“What a shithole. Let’s get up that big volcano and get our arses outta here,” I said. We’d just arrived in Kintamani on the backseat of a Balinese taxi.
“You think that’s it?” Julie replied in a French accent as she gazed out to a mountain that ran from a gully up to the clouds.
“It must be. It’s the biggest mountain ’round here.”
“Do we climb it from the bottom?”
“Your guess is as good as mine.”
We were at least 10 km from the base of the mountain and around 1,717 meters above sea level.
“We didn’t come all this way to say ‘no’ to a hike and it’s going to be nice once we’ve climbed to the peak.”
Our taxi traced the roads of Bali’s mountainous, Kintamani region—home to a volcano that’s known as Mount Batur. We disembarked on an isolated hillside that had a 180-degree view of surrounding mountains. There was a concrete building that a man ran out to open our car door.
“Welcome to our Hotel,” he said.
I observed a perfect view of the volcano behind the building then walked in to reception to see a “Wi-Fi” sign. A Balinese girl stood behind a counter before she took us to our room.
I returned to reception, “Is the internet down?”
“It’s not so good in the hills here,” said the girl. “Are you looking for a guide for the volcano tomorrow?”
“I need the Internet for now.”
“A taxi to the volcano is 650,000 Rupiahs.”
“We just got a taxi for three hours for 350,000. How far is it to the volcano from here?”
“About 20 minutes.”
“Are there any small cafes near by with Internet?”
“Why’s your taxi nearly double the price I just paid for a longer trip?”
“You get a guide for the volcano.”
“I just want to organize a taxi.”
“We’ll get you the taxi for 650,000 Rupiahs and you’ll get a guide.”
“I’m not asking you for the package. I’m asking you for a taxi to the base of the volcano.”
She didn’t reply.
Julie and I sat down in a common room. The receptionist placed a food and drinks menu on our laps. An uninhabited hillside decorated the landscape outside a window as we painfully endured what the hotel staff called food. I ate satay skewers that I assumed were chicken, though could have been another bird that I’d say was put through a blender before being mounted on the tiny stick. We sat in silence. The volcano’s presence pulsated in the clouds.
A punnet of sugar with dry coffee droplets in it sat beside my cup of coffee.
“I saw a movie once,” I said. “There was a guy in it spiking chicken eggs, that if eaten, would gradually affect the consumer’s psychology.”
Julie turned her eyes from the volcano.
I went on, “The eggs affected the psychological state of the man, who was fed them by a science student who secretly put the eggs in milkshakes. The man lost track of time after a while, eventually, he couldn’t recall what day it was, then the month and soon after that the year.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Julie replied.
“People could come to this mountain, get their coffees spiked, then become addicted to a drug secretly put in their coffees that makes them addicted to a lifetime of nothing on this deserted mountain.” I lowered my tone, “They come, but they never leave.”
I rose from my chair to approach reception’s counter. Locking eyes with the girl, “You must know how to get a taxi around here?”
“You come back for dinner and I’ll let you know,” she replied.
“I’m not sure I want to hang around here too much longer—other options would be nice.”
I shook my head then turned to Julie.
“Let’s go for a walk up to the nearest shops?” Julie said.
I didn’t see any buildings on the way down.
“To do what?”
… Apart from a bunch of stray dogs.
“We can try to find a taxi?” she replied.
“I suppose we can do that.”
The road outside the hotel was deserted and steep. We were high at altitude and the gloomy clouds were near. We hit a sharp corner that turned left in to a gradient that was borderline abseiling. Five aggressive dogs, each with battered and bolding coats, honed their eyes on us beyond that turn. They peered down, barking and scattering to circle around us like a team of animals on a cattle farm.
“They’re stray dogs. Get behind me.” I took Julie’s hand, nearly ripping the arm out of its socket.
Why the hell wouldn’t the useless staff members warn us about these rowdy dogs?
I walked backwards hesitantly. I sensed Julie’s heart beat faster. The dogs shined that dinner look in their eyes.
We’re in shit here.
Adrenaline heated my world up then simplified it—I can fight these mongrels or run for the hills. I held Julie tight by my side. We were stranded on that forsaken mountain. Running would mean Julie trailing behind and her ankles becoming prey.
I stood between her and the dogs.
A creamy coloured mutt, seemingly “second in charge” judging by the way he tried to impress the largest and most confident of the pack, appeared hesitant.
Julie peered over my shoulder. Her hand squeezed mine as I swang her from my left side then back to the right side. The yapping dog followed.
It’s a good thing our hotel was near. I’d have had no option but to rip the front legs of the dog apart laterally if it’d sank its fangs into either of us. I once read this would rupture sternal cartilage and crush the heart. Of course I’d feel like a ripe prick after that. Fortunately, “second in charge” showed further uncertainty, ducking closer and further away like a small nodding parrot.
A truck appeared, rattling down the hill, with a Balinese male driving it. He didn’t look at us for a second, his eyes remained glued on the road.
“Stop the truck!” screamed Julie.
Stop the battered Balinese truck driver?
“Don’t run. Stay behind me.” I tightened her hand then watched the truck drive by.
There was an air of silence that echoed in the valley that ran along a gorge to the volcano’s base. This as a view would’ve been nice, but the dogs were eyeing us off as their banquet. Thankfully, they dropped off at their imaginary boundary. This was at the hotel’s entrance. I released Julie’s hand after a final growl.
A hotel staff watched from the reception door.
Thank you very fucking much. I looked at him bleakly then sat on a brick in the car park.
A peaking mountain in the distance reminded me of our one mission—climb that fucking volcano and get our arses out of here.
Four curious Balinese locals watched on.
Who the hell actually works here?
I looked at a man. “Where can we get a taxi?”
“You want a taxi?”
Never mind why I want the fucking taxi.
“Can you please tell me how to get one?”
“Where do you need to go?”
There’s sweet stuff all in this hotel apart from what you might think is a restaurant.
“We just need a taxi. Is there somebody you can call?”
“But where do you want to go?”
“Perhaps they can take us to the base of the volcano?”
“What do you want to go there for?”
This guy is out of control.
Perhaps it was their restaurant menu preventing him from giving us information. If it wasn’t for us spending there I don’t know who the hell would pay the wages.
The dogs continued to bark as they returned back up the hill of lush green trees.
I looked at a “Wi-Fi” sign on the hotel’s glass window then saw that Julie had run out of the driveway to stop a random car.
“What the hell is she doing?”
She waved me over and I saw a teenage couple sitting in the front of the small car. Julie looked in the front window.
“Can you help us get a taxi?” she pleaded.
I originally thought: they can’t understand her because of her French accent.
I moved close to the car window. “Do you know where we can get a taxi?”
They returned a blank stare.
“A taxi?” I pressed, “Do you speak English?”
They pointed to the base of the hill. Julie’s eyes glowed with hope.
“We don’t know where to ask them to take us. We can’t get stuck down the bottom of the mountain surrounded by stray dogs,” I said. “Lets go inside, we can settle down, then try to use the Internet again.”
Julie’s glimmer of chance vanished. I placed my palms together then bowed my head to the strangers.
A Balinese male observed as we returned to the hotel. “Are they your friends?”
Where the fuck were you when we needed your help?
“No mate,” I replied.
Are you scared we’ll spend money elsewhere and not be trapped here to eat in your restaurant?
“Who were those people in the car?” he pressed.
I turned me head to the car, but it was now gone. Walking back to our room with Julie, we were stopped by another man along the way.
“Have you got a tour guide booked for tomorrow?” he said.
Are these people fucking serious?
“We’re fine thank you. I really appreciate you asking, though.” My palms touched together as my forehead dipped.
“But have you got one?”
“Yes,” I countered.
“How much did you pay?”
Eyeballing Julie, “We need the Internet.”
The volcanic peak pierced high in the clouds.
“I’m sure you’ve got more energy stores than me,” I replied.
Julie was a limber half of my 85 kilograms and her steps could’ve been more efficient than mine. She angled in and out of the trail’s gradient on her tiny limbs.
The hike’s intensity had increased dramatically since the car park. I leaned into the side of the volcano. I was grateful to have my stick.
“I might be better off without the stick,” said Julie. I was starting to think she might have plenty of energy stores.
Deep cracks appeared in the earth the higher we climbed. You could see in them that it’d be a big fall if you’d lost your footing—thirty meters and who knows if you kept rolling.
Time was difficult to measure under the black sky. A minute in the dark is comparable to a minute in sleep in the sense that both are time without light—different to the usual reality of being awake in the day. Hiking the volcano was surreal due to the dark conditions and untouched Balinese terrain. We’d been hiking an hour. The journey seemed more like a controlled dream than an organized tour, so the distance we’d travelled was unmeasurable to my mind.
Ketut stayed quiet during the walk. I couldn’t see the sense in him coming, or why he’d brought his backpack.
My torch lit up a reoccurring red stone in the ground as we approached the volcano’s peak. This stone became more common the higher we reached.
“It’s black lava that is a result of an eruption that took place 2,000 years ago,” Wayan informed us.
The dried lava had become comparable to a terracotta stone that had a glossy, lumpy and solid surface. I guess it was similar to earth clay that’d been heated up to 1,100 degrees Celsius in a pottery kiln. The stone accompanied us for the second half of the climb where the steepness had become a continuously increasing challenge.
The first glimpse of morning light emerged from the clouds. It was perfectly timed, as the mountain’s steepness seemed to flatten out and suggest that we were arriving at the top. It was true that we were, though we weren’t the first to arrive at the volcano’s peak. There were other guides with a handful of tourists who stood above the clouds. Steam seeped through the soil and heated the air upon the arrival of the sense of accomplishment. There was a wooden shack beside the guides and a man serving eggs and bananas cooked on the lava’s steam.
Julie and I sat on a log admiring a 360-degree view from the volcano’s peak. This ran down and vanished below the clouds.
“Did we really climb that thing?” said Julie.
“It’s huge.” I can’t believe it either. “If there’d been sunlight on the way up I’d probably have talked myself out of it.”
“I feel like I dreamt the entire walk,” said Julie.
The steam of the volcano’s lava was pleasant and warm after cooling off from our exercise. Breakfast was served with a strong coffee, which Wayan told me had Kintamani coffee beans.
“You want to go back down the same way or another way?” said Wayan.
“I’d like to see what we walked through on the way up since the sun’s arrived,” I replied.
He didn’t know I was scared of heights. He’d given a small head gesture to an alternate route. I looked in the direction of his eyes to see a trail sitting on a ridge between potentially steep falls.
I pressed, “I’m really interested in the way we came up.”
On the way down a flock of monkeys made their way up the same trail. They walked like a pack of knee high humans, with little regard for us and in an orderly fashion like they were heading for an appointment. They were the long tail Balinese monkeys, which typically have a lifespan of 15 to 20 years. We hadn’t seen any during the hike up in the dark. I guess I was normally in bed at this hour, too. It seemed the little people were heading for the banana scraps at the peak.
Wayan’s friend, Ketut, opened his bag then said his first words while holding two bottles of coke. “Do you want to buy?”
“No thanks, mate.”
I didn’t realize you spoke English.
“I have to go to school now. One bottle is 80,000 and this will help to buy my books.”
I looked at Julie. I wanted to assist. “That’s near ten dollars for those two bottles. You think he walked up this mountain for the sale?”
“It looks that way,” said Julie.
I was keen to help him get through school, though I should say that five-dollars for a bottle of coke in a Third World country didn’t sit well with my tight-ass ways.
“It’s a bit early for sugar. Do you have bottles of water?” I quizzed.
He shook his head.
“So what else do you have?”
“I can’t drink things that sweet this early in the morning, mate. I just had an unbelievable coffee.”
The taste of Kintamani coffee still sat on my tongue. If I’d known he was climbing the volcano before sunrise to sell me two bottles of coke I’d probably have asked him not to come.
Ketut walked away. I didn’t see him again for that journey. I’m not sure of the way he walked down the volcano.
Wayan opened up to us after this.
“When you come to Kintamani you’re like family to me,” he said.
Is he trying to sell us something?
“That’s very nice,” I replied.
“I’m twenty-six years old,” he said.
Holy shit I thought you were thirty-six.
“You got a girl?” I said.
“Yes, but we’re not married. I’m not getting married until I’m thirty. We’ve been together for eight years.”
“What makes you say thirty?” I asked.
“That’s the age that’s right,” he said. “Anything earlier is too young. I’ve asked her parents if I can marry her. Her parents like me.”
I thought about women not being allowed to climb the volcano during menstruation for some reason after that. Wayan seemed a nice man.
“What about the German woman who fell during her climb?” I asked.
“The German?” Wayan was entertained.
“Our taxi driver, the other Ketut, told us she’d fallen in the year 2,000.”
“Did she die?” I said.
“No she twisted her ankle.”
Looking at Julie, “I thought she’d died,” I said.
I guess it was Ketut’s deeper tone in the early hours of the morning that prevented me from asking otherwise.
At the base of the volcano Ketut, the first one, had returned to the car park to stand beside his wheels. I was happy he’d introduced us to a nice man for the hike. All we needed now was a smooth ride back to the hotel then a taxi to the next city.
Ketut’s friend offered to take us to the next town for a small fee. Back at the hotel we couldn’t pack our luggage quick enough before we threw the bags and our bodies into a car.
A man and woman arrived in a taxi as we were leaving the hotel. They stepped out of a car with a rolling suitcase and a backpack. Then I heard the woman say: “Babe, look at the cute little dog!”
Gaston Cavalleri is an Australian travel writer, screenwriter, author and jiu-jitsu athlete. Please support his work by following him on Facebook or considering one of his books as your next travel friend.