It’s 4am. Stars are shining dimly through dark clouds and my eyes are struggling to make out the path or the people in front of me through the darkness. My head torch is fading – should have changed the batteries – and my breath is coming heavy and uneven in the thick, humid air. Sweat trickles down my face.
Rising up in front of us, silhouetted against the dark sky with its peak lost in the clouds is a steep mountain. It’s facade is pin-pricked with little lights, snaking their way up and out of sight into the heavens; the bright head torches of hundreds of better prepared people.
We are at the foot of Mount Batar, an active volcano in the north-eastern highlands of Bali, Indonesia. Trekking to the top of the volcano to see the sun rise is a rite of passage for anyone visiting the island. We have been forced to employ a guide, who speaks very little English but whose short legs have him striding out in front like a mountain goat. We tried to sneak up in the darkness to follow the early morning migration of tourists but were called “terrorists” by the gatekeeping locals and were forced to pay about £40 each for the privilege of following everyone else.
Luckily, our guide feels our frustration and leads us up past the large groups of panting tourists, getting us to scrabble up steep rocky paths. The ground shifts under our feet as we march to the top at a quick pace. My lungs and thighs burn with the effort, my clothes are saturated in a sea of sweat and then, later, in the moisture of the clouds we pass through.
We make it just in time to get a space on a little wooden bench set on the crest of the hill. I shake our guide’s hand in thanks as he puffs out his cheeks, laughing – we made good time and even he is tired from the pace. When we arrive, the darkness is still thick in front of us, but as we sit down, a little sheen of dark blue is appearing in the distance. It is crowded up there. And noisy – hundreds of people keep piling up to the top, buying tea or getting served a breakfast of eggs cooked in the steam of the volcano, or baked bananas. Not really the soundtrack to the peaceful sunrise I had imagined but beautiful nonetheless.
We feasted on chocolate brioche and bananas brought from home.
Once the sun is up, we explore around the rim of the volcano. It is so lush and the view out over the lake and rice paddies below is stunning. There are still patchy clouds below us, which is probably quite lucky as the path was on a steep ridge and the clouds helped obscure the view straight down below.
After such exertions, you can hardly blame us for taking it easy for the rest of outer time in Bali. We made sure to taste as much delicious Indo and Balinese food as possible. We got massages just to see what all the fuss was about.
We visited the Monkey Temple in Ubud, which is exactly as it sounds; monkeys living in an old Hindu temple.
We tried out several different beaches. Bliss.
And then we both promptly got exceedingly ill as punishment for taking it easy. As soon as you let your guard down, sickness will come for you in many guises. In our case, colds, infections and digestion issues. 😳