The booming sound of a foghorn ripped through my head! In an instant, I was awake and in a panic. Where am I? What’s going on? I looked to my right in time to see Amy’s fear-stricken eyes searching frantically for the source of the noise. Then I remembered: There’s no imminent danger. We aren’t about to get ploughed by a ship. It’s 1:00 a.m. and we need to get up if we want to catch the sunrise. Man, I really need to change my alarm tone.
I had been looking forward to this day since we touched down in Bali. With less than a week left on the island, we had finally booked the two-hour sunrise hike up Mount Batur; Bali’s only active volcano. I wasn’t overly excited about the fact that we had hired a guide. My preference was to make our way to the base of the mountain on a scooter and then go at it alone. There are hundreds of tourists making the hike during peak season and getting lost would be nearly impossible. We had heard, however, that guides get aggressive with unaccompanied foreigners. I mean, can you blame them? We can’t just hike up their mountain for free. We decided to hire a guide in the interest of self-preservation.
Our driver picked us up at around 1:30 a.m and two hours later we began our ascent. The hike itself was tiring but not excessively strenuous. People of all fitness levels should make it to the top if they go at a comfortable pace. Unfortunately, our guide was half mountain goat, and he hopped his way up the mountain with the grace of a hairy Balinese ballerina. Needless to say, he set a pace that was difficult for, *cough*, Amy, to match. The fact that we were hiking in the dark introduced another level of complexity to the experience, as well. We arrived at the summit at 5:30 a.m., soaked with sweat, and happy to have made it in time. We were an hour early, actually.
Within five minutes, our body temperature returned to normal. Within 10 minutes, we were near freezing. “Freezing” isn’t an eventuality that I considered when I decided to climb an active volcano. With an hour to go before sunrise, the frigid air quickly became problematic. We perched ourselves on a rock and prayed for warmth. Our prayers were answered, at least in part, when our guide brought us breakfast; banana sandwiches and piping hot boiled eggs. Amy and I clung to the eggs with both hands and fought back squeals of elation as the warmth restored the blood flow to our fingers.
Gradually, the day filled with light, and we got a first look at our surroundings. We were elevated well above the cloud line and had spectacular views in every direction. At 6:30 a.m., together with at least 300 others, we watched the sun creep over the horizon and paint the sky with colour. Between the view and the sunrise itself, it was a sight to behold. There was much celebration, and many “sunrise selfies” were taken by everyone involved.
When the time came for us to descend, we decided to take the long route back; around the caldera and down the far side of the volcano. The longer route gave us a chance to explore the volcano more thoroughly, and it was worth the extra 45 minutes. Our guide explained the history of the area, showed us some interesting sights, and introduced us to steam cooking eggs and bananas in the many fumaroles (steam vents) that surround the mountain. I’m not sure about the health ramifications of this practice, but it was interesting to watch the locals cooking their food in makeshift grass ovens.
We reached the bottom a couple of hours later, tired, dirty, and happy. This experience was the cherry on the top of our month-long adventure in Bali. We loved almost every second.
If I were to do it again, I wouldn’t hire the guide. For me, the experience would’ve been enhanced by the excitement of figuring it out for myself. During peak season (July and August), there are so many tourists hiking the path that you could easily get lost in the crowd and follow them to the summit. Just remember to pack warm clothes and something to eat; you’ll need both when you reach the top.