The entire Indonesian island chain was volcanically formed, so what would our trip to Bali have been without climbing one of these majestic peaks. And of course, the best time to do so is pre-dawn, in order to catch sunrise on the summit.
We chose to climb Gurung (mount) Batur, an active volcano in the northeast of Bali, which erupts periodically, the last time around 2000. It’s about an hour drive from Ubud, so in order to make the top by dawn, we were collected from our bungalow at 2:30 AM by a pair of smiling locals in a 4WD. After driving around town for about 25 minutes looking futilely for another supposed tour-goer, we headed north. The drive was a bit harrowing, taking narrow roads at high speed in the middle of the night, but at least everything was deserted.
When we got to the base of Mt. Batur, we met up with our guide, a really friendly young man from one of the local villages. He asked us where we were from, and when we said America, he said “Obama!” Alina told me later that Obama’s family has Indonesian background, so that could be the reason. Our driver went to buy our breakfasts (a loaf of sandwich bread, a few bananas, and some eggs), and then we were off.
The climb up was pretty uneventful, if a bit of a slog. Happily, both of us seemed to be in pretty good shape and we didn’t have to rest, though our guide kept trying to get us to. I think they have all the times budgeted out for slower walkers.
Fog and clouds kept rolling in and out as we walked higher, and once we reached the top, it was the same. We were worried we wouldn’t be able to see sunrise, but luckily there was a decent breeze, and the cloud cover would come and go pretty quickly. We huddled in a shack on the summit, trying to stay out of the wind and moist air, while our guide cooked our breakfast.
As sun broke over the sea and coast, the first rays of light lit up some of the cloud formations and made brilliant colors. We could look out over the land below, and the big crater lake and surrounding villages.
We were brought our boiled eggs and banana and bread sandwiches and happily munched on them as we watched the colors change.
The sun would come and go from behind the clouds and fog, and sometimes we would get really incredible displays in the backlit clouds.
After the sun fully rose, we headed off around the ridge to take the long way back down. The way the volcano formed is really interesting. There must have been a series of upwellings, as there is an inner and outer caldera, creating a double ringed structure, with crater lakes in between. In addition, there are all the lava flows from the various frequent eruptions.
As we walked along the ridge we passed some steam vents, where they were boiling the breakfast eggs for another group of hikers coming up the other way. We tried to get near to the cracks, but they really were like a little natural oven, really hot.
We were supposed to see some big craters formed by recent eruptions, but everything was covered in fog by this point, so it was an eerie walk along this ridgeline.
On the way down we passed by the large black lava fields of the 1968 eruption, which displaced many people and destroyed villages in the valley.
Our guide told us about a hilltop temple in the center of the flow area that is considered very holy because it survived the lava unscathed, and sheltered people during the eruption.
We continued on our way, having a nice walk through the fields and forest surrounding the mountain, as we made our way back to the cars and the drive back to Ubud. We even got to see the local crop of large chilies growing on the bushes.