There is a kind of mania here for watching the sunrise from beautiful spots, so when we signed up for a hike up Gunung Batur in Bali, they came to roust us out of bed at 2 a.m. Before we knew it, we were scrambling up a sandy, rocky path with only flashlights and a sliver of moon to light the way.
Maybe they were worried about me and Colbert. When we pulled into the dark parking lot at the bottom of the mountain, I had heard the driver tell the guide: “Cewek-cewek” (CHAY-wek CHAY-wek): “Girls.” His tone did not suggest confidence in our hiking abilities.
We were the first ones on the mountain, and we held our own. All the way up, we could look back and see the flashlights of later hikers bobbing their way up the slope.
The sunrise was nice, but the mountains are so stunning they don’t really need any help. Batur is a double crater. The outer cone is 17 kilometers around, with a little lake nestled inside; next to the lake is a smaller, sharper peak.
The whole landscape is shaped into steep slopes and distinct waves, the legacy of eruptions in 1994, 1974, 1963, 1926, 1917, and on back through the centuries. I’ve been lucky to hike in a lot of amazing places — the Rockies, the Whites, the Andes, the Alps — but this is one of the amazingest.
I was somewhat dubious of our guide, Nyoman, at first, because he seemed to talk a little loud. (Are the Balinese generally loud-talkers, or have I just gotten used to nearly-inaudible Javanese speech?) But he won me over with his obvious desire to get away from the crowds. There are four huts at ever-higher spots on the mountain, and every time a group arrived at our hut he would take us on to the next one.
One time another guide swaggered in, caught sight of me and Laura and bellowed, “HEY, dude, how ya DOIN’? That’s what AMERICANS say.” He was so secure in his knowledge, I saw no point in answering. I just heaved a sigh of relief when Nyoman picked up his bag and headed for the door.
After sunrise we played that timeless volcano game, “cooking in the steam vents.” The eggs came out hard-cooked and a little smoky, and very tasty after a long climb.
A glass of kopi susu from the hut lady rounded out the meal. She hikes up every morning from the nearest village and sells tea and coffee till about noon. It’s a strenuous job, but it comes with a great view.