Charm - Indonesia - Mt. Rinjani


The day after the Wildlife Park, we woke up at 5 am and hiked a volcano called Mt. Rinjani. It was Marin’s idea. The ARC had sent out a flier about a tour they were offering as well as other options offered by the same tour company. One of the options was an overnight hike up Mt. Rinjani. Marin had been dying to go camping for some time. I told her we didn’t have to hike 8 hours up a volcano to go camping but she persisted. Joe thought it was a good idea as well. Cobin and I wanted to go surfing but we thought we might be able to do both. Tully didn’t want to go until Marin talked up the camping aspect and then she was all for it.

We got into a nice air-conditioned van that transported us two hours to a hotel where we had breakfast, met our guides Gus and Surya, and got a briefing on the hike from the trekking company owner, Jul. From what I could understand, we were going to hike for a while, stop and have a break, hike more and have a break, hike more and have a break, then eventually stop and spend the night. We got back into the van to drive to the base of the volcano. Having just booked the trip the afternoon before, we didn’t have too much time to work out the logistics. Didi, my tour contact, told me to keep our backpacks as light as possible since we had porters to carry up our things.

This seemed an impossible luxury but I planned to take full advantage, putting in a few extra things that I wouldn’t have carried myself but thought would be nice to have (extra shoes for the campsite, toothbrush and dental floss, a real pillow, etc). Tyler and I shared guilty laughs that morning as we imagined hiking up with our tiny, lightweight packs while others bore our burden. He, too, had packed a larger amount than normal, and was sharing my glee at not having to carry it. So, when we got to the base of the mountain and were taking our things out of the van, I had an extra bag that held our extra clothes and things that I didn’t want in my pack. The guides asked what was happening with the extra bag that was sitting on the ground while everyone else had on their backpacks. At that moment, I looked around and realized that both our guides were carrying large packs and there were no porters in sight. I had the sinking realization that no one was going to carry my stuff except me. I quickly sorted and distributed the things in the bag between my previously empty pack and Joe’s (who had refused to let anyone carry his stuff but himself). I left behind the pillow and shoes but jammed in the other things I didn’t have time to sort. We started off the trail and I immediately stepped in a large pile of fresh cow manure. I started laughing to myself. It served me right – trying to pawn off my luxuries for someone else to carry. Now both Tyler and I were bearing the burdens we prepared for others – as it should be. Too bad I hadn’t thrown in the extra pair of shoes, though.

What followed was seven hours and eleven minutes of a long, slow slog uphill through an incredibly dusty, eroded, tree-root ridden trail. Thankfully there was shade but I was still completely drenched in sweat and covered with the soft, silty dust that was everywhere. We noticed that the people descending had face masks on and I worried that the dust would only get worse but this turned out not to be the case. It was the same the whole time.

About 30 minutes into the hike, I had serious misgivings. The tour operator, Didi, had told me that it was suitable for families, although not recommended for kids under 5. I remembered our time on the volcano in Tanna and their gentle suggestion that Marin and Tully might be too young for ashboarding. Marin often lags behind on 5-minute walks down the dock. Was her motivation to camp enough to carry her through the predicted 8 hours? Did I have the energy to wheedle, coax, cajole and threaten her for that length of time?

Cobin, Tyler, and Larissa whizzed up the trail, to be glimpsed only at the designated rest stops. Cobin had his Airpods in and his battery on and never looked back. Well, he looked back once, at the beginning of the trail, when he discovered his beloved AirPods were not in his pocket. The guides called the van driver who found them under his seat. I told him that at least they were safe and we would get them the next day. The look of utter despair on his face caused the guide to pick up the phone again. Moments later, a man on a motorbike caught up to us and handed Cobin his Airpods. Rarely has a boy been happier.

Joe and I switched off with Marin and Tully. I’m not sure what Joe did with Marin but I told the “extended version” of any children’s story I could remember as well as variations on all of them. So, we had the Little Red Hen, the Little Green Hen who made chocolate pudding with cooperative animal friends whom she cheated at the end, and the Little Purple Hen who made bread and was able to employ the best skills of all her animal friends so that everyone helped and everyone ate. Then there was the Little Red Riding Hood, the Little Rainbow Riding Hood, and variations on The Ugly Duckling.

It wasn’t always pretty but we made it to the top. There were tents set up and the porters were making hot tea and coffee and working on dinner. We had time to go see the crater that housed a lake and a mini volcano (not sure how that works) and then watch the sun set over the clouds before falling fast asleep in our tents. Not quite fast asleep as, per normal camping, the ground was too hard, the slope too severe, and the temperature too cold for ideal sleeping. The next morning the porters had a breakfast of pancakes and fruit ready and then we packed up and hiked down. This went fairly smoothly although it was still quite strenuous. The angle of the descent along with the slipperiness of the dust and the tree roots meant a lot of quad bracing and balancing. About halfway down, Marin and Tully decided they no longer needed to hang out with me and Joe and started running down with Cobin. They had long ago ditched their shoes (as they had on the way up) and attracted many impressed gazes from the porters and other hikers as they careened down the slope, barefoot and filthy.

A note on the porters. These guys (we saw no women), carried bamboo poles on their shoulders with balanced loads hanging on either end. Sort of like a large, fluffy barbell. As they moved up the narrow, twisty trail, they would shift the load to the opposite shoulder to turn corners or maneuver around slower hikers. But it was on the way down that they were most impressive. On the steeper sections, they would wait until the way was clear of hikers and then just run down, avoiding falls by just using their momentum to carry them through to a flatter section. I consider myself a fit person but I was done at the end of this hike. I was sore for the next three days, mainly from the descent. In addition to carrying tents, sleeping bags, and camping mattresses, the porters made us lunch both days as well as dinner and breakfast, and carried up all the food. We ate very well – chicken and rice, eggs, pancakes, fruit, and all the coffee and tea we could drink. We even got wild chicken on a stick!

On the way down, at a rest stop, we met some other Americans. Two of them were in Indonesia on a Department of State fellowship, studying architecture and alternative energy respectively. The other was visiting them. It’s nice when we hear about our government doing good things, like creating fellowships to bring those young men here. Our tour guide in the bus on the morning of the hike is another example. His name is Teguh and he went to Florida on an internship in the hospitality industry, fully paid for by the US government. He worked in a sushi restaurant at Universal Studios, went home to an apartment paid for by the US, and was able to take some college classes at a local community college, also courtesy of the US government. Then he came back to Indonesia and is sharing his learnings with others. He talked us through how to make sushi rolls on the way to the volcano so it seems like the program is working! So, no matter what you think of those currently in office, somewhere, someone is making at least a few good decisions.

Our biggest distress on the hike wasn’t the pain in our legs (that came later) but the sight of so much trash along the trail. At the lunch stop, where the monkeys came out to steal food, the porters would leave piles of trash and uneaten food. Toilet paper and wipes were littered in any patch of brush that made a good toilet stop and plastic food wrappers and discarded bottles were everywhere. The top of the mountain, above the treeline, was equally disgusting. The porters dig holes and put a little enclosure around them to act as latrines but, when we left, I noticed that they didn’t always fill the holes so the toilet paper just blew off around the mountain. It was pretty disgusting. Our porters, from Senaru Trekking, were very diligent about picking up the trash around our lunch site. I asked our guides why it was so dirty if they picked up so carefully.

Gus told me that their boss, Jul, would not pay them unless they brought down all their trash and that of the clients. After the trip, Jul checked their packs and bags to make sure the trash they brought out was the expected amount before paying them. After the hike, I saw on his website that they offered a free t-shirt and 5% discount to any clients that brought down a bag of trash from the mountain. Unfortunately, we didn’t see that offer until after the trip was over. It’s nice to know that Jul and his team are trying to change the culture. I also saw one porter with a “No trash” t-shirt so there is a movement afoot. Hopefully it will make an impact in the near future.


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