first ever live, erupting volcano. We ate a big plate of nasi goreng with an egg on top and sweet black tea and watched the sun go down over Bali. At night while bundled up in every item of clothing in our possession we could hear the booms and rumbles of a volcano with bad gas. When emerging from the tent in the middle of the night to find an opportune place to pee we could see the orange glow of hot stuff issuing from the baby cone in the middle of the lake: squatting with pants around ankles in the chill night air, volcano booming in the distance, saying hi to Rinjani in a rather personal way.

(Speaking of peeing: There is actually a loo on the rim. It was built with the help of the New Zealand government. We have a vested interest in being able to take a dignified dump at the top of a volcano in Indonesia, it appears. Unfortunately the door that they affixed to this toilet would also make a splendid wind break for the camp fire area, so it was swiftly removed and reemployed in this new role, leaving the crapper doorless, and the New Zealand government the proud sponsors of a cooking fire shelter.)

Anyway. The result of all this is that I get to be one of those wankers who can start stories with "When I was climbing the volcano in Lombok.... "

That was what I was really after.

We're moving again. Madeleine and I will be back in Kuta this evening, where there is a BLT and banana juice with my name on it.

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