Despite the shenanigans that had taken place between the airport and my hotel/cottage, I slept very well for the 3 and a half hours I had before my alarm went off at 5:30 am on Sunday morning. I got up and made short work of washing, dressing and pulling myself together for the day.
Just before 6 am, I headed out of my cottage to the dining area, where I was fed a delicious banana pancake. While I waited for my ride, I wandered around the small grounds of the property, snapping a few pictures here and there. I nodded to my fellow lodgers who came to breakfast but generally kept to myself, getting mentally ready for the day ahead. Near to 7 am, my trek organiser arrived to collect me on his bike, apologising for being late because he had overslept. I grabbed my backpack and hopped on behind him, and we were off…to literally 5 seconds up the road where his office was. Would the shenanigans never end??
At his office, we conducted our business – I paid him the fee we had agreed on and he gave me the trekking poles I was renting from him. He actually gave me 1 pole but I told him that I needed 2, so he added 1 more. I would eventually come to realise that trekkers on the Rinjani trail who choose to use poles actually use only 1; I was the only person with 2 poles on that mountain for the entire 3 days I was up there.
After waiting for a couple more minutes, a different trek organiser arrived with another trekker (who I had actually noticed in the dining area at my hotel/cottage) in tow. Apparently, I was being joined up with a group from another trekking company, which was no problem for me. I was introduced to the other trekker, a young lady from Canada with whom I would be sharing a tent for the next 2 nights. Then we hopped into the back of a pickup with 2 porters and our guide, and were off to collect the rest of our party.
This turned out to be a young couple from Uruguay, who we collected from their hotel/cottage, and another porter. In all, we were 4 trekkers, 1 guide and 3 porters. Our party of 8 was complete.
Our trek would begin in Sembalun village and that’s where we headed, packed together in the back of the pickup with all the gear we would need for the next 3 days and 2 nights. We dropped off our porters at the starting point so they could get a head start, and continued on to the Mt. Rinjani Geopark office to register and get our tickets. By about 9 am, we were all set and ready to go. I accepted a bottle of water from our guide (who seriously looked no older than 16 years old but told us he was 23) threw my backpack on, grabbed my trekking poles and set off with a bounce in my step. Within 10 minutes I was sweating like a pig and not smiling so much anymore, much like day 1 going up Mt. Kilimanjaro.
At first, it was idyllic – gentle slopes, grassy fields, and a herd of cows with bells around their necks gently clanging as they mooed and meandered and grazed. Then the slopes became less gentle and the cows disappeared an and we were all sweating and heaving our way towards Post 1. After about 3 hours, we got there and our guide and porters set up some shade and chairs for us while they prepared lunch. It struck me how much garbage was strewn about. I had been noticing as we were walking all morning that this was so; it turned out that I would see garbage all the way up Mt. Rinjani and back. Clearly, the term “geopark” is used very loosely in relation to this particular mountain. There was discarded gum, candy and biscuit wrappers, soda cans, water bottles, random pieces of paper, cigarette butts, and fruit and vegetable peels. On 2 separate occasions (on day 2 and then again on day 3), I even saw discarded panty liners. It seems that no-one is taking all the “no littering” signs seriously.
Lunch was delicious and our small group’s getting-to-know-you lunchtime conversation was great. But we had a mountain to climb so we were off again by about 1:30 pm. By this time, I was well established as the back-bencher of the crowd; I may walk fast for urban 5K’s but I walk very slowly up a mountain – for me, mountain trekking is a marathon, not a sprint. I was very mindful of altitude sickness; even though I didn’t expect to suffer from it, I thought it was smart to do what I could to prevent it. I stayed hydrated and took my time. In any case, I literally couldn’t go any faster. Remember how I said I haven’t exercised since I got to Indonesia at the end of January, but still thought taking on a 3-day trek was a good idea? Yeah…that came back to haunt me. Meanwhile, the sporty Canadian in our group was gracefully making the trail look like a fun jaunt through a kiddie park.
After about another hour, we got to the most difficult part of the trail for that day. I spent the next 3 hours scrabbling and heaving my way up slippery slopes, trying to get to where we would camp for the night. The trail was steep and lined with loose dirt and rocks. Many trekkers were slipping and sliding their way up the slopes in their tennis shoes – still, Mt. Rinjani porters all wear flip-flops (flip-flops!!!) so I suppose tennis shoes are not seen as a big deal by trek organisers. More on that in a later post.
In addition to being steep and slippery, the slopes were also never-ending. I would think I was at the top then get there and it would only be a ridge and there would be more up to go. I would draw in a deep breath, mutter, “Lord Jesus, help me,” and continue in my slow, plodding way. Eventually, at about 5:30 pm, we got to a resting place on a ridge that was just a few minutes from base camp. About 30 minutes before that, the thought had entered my mind that maybe I shouldn’t join the summit attempt which would begin in just over 9 hours, at 3 am. I had mentioned it to our guide, who was sympathetically keeping me company waaaaaaayyyyyy at the back of the crowd climbing that day, and he tried to assure me that he would help me as much as he could to get to the summit. After a few minutes of him trying to convince me to attempt the summit, he finally asked me not to tell his boss if I decided not to do it because he didn’t want his boss to think he wasn’t doing a good job. I assured him that my decision had absolutely nothing to do with him and that he didn’t need to worry that I would tell his boss anything. I told him that I would think about it and let him know in the morning when it was time to go.
Sitting on that ridge 30 minutes later, trying to catch my breath, I knew almost for sure that I wouldn’t attempt the summit in a few hours. It had been a rough day 1 for me and I knew that day 2 would be worse. There was the 3 am start to the summit which was at least 3 hours away from base camp, then 2 hours back, then we would spend the rest of the day walking to get to the next campsite. I knew that my mind and body would fail me if I tried it so I decided to reserve my strength for the after-the-summit part of day 2.
This was not an easy decision for 2 reasons. First, my work colleague, who has not climbed any major mountain like I have, had managed to summit this very mountain just 1 week before, coming back to the centre in Jakarta raving about how great the climb was. Secondly, everyone else in our group was going to attempt the summit; I would be the only chicken among us. But I pictured myself miserably clinging to even steeper slopes (the summit always has the steepest slopes) while weeping in misery and wanting to curl up in a foetal position, then having to walk 6 or 8 more hours after all that trauma. I decided to set my pride aside and do what I felt was best for me.
With that settled in my mind, I spent the remaining 15 minutes or so of our rest on that ridge catching my breath, listening to Bob Marley being played by the Indonesian hustler selling overpriced beer and candy bars nearby, and anticipating the quick wash-up I would have before dinner, once we got to camp. Finally, another 15 minutes of walking and we arrived at base camp just before the sun set. In all, we walked had about 9 hours that day.
Our porters set up our tents and after I realised that washing up water was not forthcoming, I made do with a quick wipe using the disposable wipes I had brought, a change of clothes into something dry (my clothes were literally soaked in sweat), and a reapplication of my deodorant.
Our group sat around chatting for a bit while our porters worked on dinner and set up our toilet tent. (Don’t be impressed. They dug a hole in the ground and set up a small square structure made out of tent material. We would unzip it and step in with out shoulders and torsos above the structure. Then we would squat to do our business, now fully behind the “wall” of the structure.) By my estimate, it was around 9 pm when we finished dinner and called it a night. I settled down into my comfy, toasty sleeping bag and slept peacefully, relieved that this miserable day was finally over.
I had not experienced 1 moment of happiness or true joy since I had started walking that morning. I was finally beginning to get an inkling of just how stupid I had been to embark on this trek.