Hiking Mount Batur

Categories Travel

Ever since that beautifully-failed Semeru trip, I have been wondering if I would ever go hiking again. I managed to beat my doubt in Semeru, but I doubt if I am able to do it again because sometimes I feel that I might not have been able to do what I did there had I not hiked with porter and my experienced friend. I still need “more challenges”, but to hike high mountains again seems so difficult without preparation. The upcoming holiday that time – Christmas holiday – is also not a good season to hike because of exponentially higher chance of rain.

However as I confirmed that I would be going to Bali again on December, I started to think about Mount Batur. It is a popular alternative for tourists who (may be) bored with infinite beaches in Bali and people say that the trek is not that difficult. I had actually been to Kintamani a few times before, but only to see from far without going down to the villages (let alone do a trekking). I told my parents about my plan, and perhaps because I had gone to Semeru they had no problem for it. I asked my bro to join and surprisingly he was interested (he told me when I went to Semeru that he doesn’t like hiking because it will burn his skin. He is as blacky as me). I told some friends and surprisingly some also wanted to join, including Hudi whom I unintentionally met at Soekarno-Hatta Airport because his family lives in Denpasar. Unfortunately due to family matters, at the end Hudi couldn’t join; and some friends also couldn’t go to Bali that date. We were left with me, my bro, Aggy, and Yusuf a.k.a Ucup.

As Aggy could only make it in the beginning of January (I was still in Bali until January 6th), I deliberately set the date to the 5th so that it would be a closing for my Bali trip. It was going to be great because the weather had been (surprisingly) great after Christmas. Since I landed at Ngurah Rai Airport on December 17th, it had been raining until Christmas; then after I walked out of church it was sunny…

Certainly we were aiming for sunrise, so we had to start our trip from Denpasar in the midnight. I booked a car from one of my aunt’s relative and we had a bargain fare, IDR 400k all-in (driver, petrol, car) for 12 hours. We started from Denpasar exactly at the midnight, to avoid any possible delay that might have happened. At the end nothing happened, and we managed to arrive at Kintamani at around 1.30 AM. Too early, huh?

My driver then asked me if I needed a guide. I had called a guide whose contact I got from a blogger, and he told me that actually locals are not required to hire a guide – even if it is needed, the fee is voluntary. Personally I was quite confident that I did not actually need a guide, but I understand how sacred many places in Bali are (and I don’t want to play around with that), plus the good news I got from the guide I called, I told him to tell the guide to find me if he knew one.
So before we descent from Kintamani to Batur, I met the guide.

I was shocked.
He greeted me in English.
“Good night, Sir”
His English was surprisingly not that bad considering he is a villager. Without waiting for my reply, he continued. Still in English.
“So for this trip, we have 3 options……”
I waited until he stopped talking. I didn’t actually listen to what he was saying because I knew what I was expecting.
“Maaf, Pak, Bapak bisa bicara pakai Bahasa Indonesia kok” // “Sorry, Sir, but you can speak with Indonesian instead”
He looked surprised. But he still continued in English.
“Pak, saya orang Indonesia beneran kok. Bapak santai aja, kalau ngomong pakai Bahasa Indonesia juga lebih nyaman kan” // “Sir, I am indeed an Indonesian. Do not worry, if you talk in Indonesian it will be more comfortable right?”
“Oh maaf Pak, saya kira Bapak orang Singapur” // “Oh sorry Sir, I thought you are a Singaporean”

This time I was the one who got shocked. With this face I am used to being thought as a Malay, Muslim, or even Burmese in Singapore; but now I was thought to be a Singaporean….. in my country (or to make it sounds more tragic, my mother’s hometown)?

After that, he looked awkward. I knew it, I saw the brochure he was keeping and it was meant for foreigners. He actually later did not talk normally as I think he did not expect this situation.

A bit concerned about the possibility of me being ripped off, my cousin came out of the car and joined the conversation. He straight away spoke in Balinese because well, it was always the ultimate weapon to shut every Balinese ripper up. The guide looked dominated, and he tried to end the conversation without any agreement so that he might ask for more later along the trip. “Nanti aja lah, gampang” (Let’s just talk about it later) is used eventually. I was actually fine if I had to pay as long as it made sense, I feel guilty to be a freeloader anyway.

By the way, do you know how much is the guide fare for foreigner? USD 35… per pax! And it only includes guide service for only going up and down which barely took 2 hours up and perhaps 90 minutes down. If you want to go around the crater you have to pay more, and the most expensive option is USD 65 per pax. Crazy right? Even a porter in Semeru only charged IDR 200k (USD 14.8) per day regardless of how many pax, and a porter can certainly be a guide at the same time.
I have read a lot of posts about how foreigners complained that they were forced to use the association’s service in order to hike Mount Batur, which is certainly like an elementary-level hike for them. Even there were some posts that talked about foreigners who only wanted to wander around Lake Batur area, but were chased by local people because they had to rent a guide service. What? And sadly Balinese government does nothing about it.

And I guess even the ranger’s office is actually their office.

Back to the topic, so we drove down to the village. It was still 2 AM, so there was no point of starting very soon as we might have frozen at the top had we started that time. We decided to stop at a warkop (warung kopi // coffee stall) to have some fried bananas and black coffee. With 16’C temperature that time and we are used to live in hot cities, hot food and drink were like heaven. We also took a look on the sky as it was crystal clear. I straightaway remembered that night in Ranu Kumbolo where I felt I had all stars in my own eyes. Awesome.

2.45 AM, we continued to the start of the trek. Upon arriving there, I was a bit surprised as we did not go to the ranger’s office first, instead we directly started the trek. This really explained how that “Mount Batur Guides Association” do their monopoly. As long as I use their service, it is all fine.

So there you go. There were a lot of long branches near the entrance, so we took them as it was only me who brought a hiking pole while Aggy’s feet are not that stable. Initially we entered forest area with high trees and wide path. It was completely fine and easy. We took around 30 minutes inside the forest and afterwards it started to get bright. Nothing blocked us, and we could see clearly Lake Batur and Mount Agung – even in the darkness. However, it did also mean that our path would be more difficult.

The path became steep after that. A lot of times we had to climb (although hand was not needed), and since my cousin has been getting fatter he easily got tired after a few climbs and we had to take a break to wait for him. However if we compare, the difficulty is still nowhere as crazy as summit attack in Semeru which made me shouting all night. There were a lot of (really) solid rocks which made it much easier, as long as my feet could reach it. The only difficulty was perhaps in being careful, as sometimes I was next to ravine.

Along the way, the guide was quite friendly. I would not say helpful, because upon seeing the track I was sure that a guide was actuallynot  needed. He told some stories about his experiences on being a guide, from finding a lost friend to trying to run for his life when Mount Batur last erupted in 2000 (and he was near the summit when it started erupting). He also mentioned about the history of Mount Batur, where Mount Batur used to be a massive mountain with 3800m of height (Mount Agung is 3142m of height); but immensely explosive eruption long long time ago has destroyed the mountain, leaving a huge caldera (13 km in diameter) and the next huge eruption formed a secondary caldera nearby.

There was nothing to say about the climb as it was just a decent hike – not that difficult but not as easy as Bukit Timah obviously. With a lot of stops we took 2 hours to reach the summit, so I think we should have been able to take only 90 minutes if we did not stop that much. We reached summit around 5 AM, and as the sun had not risen yet, we prepared ourselves to witness it by… sitting on the warungs.

Basically at the summit of almost every mountain, there will be perhaps just a sign that you are at the summit, so I was surprised to find out that on the top of Mount Batur lies…. warung (stalls). Okay, there are 3 factors which made it possible

  • The trek is not that difficult, and for locals who have been living there it must be a piece of cake to reach the summit.
  • Demand. (smart mode on) Simple economic theorem. Due to the low difficulty which enables Mount Batur to be a destination for casual hiking, the number of people who go there is quite a lot and therefore increasing business opportunity (smart mode off)
  • Cool. Compared to freezing 0°C at the summit of Semeru, 16°C at the summit of Batur is just like using air conditioner, after all.

And another unique thing was, somehow my guide prepared fried banana and boiled eggs for us. Eventually I found out that the mountain is so active to a point that if you put eggs on the ground, it will be boiled in a few minutes. So while we were waiting for the sunrise, we enjoyed coffee with banana and egg. The hikers that morning were mainly (if not all, except us and the guides) foreigners, and they were busy taking pictures.

As Sun started appearing, everything became more magnificent. We were so lucky to have clear sky that morning. We also got a bonus – Mount Rinjani was seen at the background! I wonder if this meant Rinjani will be my next hiking destination.

When we were done with the view and it started to get hot, we moved to the crater. It was a bit lower than the summit, and it took us around 30 minutes to reach there. There was actually nothing spectacular – just a monument as well as (much) clearer view of the crater and much closer look to the black patch at the south of the mountain as the result of the eruption. Oh well, there were also a lot of monkeys; fortunately they were shy, compared to naughty monkeys at Uluwatu or other places.

The mission was almost completed, and we were left with descending the mountain. In the beginning there was thick layer of small stones, making it easy to go down. That made me sliding peacefully like how I did mandi bola when I was a kid (what’s the English word for that? That is something like this https://cahpct.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/img_10131.jpg).

The bad thing was, I did not know that as we got lower the stone got even smaller and it became more slippery. I started slipping a few times, but before falling I managed to stop myself. Unfortunately, after that the careless level of me increased exponentially. I did not go down with right technique. I totally forgot that I also fell a few times when descending at Arcopodo (Semeru). Also at that point, I started realizing how wrong I was to wear running shoes (and I left my hiking shoes in Jakarta) because it did not give me enough grip. I fell spectacularly a few times, and the last one was massive – I tore my pants in addition to some wounds. Facepalm.

Since the others were concerned if I experienced tremor after that fall, we took a rest until my feet were stable enough. In the middle of sunlight. Woah. I felt quite embarrassed, but there was nothing I could do.

Long story short, we finally continued descending. I became extremely careful, walking so slow until I got the confidence. But in that way, I could get myself familiar with the right technique. Some foreigners passed by and most of them noticed the huge torn on my pants (it was on my calf), and it was mostly East Asians who gave me a strange look (but hey, IDGAF). Finally we reached the starting point at 9 AM, and the car suddenly felt so luxurious for us.

At this point, I gave my cousin some money to be given to the guide. With addition from him, it became IDR 250K (including banana and coffee that he prepared for us). He gave it to the guide because well, Balinese language power. We then left the starting point, but in the middle the guide approached us with his motorbike and told us that it was not enough, and he asked for more. Err, we thought, so we gave him another 50K and luckily it was enough.

CONCLUSION

Mount Batur is easily a good choice for tourist who wants to explore other options Bali has to offer besides overpriced resorts and restaurants in Kuta while experiencing the beauty of nature. Ironically, the guides association made it overpriced as well for the foreigners, not to mention their rude attitudes if foreigners reject them. The price is not worth it for such a short hike.

If you don’t mind paying a bit for a service that you won’t actually need, Mount Batur should be on your list. You still have to be careful though, no matter how easy a trek can be, if you underestimate it you can experience something like me.

And I promise myself, I will never use running shoes for hiking anymore.

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