I jumped off a boat on Gili Air (an island off Lombok, Indonesia) in the torrential rain and dragged my four wet bags-of-shame onto the shore. Yes, four, I know; two big bags, one little bag and one painting. I was so glad I brought over 30kg of stuff with me, including 15 or so long sleeved tops and jumpers (in a part of the world so hot that you can’t walk bare foot anywhere without burning your feet) and other miscellaneous life saving equipment such as a hair dryer. Don’t even get me started on the evil glares I got from the cool teenage backpackers that had one 10kg backpack with everything they needed. Oh no, hang on, there were only three bags… Wait, stop, wait, I yelled out to the boat from the beach, you have got one of my many bags!
The boat came back to deliver my bag, thankfully, after a lot of waving and flamboyant sign language. I squeezed into a tiny decorated carriage attached to a horse. The next thing I know, we were galloping down a dusty beach road. I was absolutely convinced that we would topple over as the carriage clearly wasn’t designed for people that can’t pack, and the enormous potholes didn’t help. So I proceeded to take a sharp intake of breath at every wobble, which apparently pissed off the horse and the driver. I was dropped off at some beach hut with a veranda and a hammock, negotiated a price, and settled down.
Gili Air doesn’t have anything with an engine, except boats. It is peaceful and small and the people were ever so friendly. Imagine white sand beaches, some of the best snorkeling in the world just a few meters from the beach, turquoise waters, gorgeous beach huts and fresh seafood beach restaurants. I did something called “reading a book for fun” – something that I have been too busy or tired to do for a long time. I swam with turtles, 12 of them in fact, and wondered at how majestic they are. I will remember that experience for the rest of my life. A local said to me one a dive one day “if you’re lucky, you might see a shark”. Or unlucky. I didn’t see any sharks, but I was utterly mesmerised by the schools of multicolored fish shimmering in the water as they moved together in perfect synchrony.
Life was getting a bit too easy so it was time for our next adventure: Mount Rijani on mainland Lombok, Indonesia’s second largest live volcano. The tour agency (a random dude in flip flops sitting in front of a faded poster) said it was a “family-friendly” and “easy” trek and that they would provide a “homestay” the first night and then a “Romeo and Juliet” tent at the top of the volcano for the second night. And this operator was so much cheaper than the others – what a find, I thought! So they carted me off to a “home stay”. I really don’t know why I still haven’t learnt my lesson but “home stay” appears to be international code for “shit hole”. I was almost sick when I saw how dirty the kitchen was. My room was filthy, lined with fluorescent lights so I could really examine the dirt. The walls were falling down and the “ensuite” was a room that stunk so bad of urine that I couldn’t breath and boasted a “combo sink and shower” which was basically a mangy tap on the crumbling wall. I paced up and down muttering to myself and then conceded by falling asleep.
The next day, the group started walking at 4:30am. We stopped for lunch in a cloud forest and the amazing porters prepared us a rather extravagant meal. It was very impressive – they were so little but so strong, industrious and smiley. We had to eat really quickly though because we were surrounded by monkeys and scarred wild dogs that were edging closer and closer towards us as we ate. When we left the lunch spot, all the animals fought for the scraps and we heard the screams of the smallest dog.
I struggled to get to the top (to put it mildly) and I lost litres of water in sweat in the process. The only thing that encouraged me to put one foot in front of the other when my legs were shaking was the thought of the gorgeous spa that I would go to afterwards. When we got to the top, we couldn’t see more than a few metres in front of us because we were in a cloud. And then the sky opened like a waterfall. I sat on the floor in a ball, forehead on knees, feeling sorry for myself in a giant plastic bag and waited for the porters to set up the tents. By the time they had set up the tents, everything was wet through, and for the first time since arriving in the continent, it was really really cold. I went to bed at about 7pm because there wasn’t anything else to do, and I couldn’t see anything. When I say “bed”, I mean a dirty and tiny tent with holes and a “mattress” that was a piece of wet rubber about 2mm thick. I had a sleeping bag but I was still freezing cold, and spent the whole night shivering. The wild dogs attacked each other loudly outside our tent all night.
I pretended for hours that I wasn’t dying to go to the loo but I couldn’t wait any longer and had to go. It was 2am. I fell out of the tent and looked up. The stars were epic. I looked down. All I could see was the glint of the eyes of the wild dogs as I caught them with my torch looking at me. Definitely on my top three of most surreal weeing experiences, given that it was off the side of a live volcano in the middle of the night and I was surrounded by wild dogs. I ran back to the tent shaking, not with the cold this time, but with fear that I could have turned into dog dinner.
Sunrise made everything a whole lot better. It was out-of-this-world stunning to see the great expanse of the volcanoes and to watch how the colours and the environment changed so dramatically as the weather shifted so quickly from one extreme to another. I had been so trigger-happy with the monkeys the day before that my camera battery was dead. It was a blessing in disguise really as I was forced to be present in the glorious moment.
I bounced back down to the base of the mountain and got a taxi to the best spa hotel on the island. I drank cocktails and ate tapas on the beach. The next day, I discovered that I was in rather a lot of pain and couldn’t walk. It got worse the day after and then even worse the day after. Who knew that one walk up a volcano would completely cripple me for an entire week. One hundred percent worth it though…