Before I came to Bali, a good friend of mine was telling me about when she came here. She mentioned this sunrise volcano trek. I didn’t think much of it when she mentioned it, but when I thought about how I would be in Bali for my special 10/10, and contemplated how I would honor that day, it dawned on me (no pun intended) that a trip to the top of a volcano could not be more poetic or full circle. Add to it that it was a sunrise trek- the symbolism of that- and the fact that I love hiking, and that became one of the only plans I made for what I would do once I got here.
I did my research and found some tour companies online (this was still before I even left for Bali), most companies stopped at a coffee plantation on the way back, which I loved, but I found a couple of companies that stopped at a hot springs too. I knew I wanted that full package, but the places online that made both stops cost between $65 -$85 USD, which seemed pretty outrageous to me. So I figured I’d wait til I got here and hope for the best in finding a similar but cheaper package.
I told you about my new friend, Made, from the tour company, whom I have not seen since (although I did go by there a couple times, but he wasn’t there). He helped me specially arrange to have a driver take me to the coffee plantation, and for an extra charge the hot springs as well, totaling just under $30 USD.
Since this was a sunrise trek, we begin the journey in the dark. The driver was set to pick me up at 2:00 a.m., which meant I had to wake up at 1:30 to get myself together. From everything I read it gets pretty chilly once you get to the top, so it is recommended to wear long pants and a hoody. I brought special clothing with me on this trip just for the trek, because I get cold VERY easily. If someone says it gets “a little chilly” my feet will probably feel like frozen ice blocks. I did not want to be miserable up there, so I prepared myself. I brought my jeans that I often hike in, football style socks, a tee shirt and a hoody, even though we start at ground level where it’s still pretty warm.
When my driver finally arrived, I tried to be friendly right from the beginning, and started making conversation as soon as I got in the car. I figured it would be just the two of us for the couple of hours drive, so i was hoping I’d be making a new Balinese friend out of it. As we’re heading out on the road, and I’m asking him questions I notice something out of the corner of my eye. I turn my head just a bit to see, in the darkness, a man in the back. I jumped and startled loudly, at which point I realized there was also a woman in the back. It was then clear to me that this was going to be a group car ride. I could not stop laughing!
I knew that once I got to Mt. Batur there would be other trekking tours happening too, but I guess since the hot springs package was specially arranged, I figured it was going to be just me for ride out there. Once I pulled myself together I introduced myself to the other trekkers, a French couple, or, as I call them- the ghosts in the back. Seriously, that is an earie experience to see someone in the back of a dark car when you’re not expecting it, especially after only sleeping for 3- 4 hours.
Anyway, we then made our next stop to pick up a couple more trekkers. Two Austrian dudes, probably in their mid-twenties. The driver kind of sucked. He clearly did not give a shit and was not a good communicator. His English wasn’t great, which didn’t bother me, but he just didn’t communicate anything that was happening. We’d pull over to the side of the road, out in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night, he’d get out and disappear. We had no idea what was going on. Eventually he came out, with two more trekkers, another French couple, probably in their sixties, which he crammed into our already cramped van. One of the only times being single is socially beneficial is when you are in a packed tour van and are given the front seat.
As soon as we got out of Ubud it started raining and rained the entire drive. In a tropical environment like this it’s a craps shoot anyway whether we’ll actually get to see the sunrise or not. So we were just hoping that the rain would let up by the time we got to the top.
After the last French couple, we continued on our way, until we pull over to some roadside coffee shack, still dark out, with tons of people crammed under the tiny roof. Part of the package was two breakfasts, one small one before we start the trek, and one small one once we get to the top (I brought granola bars with me just in case- and I’m so glad I did). Since there were so many people already crammed under the coffee shack roof, we were told we would get our coffee and breakfast in the car. We all just kind of shrugged our shoulders. Except for the Austrians. They were passed out.
A man comes to the car, holding an umbrellas and a tray of little espresso mugs and passes them around. We sip our little coffees in the car, giggling at the ridiculousness of it. Then, we are delivered, in the same fashion, a tray of banana pancakes (not the good ones I was telling you about before, these were more like how we would make in the states). With no serving utensils or anything, we each pick, with our hands, one tiny, lukewarm banana pancake from the pile, and pass it through the van until we’ve all gotten one. Again, we just giggle. After a few minutes of no driver in sight, he finally returns and we head to the mountain.
Like I said, I knew there would be other trekking tours happening, but what I had in my mind was a few handfuls of groups such as our own. When we arrived, there was a huge packed parking lot with probably about two hundred trekkers ready to set up this mountain. We were all given our second breakfasts to carry with us to the top- a little plastic lunch pack with some white bread, with a little packet of pineapple jam, a banana, an egg to cook in the volcano steam at the top, and a bottle of water. We were told we would be given flashlights as well, but I brought my own headlamp, and I’m glad because a lot of people had to share flashlights.
It was still raining. In fact, later, one of the guides said it had been raining non-stop all night, but about five after we started walking, the rain stopped! The Austrians and I walked together for quite a while, until we really started gaining altitude, then I had to slow down and take some water breaks. They were super cool and we got along well. When I told them where I was from, they referenced Arnold Schwarzenegger being governor, which I thought was funny.
Anyway, when we started the trek I had no idea who or where any of the guides were. There were so many damn people! In my research, they claimed that (I’m paraphrasing here) if you are in decent shape this trek should be fine. Being that I hike frequently, sometimes every day, I thought I’d be fine. But I have to be honest, it was pretty strenuous for me. It was good, but it was strenuous. I had to stop to catch my breath and drink water so many times. I regretted the damn jeans, socks, and tee shirt. I would’ve been fine in some flowy Balinese pants or light leggings, ankle socks, and a tank top under my hoody. Yes, it was a little chilly at the top. I needed my hoody for a few minutes, but for the duration of the experience I was drenched in sweat, and I don’t usually even sweat very much. On my frequent stops I met the loveliest Indian couple, who were also making frequent stops. We made our way up the rest of the mountain together.
Because there were so many people and our pace was determined by the crowd in line to get up the mountain, the sun started rising before we made it to the top. It was okay though because we still got to see a lot of the colors and view as we made our way up the last of the trail. The view was breathtaking. It looked over Lake Batur and some other small mountain.
I have a pretty good photographic eye, and can snap a good shot, but I was disappointed I wasn’t able to get better photos. There were too many people. Every time I’d get the angle or the lighting just right, an arm or a head would get in the way. It was also difficult to really take it all in because the crowds were so distracting. When we finally made it to the top, the sun had risen from the horizon, but it was still pink and beautiful. We got up there just in time, because about five minutes later the fog rolled in and covered up the view. It eventually cleared again, but we had already moved on from the viewing point… to the monkeys.
There were tons of monkeys at the top and I did manage to get some great shots of them. But, man, I could not believe how stupid people were being with those monkeys. It made me sad. Giving them candy bars, and taunting them, then surprised when the monkeys freaked out at them.
I enjoyed the monkeys a lot. After a while with them we eventually made our way back down. On the way down I finally met our guide and he was super cool. I also found myself walking alongside a group of Euros who seemed like a really fun bunch, and had me laughing with their conversations. I ended up running into them the next evening, but unfortunately it was their last night in Bali, which was a disappointment, because they would’ve been a lot of fun to have a few drinks with.
So, overall, as meaningful as it was for me to spend my 10/10 atop a volcano, the tour was a bit of a disappointment to me. It was great in a lot of ways, and I’m certainly glad I did it, but it would’ve been a more powerful experience (no matter the date), if there weren’t so many people.
What did make it all a powerful experience for me, was the hot springs. When we finally found our driver, the Austrians, and the older French couple were shuffled into other cars, and the younger French couple (a.k.a the ghosts) and I were taken to the hot springs.
It’s hard to think of what to say, other than: HEAVEN. The mineral pool was an infinity pool that edged along Lake Batur with that other little mountain right across from us. SO MAJESTIC. That was when I really was able to sit with my thoughts and reflect on the power of the moment. How grateful I felt to be there, to have brought myself to that place, in every sense. Soaking in the warm mineral water, with elephant fountains shooting hot water from their trunks, after spending the morning on a volcano, thinking about how I would’ve never gotten to experience that, had my wedding actually happened. I can’t even imagine where I would be, nor do I want to. It actually makes me cringe to think about.
I spent the rest of the morning soaking in the warm waters and taking in every detail I could, knowing that as soon as I got back in that van, it would all be a memory.
When we did get back in the van, there were still more memories to be made. We stopped at the coffee plantation, which was a lot smaller than I expected, but it was a nice little tour. The French couple had already been there a couple times, so they waited in the car. My tour guide at the plantation, Putu, was awesome. At the end of the little tour, I was given a coffee (and tea) tasting. I barely had any though. Between our car ride coffee, and a couple of cups I had at the hot springs (I paid a little extra to get a breakfast buffet while I was there. I needed sustenance), I don’t think my stomach could’ve handled any more coffee.
After that, we made one more quick stop to check out the view of the rice terraces, which were so beautiful, and everything you would expect them to look like (but also lots of tourists).
Then we finally made our way back to Ubud, where traffic was especially bad, so my driver asked if he could just drop me off on the side of the road. I didn’t care, it was right at the corner of my street, which I walk all the time anyway, but I still thought it was a funny way to end things.