Kopi Susu a la Volcano

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.

Hot hot hot!

Our ultimate destination was the hot springs, about an hour and a half further up the mountain. The trail got much narrower and less populous after the waterfalls, perhaps because of steep sections like this that left me gasping for breath. I was berating myself for not going to my ridiculous gym more often, when I realized we were probably feeling the effects of altitude as well. After all, 40 percent of Jakarta is actually below sea level, which accounts for its swampy charm.

This observation seemed to be confirmed by our Roller Coaster potato snax, which were bulging in an ominous manner. We managed to disarm and devour them before they could cause injury.

Chad is either calculating the explosive properties of these chips, or picking up a radio signal from outer space

We had visions of soaking luxuriously in the hot springs, but we must have overlooked the small print in the guidebook that mentioned they can get up to 75 degrees celsius (that’s almost 170 Fahrenheit, my fellow Americans!).

The water cut its way down a steep hillside, sending up billows of steam to mark its path. The mist looked pretty in the sunlight. I thought of just soaking my feet, but I had to pull them out again with a yelp. There were some pools nearby, but they were tepid – just barely above the air temperature. So we hung out in the steam bath for a while and then headed back down.

Puncak – the waterfalls

Before hitting the trail up to the hot springs on Mt. Pangrango, you have to make a ritual sacrifice to the Indonesian bureaucracy. Unfortunately I hadn’t brought the traditional offering, my passport, so we had to do a lot of waiting around in a small office before they issued our hiking permits.

Once we got going, though, everything was great. The foliage here is denser than on Merapi; it’s really jungley. This wooden walkway takes you over a long boggy stretch. The air smelled intensely green and planty.

Our first destination was this high rocky valley with three big waterfalls. It’s a pretty cool place, but since it’s an easy one-hour hike, it was really crammed with people. I kept looking around expecting to see guys selling fried tofu or Teh Botol, because it was just like a Saturday afternoon at the marketplace.

I couldn’t figure out whether these people in orange were a hiking group or a company out for a team-building exercise. Or maybe some Ukrainian protesters. They were really whooping it up for the photographer.


Puncak is Jakarta’s weekend getaway, so the capital has exported a certain amount of urban sprawl here. The main road running through the Puncak Pass is clogged with buses and motorbikes, and all the little villages along the way are growing into one long strip of hotels, restaurants, noodle carts, mini-marts, etc.

You may be stuck in traffic for a while, but at least you can get your shopping done. We were offered sliced mangoes, cubes of deep-fried tofu, cigarettes, peanuts, candy, cold Strawberry Fanta, aluminum bowls, vinyl belts, and an elementary English-Arabic textbook.

We arrived in the afternoon and went straight to the lovely botanical garden, which is much bigger (and cleaner!) than the one in Bogor. It’s probably worth a weekend of its own. The air was clean and almost cool enough for a sweater, which was pretty exciting after the prolonged dry/hot season we’ve been having in Jakarta.