I flew all the way to Lombok in Indonesia to shoot the gorgeous destination beach wedding of Raana and Rich. It seemed a no brainer to try and extend my stay a little to explore the area for myself. I had two nights and two days with Rich and Raana and then I had 6 nights to explore the area for myself. I’d decided to do two things. Hike Mount Rinjani and chill out on tiny island just by Lombok called Gili Air.
My simple accommodation on the first night I had alone was a far cry from the five star luxury of Hotel Tugu where I ‘d started my trip for the wedding, it was also far from peaceful too. It was Ramadan and there were several, what seemed to be competing, calls to prayer happening at the same time. It went on until late into the night!
Bleary eyed and nervous I was collected first thing the next morning and taken to meet the other travellers I would be hiking Mount Rinjani with. There was 11 other hikers and the oldest of whom was still ten year younger than me! It showed when I was often lagging behind the group! I do try to keep fit though, so maybe it was the fact I had an inappropriate shoulder bag and a heavy camera in tow. There was no way I wasn’t going to take my camera though!
The first part of the first day of the hike was hot and humid and the second stage dry and steep. It was often difficult to get your footing on the dusty and steep paths. Coming back down that stage was a nightmare too. I spent a lot of it sliding back down on my bottom, grazing my hands and legs as I went. Five later hours later on the way up and we were at base camp, where we spent the night camping. It was a ridge overlooking the crater lake. Our porters had set up our tents and were busy preparing dinner. The food was simple but satisfying . The views of the crater lake and surrounding hills at this spot were breath-taking and as the sun went down the stars came out in force and we had a great view of the milky way above us. It also got quite chilly! My trek buddies and I were also starting to bond on what was already a great experience.
Ascent to the summit
Despite an early night I and many others didn’t get more than an hours sleep and we were up at 2am to start our climb to the summit. We set off under the bright stars in a big convoy of fleece clad, head torch wearing travellers ascending up and up and up. I’m not too bad with heights usually but got pretty scared at times knowing I was next to sheer drops that I just couldn’t see! Once onto the main stretch leading up to the summit, it became very difficult to take steps through the volcanic dust and stones. You would take three steps up and slide back down by two.
A few of us in our group became increasing nauseous and the breaks became more frequent the higher we went. The physical excursion needed, combined with the thinning atmosphere meant that if you do too much you’d feel sick, be out of breath and get a headache. Sit still for too long though and you’d get really cold! The temperature was around a couple of degrees and very few people had the right clothing since most of us had packed to spend time in a more tropical sea level climate! I didn’t quite make it to the top for sunrise and almost gave up a few times. For the last few hundred meters I played some music on my phone to help with morale and on reaching the summit I had a rush of euphoria and shed a little tear. This was the hardest thing I’d ever done.
The hardest thing I’ve ever done
It took me 3.5 hrs to get up to the summit and 2 to get back down to basecamp for breakfast. We still then had 5 hours ahead of us to get back down to Sembalun, where we had started the hike. I was in tons of pain from blisters, sore toes and my camera and bag were feeling heavy. For the last couple of the decent there was the return of the searing sunshine and tropical humidity. That said, we all picked up the pace in the last hour as we just wanted it to end!
That all sounds pretty awful right? It was in part, but that’s not how I’m going to remember it. For me, the sense of achievement, the views and the experience on the whole were well worth the effort. But what made this a truly amazing two days, were without a doubt the people I was trekking with. It would be hard to not bond with the people you do something like this with but I honestly feel I got so lucky with an amazing mix of lovely people. I had so much fun with them and when I think about my Mt Rinjani experience in the future, I’m pretty sure it’ll be their faces and smiles I’ll bring to mind first.
Once back in the village and waiting for our onward transfer, it became clear that the few of us who were hoping to make it to the Gili Islands that same day, were not going to make the last public boat. I was hoping to make it to Gili Air and Inigo, Anton and Pablo, who I’d met on the trek, were going to Gili Trawangan. The latter being the party island out of the three. The third Island is Gili Meno, which is the most laid back, a perfect place for a honeymoon. With me not being away to party or on my honeymoon, I opted for the middle ground with Gili Air. After being there a short while I knew I’d made the right choice. It was a tropical island paradise.
Once down at the port there was lots of frustration as we were being asked for money for a transfer that should have been included. The boys did a great job of negotiating a private speed boat transfer, but the compromise was that they had to come to Gili Air as it was now after dark and unsafe to go to the other islands. With me travelling alone, that worked out great for me as I now had some friends on Gili Air. I met up with them a few times for food, drinks and some snorkelling too.
My hotel on Gili Air was a lovely place to relax and I made a start on editing the wedding photos. It really was an office in paradise and I took regular breaks to snorkel, eat, drink, swim and sunbathe. I took a cooking class one lunchtime too and made some local traditional dishes. As I fly home and contemplate the busy year ahead, I have one thing on my mind, when can I go back!?