I'm fascinated by volcanoes. I'm an Arts student through and through, but I hold a childlike fascination for all things science and when it comes to volcanoes, I'm like a five year old. I have a box full of rocks and pottery from all around the world and I've always been fascinated by the myths and legends which surround volcanoes - am I screaming "nerd" loud enough yet? When I visited Sorrento, I climbed Mount Vesuvius and loved the climb, the crater and of course the views, so when I headed to Bali I knew I had to climb Mount Batur. Once I discovered that you could trek to the top for sunrise, I knew I had to take on the challenge during my time in Bali.
Mount Batur isn't the most active or largest volcano in Indonesia, but it is the volcano that most people climb due to its location in Bali. I booked the Mount Batur Sunrise Trek with Private Path via Voyagin for my final day, before I headed to the airport. I do love squeezing in some last minute adventure! I could have booked a tour in the city from one of the many stands in the centre of Ubud and saved money. However, I just felt safer booking online with an official receipt and although I certainly overpaid for the reassurance, as I was travelling solo it felt worth it. Be prepared for everyone in the group to have paid a different price depending on where they bought their ticket and how hard they haggled! A fellow solo female traveller was told she couldn't get a refund on her solo traveller supplement and the tour guides actually demanded more money from her before they allowed her to climb. As mine had all been paid online and I requested the solo traveller charge to be refunded online, I did get my money back. As with many things in Bali, it's worth bearing in mind that you will get a better deal if you buy face to face and barter for your ticket, but do your research on what you can expect to pay first.
As I stood in the pouring rain surrounded by broken branches and a river of water running down the road, I almost expected to receive a phone call saying that the trek was cancelled. But at about 2am, the minibus arrived and my adventure began. There were six people in our group in total and it took just over an hour to reach the foot of Mount Batur. Here, we joined about four other groups, were given coffee, bottles of water and torches and greeted by our guide for the trek. Still in the pitch black of night, we switched on our torches and the groups headed off into the night at an immediately fast pace.
The track was narrow and only allowed one person at a time, instantly meaning you had to keep pace or hold up another group. I'd read posts on the trek before and, although they said that the walk was challenging, I had honestly dismissed them. I see myself as someone of average to above-average fitness, I already owned walking boots and I've enjoyed a variety of walking holidays. Yet this was the most physically challenging thing I've ever done in my life. Our group had a real mix of abilities, including one girl from America who regularly hiked mountain ranges to another who had dressed in jeans and Converse. One member of our group struggled with the incline and despite repeated requests to stop or go at a slower pace, our guide didn't slow down because the "fixed deadline" of the sunrise meant that we had to climb at a certain speed. We all made it to the top (just!) but you will have a more enjoyable time if you prepare and know what to expect! I had certainly underestimated other people's warnings and when I decide on my next volcanic trek, I'll be doing some training.
If you really can't make the climb, the locals have spotted an opportunity to make some money and motorbikes are on hand to take you almost to the summit, if you dare. It all added to the slightly bizarre and overwhelming experience, as we had to regularly stop at the side of a narrow dirt track to allow a motorbike to come roaring past, offering a trip to the top - at a price which was sure to be fiercely negotiated. Not to forget that during our climb, the downpour continued as well as thunder and lightning! It was truly awful conditions which meant that we knew our chances of seeing a sunrise at all were slim, but it made me more determined to reach the top.
The last section was the hardest and at times, I was practically dragged up by our guide who was on hand to pull anyone up the slope who needed a boost. At one point, I stumbled whilst trying to clamber up a particularly high rock and fell, crashing back down the path and almost off the edge of the thin muddy path down the side of the volcano. Luckily, I only had a few scratches and I gave up all attempts to look human and climbed up the rocky path on my hands and knees - a far safer option if you are clumsy like me! The downpour continued as we dragged ourselves up the last few steps to the crater and huddled, soaked to the skin, underneath a tiny hut with about thirty other people, ready for the sky to lighten.
Our ticket included a breakfast at the top of the volcano, including eggs "cooked in the steam of the volcano." Perhaps naively, I believed we would be able to watch this but instead we were presented with some hard boiled eggs in a cardboard box, which had clearly been pre-cooked and slightly warmed in the steam. This was accompanied by some soggy banana sandwiches in white bread and not much else unless you wanted to buy something from the locals selling chocolate bars and coffee, which wasn't exactly the breakfast of champions I was hoping for after our climb! Make sure you bring your own supplies as you will need to eat during the trek to ensure you are fueled properly for the journey or bring some money to buy something at the top. We shivered, from both cold and excitement, as the sky gradually grew lighter. There was no perfect sunrise for us thanks to the weather, but it was still magical to watch the view reveal itself and see quite how far we had climbed over the last few hours.
Once the sun had risen, we could explore the top of the volcano. The last eruption of Mount Batur was in 2000 but the volcano still feels awake; a steady flow of steam curls into the sky from the crater and you can regularly hear the rumble of rock falls echo around the crater. Monkeys and even dogs live at the top of the volcano, feeding off bananas and scraps from tourists and guides, which adds to the feeling of the place as "alive." We clambered down to the edge of the crater, where the steam poured out from the rocks. Our guide showed us how the steam turned white and whooshed out of the crevices in the rock when they lit a match near it, which was fascinating to see, and you could smell the distinctive rotton-egg smell of sulpher everywhere. As well as the steam, we learnt about the underground temple, hidden in the darkness of a gap in the crater, out of sight. Monkeys ran in and out of the crevice and it was fascinating to learn more about the volcano as a sacred place as well as an incredible geological site. After admiring the views for a little longer, it was time to descend (much more quickly than we reached the top!) and return to my hotel - and then the airport.
The Mount Batur for sunrise was one of the most physically challenging yet rewarding experiences of my life. What's yours?