The summit gives great reward to those who make the climb

By Lia Tamboro

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Sengiggi, Indonesia. Five am. I awoke with a start to the shrill morning prayer call of the local mosque. My body screamed for aspirin, my pounding temples a vague reminder of the buckets full of Bintang beer still coursing through my veins.

I shoved my belongings into my bulging knapsack, lit a cigarette, and stepped outside.

My tiny bungalow was nestled into a lazy palm grove overlooking a pristine beach, licked by fractured waves that gave the color blue an entirely new meaning. Hesitantly, I bid farewell to the beachfront and walked out to the road, where a man on a motorbike was waiting to drive me to the looming giant in the center of the island: Gunung Rinjani, the infamous Indonesian volcano. Inside of the crater is a fresh lake and another, newer volcano, Gunung Baru that last erupted in 2004.

I had arranged for a local guide to take me out there. Most backpackers on the Southeast Asia trail don’t come deeper into the country than Bali, so I had resigned myself to going alone. After a two-hour drive into the center of Lombok, I was introduced to my guide, Heri. Heri was a sinewy old man who carried two baskets set into a long bamboo stick, wore flip-flops, chain-smoked, and didn’t speak English. I knew we were going to get along.

Eleven hours, four No Doz, and nearly eight thousand feet later, we arrived at the crater rim. As Heri set up camp, I puffed on a cigarette and admired the view. The wide interior of the volcano was masked with pink clouds, and, looking east, I could see the hazy Gunung Agung of Bali creeping up over the horizon, proud in the setting sun.

It was cold up there above the clouds, and I noticed that Heri had set up my tent. I made some dramatic gestures to express my need to sleep, and then asked him where he was sleeping. He pointed to my itty bitty living space. Oh.

That aside, the next morning I was greeted by the most brilliant sunrise I’d ever seen. I’d seen the sun rise on the beach, and over mountains. But never had I witnessed the sun rise over a smoking volcano in a turquoise lake, within another volcano, sultry rays softly flirting with jagged rock faces and steamy morning mist. This was material for that bible channel that comes on late at night lulling viewers with inspirational piano music and boldfaced psalms.

The rest of the trek was taxing yet invigorating. I relaxed in Mother Nature’s spa, what the indigenous Sasak people believe to be healing and holy hot springs. A girl tried to teach me to fish with just a line. Mostly, though, I hiked relentlessly, in order to make it back to Sengiggi in time to meet some friends. Once, I stopped to rest under a tree, and heard a tinkling bouncing on nearby leaves. I looked up, and saw a black money. Peeing. I moved over. The monkey jumped to another branch, nearer to my head, and resumed his business.

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By the time I met my friends at Lina Cottages in Sengiggi, my muscles twitched with every adjustment of clothing, every slight incline. They were on beach towels, sunning themselves pink.

For about $5, we arranged for a private sailboat to take us to Gilli Trawangan. The island drew a diverse crowd; couples, young people, old people, married people and their young children. Free of hawkers and litter, the sands felt private and cozy. We shared a nice bungalow on the water for $12 a night. It was perfect after the intrepid climb I’d completed.

All photos by Lia Tamboro

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