Now desire is one thing, the required physical fitness to achieve it is quite another. See the thing about volcanoes is they really are the stereotypical cone mountain. They require considerable effort to climb up, often over fairly steep slippery scree, and there's no respite from the continuous rise in altitude. You climb up, and up, and up and up, then when you get to the top, you get to turn around go down and down and down and down again. You need strong legs, or in my case, bloody mindedness makes up for the shortcoming in the legs department.
Sure I'd been skiing for a month just prior to leaving for Indonesia, but it's over a month since I'd done any more strenuous activity than a 7km shuffle around Laruntuka one evening. You can't train for a climb except by climbing, and well, I'd not been doing that had I? Plus the swelling in my injured knee hasn't completely resolved such that I still can't fully extend it, so it was going to be one big test of both fitness and determination.
Of course I did it, but I was a complete blithering mess by the time I hobbled back to my homestay 12 hours later!
It started with an SMS to my ojek driver to pick me up from the hotel in Lewoleba at 2pm on Sunday afternoon. That morning I had a sleep in and a late breakfast, then packed my bags. I bought a couple of bottles of water to pour into the hydration bag I'd brought especially and some biscuits and lollies for energy. Aside from the clothes I'm wearing, I throw in my puffer jacket and my long sleeved shirt, my trekking poles, the tripod head and puffer jacket, and it all fits in the small daybag I've got. I'm only taking the one lens, the wide angle. I decide to pack the poncho and the dry bag in case of rain. I also bring some extra cash, just in case some ikat takes my fancy. I leave the big bag at the hotel, no problem.
After a couple of missed calls, my ojek driver arrives a little earlier, and we are away. He goes clockwise around Ili Api, obviously the shorter and better maintained route. It takes less than an hour and costs me 50,000Rp. He can't take me back tomorrow as he has a meeting in Lewoleba all day, starting at 8am, so he arranges for his younger brother to take me back. I get taken to meet the Kepala Desa (village headman), and we sit around by the beach for a while. They offer me some local arak, which is rather soapy and not quite to my taste so I just have a small amount. Unfortunately they don't offer me some beer. They are all lovely and friendly, and after a while Mr Lintus shows up, who is to be my guide tomorrow. He then takes me off to Mama Essie's house, where I will stay. I meet her husband, Pak Tinus (short for Justinus), and a gaggle of kids which I gather are extended family.
I'm given a room at the front of the house that catches a little of the sea breeze but it's still very hot. I try for a sleep but it's hard when the humidity is so high. Just before sunset I head down to the beach and catch an amazing red ball setting over the sea. I've only got the wide angle unfortunately, but I still manage to get some nice shots. The locals are gathering fish that they've been drying on the hot rocks on the beach, not the nicest smell in the world!
Back at the homestay I have a mandi. Mama Essie gives me a towel and sarong to use, then I have a meal and head early to bed to try and get some sleep. We plan to leave at 1am as it's a long way from here though apparently less steep than going the Jontona route.
Mama Essie wakes me before 1 and insists that I have something to eat. I eat a little rice and vegetables, but can't stomach much else at that time of the morning. Then we wait for Mr Lintus to turn up. He's a little late, arriving about 1:20, but we are soon on our way. I have my little head torch, it's not as bright as Mr Lintus' light but it's good enough for me to see where I'm going. The path begins from behind the village. We go up some steps, stop at his house for him to grab his backpack and parang, then we walk up more steps to where the old village, or rumah adat is. I can't see much in the dark, but am looking forward to seeing it on the way down.
Then we begin along a path through fields of corn and other crops, and past a pig. We are joined by three teenage boys, one of whom is Lintus' son, who accompany us on the climb.
It's a slow steady climb, following a ridge the entire way up. Early on Lintus needs to hack a way through the undergrowth, as it's likely we are the first ones on this route this year. He obviously knows the route really well, and I'm glad I have a guide as there's absolutely no way I could have done this without one. Especially not at night.
Later, as we ascend further we are in a eucalypt forest with low grass and rocky ground. The route is a slow steady climb, always upwards, continuously following the same ridge, till at last, a little after 7am, we arrive at the crater rim.
When we get to the top we can't see down into the crater due to cloud, but after waiting a while the entire crater clears and I can see the fumaroles spewing sulphurous steam from the Jontona side of the rim. It's pretty impressive, and I'm glad I'm on this side. It's possible to walk right around the crater rim, and to walk down into the crater. Many have, as can be seen by the names written in stone on the white sand, but I know I have to get back down the mountain again, and that that's going to tax me even more than the climb up, so I decline the offer to join the boys who head off for an explore, and just sit down and rest my legs for a while.
We all snack up the top, and I sit in the sun while my clothes dry out. I have been dripping with sweat something dreadful, and am thankful that the weather on top is just the right temperature, not cold at all, but also not nastily hot. I'm sure once the sun has been up a few hours it would be pretty hot, but at 7:30 am it's very pleasant indeed.
We didn't manage to get to the top in time for the actual sunrise, as I was just too slow. I saw it from lower down and it was still spectacular. That light first thing in the morning really is magic.
Having brought the tripod attachment all the way up the mountain, there was nothing for it but to pull it out and set up the tripod using my poles and take some selfies with the timer. Once I'd worked out where the hell the timer was!! I'm really happy with the set up, but wouldn't want my camera to be any heavier than it is as I don't think the third pole offers a very steady option. Should I take a third trekking pole with me on the Bibbulman track later this year, rather than the thin one?? Food for thought….
The views from the top are magnificent. You could see Adonara's Ili Boleng, and Larantuka's Ili Mandiri in one direction, and Pantar and even Alor in the other.
Then we had to head down again. Having climbed quite a few mountains by now I know exactly how hard the descent can be. It's usually a lot tougher on the legs, especially the knees, than the ascent, and it's where the poles really come into play. I extended mine out to their longest setting, tightened my shoelaces, and began the terrible way down.
I'm really happy with my shoes though. The Salomon's have been really comfortable to wear and have reasonable grip and I haven't felt that I needed bigger heavier boots. Lintus is wearing crocs, the boys just have thongs!
The first bit is over vegetated scree and rock which is very slippery, and despite my poles I have a few falls onto my backside. I try to not rely on the poles too much, but I'm keen to save my quads a bit of pain.
As expected, the way down is torture. I go slowly and carefully, but the going is tough and I reckon it takes me almost as long to get down as it took climbing. I take few rests on the early part of the descent, but towards the end I am absolutely beat. Luckily Lintus opens up a young coconut for me and I greedily guzzle the lot, a welcome refreshment which I relish. My 2.5L of water has been drunk by the time we get down to the old village.
The old village is a collection of 34 grass huts, which is only occupied in July when they celebrate the peanut festival, or Pesta Cabang. There's a large stone quadrangle, where we stop for another rest, and Lintus talks to a couple of ladies who live up there, one of whom offers me a bag of jagung titi, which is the local popcorn. I don't take her up on her offer, by now I am so exhausted I can hardly talk. I also don't take any photos, as the village just looks like a bunch of huts, nothing that really stands out as photogenic. Plus, I'm fucked!
We head down the steps, much easier to negotiate than uneven stones, and get to Lintus's place. There we stop for some water, and I am offered tea, but all I can think about is getting a wash. Even if it means falling into the sea I am so hot, so sweaty, absolutely filthy and just so freaking exhausted. Lintus writes down on a piece of paper my bill: 350,000Rp, more than double what the chaps had told me the other day. I don't argue, I just pay him, thankful I brought the extra cash with me. Then we head back down to Mama Essie's, via a shortcut which is more uneven stones, and really, I would have happily taken the longer way round and done that last bit down the concrete steps. We stop at one lady's place to look at some ikat scarves. They are cheap, but I prefer the wider sarong size, and anyway, I'm just too exhausted to care right now.
At Essie's I am instructed I can't shower straight away as I need the sweat to dry off a little. Given that I never stop sweating in this weather, it's unlikely that will ever happen. They put the fan on for me which is a bit of a help, but I am truly a mess.
I have a mandi and change into the long sleeved shirt. I'd not needed it for the walk as it hadn't ever been cold, so it's clean, and not sweaty, whereas my black polo is soaked with sweat. I have to put my bra and knickers back on, but that's OK, and I have the option to mandi again back at the hotel and change into clean clothes. My trousers are filthy, and I discover that my shoes let dirt in, so my toes are also filthy. Ah well, being goretex free and easy drying, I guess the air and dirt goes in as well as out!
By now my feet, especially the balls of my feet, are quite sore. I was concerned that my toes might get bruised, as the shoes weren't quite tight enough to stop my feet slipping forward against the front of the shoes, but aside from being a little red and sore, my toes are fine. The mandi is wonderful. Throwing cold water over my body never felt so good, and soaping all that filth and sweat off me makes me feel so much better.
Essie gives me a meal, and suggests I have a sleep, but I'm keen to get back to town to change clothes and pack and get some food for the overnight boat trip. I explain that if my legs get cold they'll seize up and I won't be able to walk, so I'm best to leave now. They send one of the girls off to find my ojek driver, then make me a cup of coffee. Once I've drunk that I say my goodbyes. I asked Essie how much she wanted for the homestay and she says it's up to me. I give her 100,000Rp and she is delighted, really delighted. So much happiness for a mere $10!
The ride back in to town is uneventful. I walk in to Hotel Rejeki, repack my main bag, go off and get some food for the night ferry and take an ojek to Waijarang where I need to take the ferry to Alor from.
I am exhausted, a little sore, and ready to sleep on an overnight ferry. That's next...