Throwback Thursday Tales: This One Time, I Climbed a Volcano

This week’s throwback Thursday tale is a LONG one! So, if you read it to the end, kudos and hearts to you. Today’s wee (aka probably too long) narrative is inspired by one of my favourite people. For those of you who don’t know him, he’s my awesome travel buddy, co-adventure seeker, and boyfriend; and we are going to call him “Ski”.

For the past 2 years, Ski and I have been doing the whole long distance relationship thing; he’s in Canada and I’m in Korea. A lot of people here ask me how we do it, and if I would do it all over again. The answers to both are, 1)we’re awesome, and 2)absolutely. Super unhelpful answers, right? Ok, ok; I’ll elaborate.

One of the reasons that Ski and I have been able to make the distance work is that he has a great job and pretty good

Vietnam

Vietnam!

vacation time; but the main reason is that Ski takes that vacation time, and uses it to come see me. In February 2014, he made a trip to Korea so he could see where I lived; that vaca was cool in and of itself, but we both decided that if he was going to be spending all that cash again, and I was going to be using vacation time, then we wanted to put it to good use; which we did by hitting up Vietnam in September 2014, and meeting in Bali at the end of January.

Both trips were pretty excellent (understatement of the year), but there’s one moment from our Bali trip that will forever be a highlight…and it’s something we didn’t even decide to do until the very last minute. Funny how things like that work out.

Being the adventurous people that we are (at least, I like to think we are), Ski and I decided to climb a volcano. In the dark. At 4 a.m. To reach the top for sunrise. Did I mention we also decided to climb the harder trail to the top? Cool points all around. I’m totall bragging and I don’t care because it’s been a long road to getting fit, and I think I’ve earned it…so here goes a little more. The guide we were with, who makes the climb at least once a day, told us that it usually takes people 2.5 hours to reach the top. We reached the summit in 1.5 hours, beat that! Now that I’m done my brag…

Reaching the Top

Reaching the Top

When we were headed up the volcano, we passed through a small town – home to some great hot springs – where everything was invisible at night, even the massive lake and ginormous mountains. Luckily, we had our guide’s trusty light to see the forest, and managed to pick our way carefully over impossibly large roots to stop, oh so casually, by a temple nestled in a damp clearing. The temple looked rundown and like it hadn’t been used in decades; turns out that it’s used once a year for a ceremony that brings hundreds of people from all over Bali. The volcano village almost triples in size for the week, and the visitors set up lean-to houses, using these somewhat skeletal and creepy looking brick foundations (creepy because they have no roofs and just look like the place was abandoned), that are permanent fixtures of the surrounding farmland.

Ski at the Top

Ski at the Top

Once past the temple, the real climb began. The going was fairly quick, but rough, because we couldn’t see a foot in front of us and were relying on our guide’s headlamp to lead us over slippery volcanic rock (did I mention it had rained?), up steep slopes that required you to be 6’1” and all legs to step over, and past sliding volcanic sand that threatened to topple you on your butt before you fell the rest of the way down to the village. It wasn’t until we stopped for a rest about halfway up that I realised just how steep the climb was. I turned on the spot, and with my back to the volcano, looked pretty much straight down…except I couldn’t see anything because it was 4a.m. Instead, I looked up and out and was left catching my breath not just from the climb, but from the sheer awesomeness of the stars. They lit up the dark in a way that no camera could ever capture (unless we’re talking about the Hubble telescope), though I did my best to get it on my little digital one (no, it didn’t work). I spent the rest of the climb either making up excuses to stop and look, or slipping over easy purchases because I my head was 180 degrees over my shoulder. Pretty sure I got a nice bruise out of it. Worth it.

There's a crater behind us!

There’s a crater behind us!

Good thing Ski and I made good time with our guide though, because by the time we made it to the top the sky was already starting to lighten. It was a huge relief to be on flat ground again, even if the ground was a space smaller than my Korean apartment (see Palatial Palace for teensy reference), and if you’ve seen that then you know that that’s pretty darn small. The summit had a small lean-to, and was playing host to about 3 other guide and hiker groups. Lucky for us, we climbed during the off-season so the area wasn’t too crowded, and our view was incredible. We were super lucky because it turns out that the day before and after we were there was nothing but cloud coverage. Heck ya! If we’d chosen a different day we wouldn’t have seen the cool mountain peaks ahead of us, the black rock to the East, the lake starting to sparkle with rising sun below us, or the dormant crater at our backs. Incredible doesn’t begin to cover it.

Sit Down to Eat

Summit Breakkie

Even better? Ski and I had packed a few snacks, anticipating some serious hunger after the climb, but it turns out they weren’t needed. Our guides were amazing and had brought breakfast up the mountain with them. They made us hard-boiled eggs, which they cooked in the sulfur steam coming from the edges of the crater. How cool. Complete with toasted bread (I’m pretty sure they also had a small grill up there), local fruit (I can’t remember the name of them, but they were pink and delicious), and warm hot cocoa that the boss whipped up for us (yep, the guides have a boss who, apparently,gets to the lean-to even earlier than the hikers to set up shop; talk about your dedication). I don’t know if it was the orange and red of the sun coming up behind the mountains, or the fog that rolled slowly over the black lava, or the lush green of the crater, or the stray dog exchanging cuddles for food, or simply the exhilaration of the climb, but I have never tasted anything so omnomish.

The funny thing about the climb though was that once we reached the top and watched the sunrise, there was the option to climb a little further around the teeny tiny rim of the crater to a lookout point. Not funny yet? It gets there. Ski is afraid of heights, I am not. It turns out however, that when the trail is tiny and there’s a crater on one side and an impossible drop off on the other, and the winds are buffeting your body at miles/hour you can only guess, you become a huge wuss. Seriously. Ski ventured out all nonchalantly to the lookout, and I only got halfway before I was crouching behind a boulder and holding on for dear life. I practically crawled back to the lean-to. Like I said, wuss.

Ski Headed to the Lookout

Ski Headed to the Lookout

Once Ski had finished showing me up, and I had regained some sense of decorum and non-wussishness, we headed down to the lower peak to see more of the crater and, GASP, play with monkeys! One of the other guides tried to entice the monkeys with Bintang (the best beer if you don’t know it); our guide was a little more savvy and pulled out husks of corn that the monkeys promptly climbed our arms to get at. Ski was a HUGE monkey hog, but I still managed to have some quality one-on-one time with a fella who snuggled himself around my neck. When he rudely climbed over to Ski, I was secretly happy that the monkey tried to open Ski’s pack to poke around (so sue me). Not only did we get to play with wild monkeys up close and personal, but I got some awesome shots of mama monkeys with their babies (is there a scientific name I’m missing?). The mamas were awesome to see in action, every time one of the wee monkeys got a little too adventurous and started to slip off its shaky limbs, and in the process the branch, mama monkey unceremoniously scooped it up and shoved him protectively against her front, making the babe hang onto her instead of that pesky, wobbly branch. Guess moms really aren’t so different across species after all.

Monkeys!

Monkeys!

Tired of Ski hogging all of our distant cousins, we decided instead to participate in a running slip-slide down the black sand side of the mountain to the base of the volcano. We got down a LOT faster this way, but we did end up with tons of souvenir sand in our sneakers…small sacrifices (not even a sacrifice really, just super cool). Once we had said goodbye to -our wonderful guide – he had to rest because he needed to climb back UP later in the day simply to clean up the trail -Ski and I went in search of a toilet, the hot springs, a foot massage, and food…in that order. By 1:30pm, we had climbed a volcano, played with monkeys, soaked our sore muscles in some gorgeous hot springs with an incredible view, gotten foot massages while relaxing in a spring-side cabana, and eaten a to-die-for lunch. I don’t think any other day on our trip was as productive and adventure-filled as that one.

Because I’m super sentimental, I took the memory card with the hot springs onward photos on them on the plane back to Korea; because I’m blonde, I lost it…but the Christmas-tree shaped mountains, and the floating village are things I won’t quickly forget. Long story short? If you’re ever in Bali and find yourself deciding between the sunrise trek up Mt. Batur, and some other activity, choose the trek. Always, always choose the trek.

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