I got up at 2:30 a.m., was in the car with a French couple also staying at Jiwa Damai by 3:00 a.m., and was climbing up in the pre-dawn darkness at 4:00. Our guide used what looked like a toy flashlight – pink, plastic, and falling apart. They provided the French man with the same dinky light, and our driver gave the woman a phone with a “flashlight” feature. Activating the flashlight feature proved difficult, so instead he turned it on and locked it so the light was always on…until the phone died.
We climbed up, the guide first, then me with my headlamp (which made me feel proud and awkward, of all the climbers we saw, no one else was prepared with an adequate light). I also regularly blinded our guide who turned back to ask the only French phrase he knew, “ça va?”
He assumed I was French too until about halfway up, when he asked me and I admitted to being American.
“New York!” He said proudly, and too loudly.
“No, north of Chicago,” I said. It’s really the more recognizable midwestern landmark.
“Chiiiii-ca-go,” he said. “You like Obama?”
“Yes. I like Obama.”
“Better than Bush?”
“Much better than Bush.”
Then I went into my abbreviated thoughts on American politics:
“Bush makes BIG mess of America. He has 8 years to make this Biiiiiiiiiiiiiig mess. Now Obama is American President, everyone wants him to fix all these problems right away. They want him to make it better now. But he cannot fix 8 years and more worth of problems in two years. Many people don’t understand this. President Obama has very hard job now.”
I say all this very slowly with great care and emphasis. I have given this speech a couple of times already. My Balinese guide turns to me, nodding, smiling. Why are the Balinese always grinning like mad cats? This isn’t funny! But they do this, they laugh their problems and seriousness away.
Up and up we went in the darkness. The trail included volcanic sand and loose rock, so there was a bit of maneuvering required. Suddenly the light got hazy as a cloud enveloped us.
“Sorry,” our guide said. “It’s cloudy.”
The cloud began to sprinkle little raindrops at us. I took out my sarong and used it as a scarf. I prayed to the Hindu gods Shiva and Vishnu because those were the two I thought of first. I asked them if they could please clear the clouds away for sunrise. Then I asked Buddha too, for good measure. I tried to keep my Zen as I climbed further into the cloud. To appreciate the experience for what it was. It made me feel a little better.
When we reached the first plateau, where most people watch, our guide offered to take us a little higher. I wasn’t sure if this was worthwhile, since we weren’t going to see anything more with the cloud cover. We walked a bit towards where the crater was, and he pointed again to the next plateau.
“Another 20 minutes to get up there,” he said. “You want to go? Normally people just stop here.”
“I don’t think we need to go,” I said.
“You want to go? I take you up there.”
I glanced back at the French couple and shrugged, “Sure.”
So we started climbing again. This time it was all loose volcanic sand and we were slipping backward and there was a lot of tiny volcano rocks in my Chacos. I actually took them off and scrambled up as fast as I could, sweating. I reached the top and felt gratified; it was spectacular in the blue, pre-dawn light, with or without clouds. The poor French lady came up holding the guide’s hand.
“I’m afraid of heights,” she admitted. “Now I’m afraid of getting down all that sandy stuff.”
I told her Jack Kerouac discovered that you can’t fall off a mountain when he was climbing the Matterhorn peak in California. I don’t know if it gave her any peace.
We watched the clouds gather and part, gather and part. We had a glimpse of Mt. Agung, the largest and most holy mountain in Bali. Many Balinese sleep with their heads pointed towards Mt. Agung. The sometimes saw Lake Batur down below, the largest lake in Bali. But there was no sunrise. Just blue light slowly turning grey.
Sometime during our sit on the windy mountaintop, we were delivered 3 hard-boiled eggs and 5 boiled green bananas.
The French woman said, “I thought they were going to cook the eggs on lava.”
“I thought so too.”
We shrugged and pealed our eggs, sipped our hard-earned Balinese coffee.
“False advertising,” I said.
“I want my money back,” she laughed.”No sunrise, either.”
“Nope,” I said. “But at least we can see the lake sometimes. At least it’s not raining, like it did for a moment while we were climbing.”
“I guess we’re lucky, then,” she said.
We peeled our boiled green bananas. I would have rather eaten than raw, because they get a strange, mealy texture to them boiled. They just put the whole green banana in there and turn up the heat. Hot banana ain’t my favorite but it fueled the climb down Mt. Batur.
We climbed back down the sandy trail. I dumped my Chacos out and we stared into the massive crater of the volcano. Our guide squatted down by a little hole in the rock.
“Hot,” he said. “Steam. Feel it.”
He grabbed the French woman’s hand and held it over the hot hole. Then her husband, than me. I could feel the steam coming up and condensing on my hand where it met the cold morning air. I reached a little further down. I wished I could burrow like a rabbit into the warm rock crevice.
That’s as close as we got to eggs cooked on lava. I haven’t given up hope that I’ll be served a good, volcano cooked scramble on some other adventure, though.