By the time we were halfway through day 2, I hated myself. Literally. I was saying in my head, “Kristine, I hate you so much right now.”
My day began at 2:30 am when our guide woke us up to begin the trek to the summit. I told my Canadian tent-mate that I had decided not to go so she let our guide know when she went out to join the group. I rolled over in my sleeping bag and went back to sleep, waking a few times because I didn’t want to miss the sunrise. I woke for the last time at 5:45 am, put on my jacket, hat, gloves and boots, and made my way outside to watch the sun rise over Lombok. I knew that the rest of my group should already be at the summit or almost there and I felt peace in my decision to stay behind at base camp.
I snapped a few pictures and settled down in the chair one of the porters had set out for me. I spent the next hour sipping tea, eating my breakfast of banana pancake and fried bananas, and reading an Indonesian language guide that I had forgotten I had brought with me when I moved to Jakarta from Aceh.
At around 8 am, the Canadian returned to camp. She looked exhausted and wobbly but she had made it to the summit. I was genuinely happy for her and told her to go lie down and get some rest while she could, since we still had a long day ahead of us. About 30 minutes later, the Uruguayan couple came back with our guide in tow. They too looked exhausted and wobbly but, unfortunately, had not made it to the summit. They had stopped about 200 metres away, they said, because the lady felt like she just could not take another step. It had been arduously tough going, apparently dangerous in some spots, and very cold, and she just wasn’t able to go anymore. I felt happy for them that they had gotten as far as they had. But I also felt even more at peace with my decision not to attempt the summit.
They were all served breakfast and then it was time to go. We had quite a long walk ahead of us. Our guide had told us that we would be going down a steep section of trail for about 1 and a half hours then a flat section of trail for another 1 and a half hours before we got to the lake, where we would have lunch, and the hot springs, where we would be able to soothe our weary muscles. From there, we would continue on to our campsite for the night.
Within 10 minutes of leaving base camp descending down rocky ledges, my legs were wobbling like wet noodles because of the unaccustomed steep bending. I tried to use my trekking poles as much as possible but this part of the trail was mostly rock. I eventually handed over 1 of my poles to our guide and used just 1 to help me where I needed it. I actually went down a significant portion of that section of the trail on my butt. Some of the steps from 1 rock to another were so large and so steep that there was no other way for me to feel safe going down. Meanwhile, everyone was passing me as usual and I didn’t care one bit. I took my time because I didn’t want to try to hurry for the sake of pride and end up twisting my ankle or breaking my neck. This was the longest 2 hours (not an hour and a half!) of the trek so far.
Eventually, we got to the “flat” part. A word of advice: if a Mt. Rinjani trekking guide tells you that the trail is flat, don’t believe him. I can assure you from bitter experience that their definition of flat and yours are vastly different. Isn’t “flat” a horizontal line? “Flat” on day 2 did not mean horizontal; it meant slopes that were not quite as steep as those we had experienced so far. Had I not already been suffering from noodle legs, this might have been OK, but I was so it wasn’t. During the next hour and a half, I wobbled through beautiful landscapes, unable to enjoy them because I just wanted to get to the lake and rest my legs. I still took pictures though, because I knew that 1 day I would be able to look back and enjoy them.
At around 1 pm, we got to Segara Anak Lake, where the active part of the volcano dominates from across the lake. It was gently puffing out white smoke, and I sat and watched it as I pulled my sweat-soaked shirt away from my body.
Our guide brought us sodas (we needed the sugar) and after resting for about 15 minutes, we were off again on a 10 minute walk down more slopes to the hot springs. My companions changed into bathing suits and jumped in, while I rolled up my pant legs and found a spot where I could comfortably rest with my feet in the warm water. Meanwhile, I dreaded the climb back up to the lake’s edge where lunch would be served. Still, I passed a peaceful hour there, soaking my feet and chatting with another guide.
We made our way back to the lake, where we were served another deliciously carb-rich meal to fuel us through the climb we still had to do that afternoon. In my heart, I was dreading it because our porter had shown us the mountain we still had to climb to get to our camp for that night. However, I had no choice but to walk myself out of this situation, so I tried not to think about it and just enjoyed my meal and the lunchtime conversation.
We set off again at around 2 pm. This time, I started off ahead of everyone because, as I told our guide, I was the slowest 1 and the others would soon pass me anyway. He said, “Yes, thank you very much, Kreeeestin.” I gave a shout of laughter at his unabashed and immiediate agreement and set off along the lake’s edge, thinking I could do this. It didn’t take long for me to change my mind.
Over the next 2 and a half hours, my self-hate was at its worse. By this time, I had abandoned both of my trekking poles to our guide, trusting my hands to grasp rocks, grass and roots to pull me up the steep inclines that we had to navigate. As I clung to any solid thing I could find to heave and pull myself up, I called myself all kinds of fool for having taken on this trek. Porters tramped past me in their flip-flops, bearing their heavy loads, and I reminded myself how I had seriously considered spending these 4 days holed up in a hotel room in Jakarta binge watching season 6 of Game of Thrones. And as I stared up at never-ending steep incline after never-ending steep incline, panting and muttering, “Oh Jesus,” or “Lord, Jesus,” or “Oh, God,” or “Jesus, Mary and Joseph” (every 1 was a prayer – I just didn’t have the breath or energy to expound), I remembered that I had done this to myself.
Even as I heard the volcano rumbling, and even as the Uruguayan couple, who were just behind me (Canada had hoofed it past an hour before), called out to look back at the volcano, I was calling myself a thousand kinds of fool for even being there. I glanced back and saw the volcano belching out black smoke so I wrapped my arm around an old railing (I was navigating a narrow ledge at the time), unsheathed my camera and dispassionately snapped a photo.
Just before 6 pm, we finally made it to our campsite on a ridge at the top of a mountain.
That night, instead of eating together as we had the previous evening, we had dinner in our respective tents because it was so windy and cold outside. Then we went to bed.
As I lay in my sleeping bag thinking about the day that was finally, finally over, I realised that I didn’t care at all about this mountain with which I still hadn’t shared a moment of happiness or joy. I just wanted this miserable trek to be over.