Midnight wake-up call
At 2 a.m. the alarm rings and I am not feeling at all well – not only because it’s the middle of the freaking night, but because my nausea is back. I try to fake a smile, determined not to let it show and succeed for a little while.
The sounds of waking tourists are increasing as are the sounds of the porters who are laughing and cooking us lazy tourists some kind of breakfast. Ours consists of grilled sandwiches with jam and is very, VERY sweet. I try to force it down as best I can and then Erik remarks I look white as a sheet. I just have time to grab my empty teacup, but not enough time to answer him – again I am throwing up. Jeez, this holiday, I seem to do that more than I have for the past couple of years combined!
Afterwards, I feel shaky but fine and as determined as ever to reach the top. Luke tells me not to worry; he is unable to eat anything at this altitude either. I sort of doubt his remark as we are only at about 2400 m – not where I expect to be affected by the altitude-, but right now I’ll grasp at any straw to get going.
Up, up, up, yet again
And then we are on the move. It is quiet and pitch black as we head up the mountain. I stand still for a bit, taking in the crazy amount of stars that I can see. I have never been this high up, this far away from any light source and this much enthralled by the sheer amount of stars looking down on us. It makes me feel tiny and insignificant, but very happy to be able to see and live this moment.
I look back and the hundreds of thousands of stars are mirrored back in the couple of dozens of lights trailing the same path we just took. We are all united in getting ourselves to the top for the sunrise and I can’t help but feel connected to everyone. United in our common goal.
A few minutes later though, I am thrown back into my own little self. The journey up is arduous as we are trying to get up slopes consisting of volcanic pebbles. With every step we take, we have to allow for a bit of sliding back down, making it seem as if we are not making any progress at all. It is hard work and all I can do to keep going is keep going on and not pay attention to anything else.
We pass people panting in exhaustion and I feel like I can do this for a while. Not feeling as bad as they look, you know. And for a while I can.
But the cold – it’s about 5° C out – the altitude and my exhaustion are creeping up on me. I start counting my steps as I did in Dinant. To 100, to 50, to 10. I sit down, catch my breath, try again. 100, 50, 10, 10, 10. It’s so hard to keep going, but if I want to see the sunrise I have to. 20 Steps, then 20 more, just 20 more. I sink to my knees, too tired to even turn around and sit properly. I catch my breath, crawl up on my hands and knees. 20 steps – crawls -, rest with my head in my hands, 20 more crawls, catch my breath, 20 painstakingly slow crawls. God, why am I doing this?
Erik tries to cajole me into walking, into sitting, into getting up from the cold ground. I feel like crying, but I can’t. I am too tired, too weak and too stupid for thinking I could actually do this. People are passing me, time is passing me and I realise I will miss the sunrise. Weak stupid girl that I am, I am also depriving Erik from his sunrise view. Crying I tell him: “go on without me, I can see the sunrise perfectly from here, just leave me and go and enjoy the view”.
He scuffs, of course he is not going without me – and I love him so much for it! Later he tells me I was not the only one having trouble. A few meters from me the British guy is lying face down in the path and all around me people are struggling. But in my misery, all I can see is that I am not able to get to the top on time.
Just when it seems like the darkness will never end, the sun starts to infuse the night with the slightest hint of a beautiful dawn. On the eastern horizon a small strip of orange appears and the night seems incrementally less dark. This light, for me, at this time, is a life-giver. It makes me get up and try again.
I stand up straight, finally accept the arms of Erik and Luke to lean on until the light really begins to show its self. It’s as if the sunlight brings back my energy, my will and my determination to get to the top.
Just then another British girl gives me a shout-out: “come on, you are fucking insane for getting here, you can make it! Here, use my stick” and giving me her walking stick, she climbs further up. This small act of kindness, is all I needed and I get going. Going, going, going.
And even though the sun is already up when I reach the top – and team U.K. has beaten us to it – I am overcome with happiness. Diving into Erik’s arms as I start crying – again –, I immediately know that this was all worth it. The beauty is all the more profound for being so hard to attain. I stare out at the view, my first ever view that is this high up and was this hard to get to and has left me with such an amazing feeling of strength and resilience. And it is totally addictive!
We spend some time at the top, gazing serenely at the view, resting, then taking the mandatory pictures – need proof! – and start back down. We still have a long day ahead of us.
Down, down, down we go
Getting down is much easier and way more fun than going up. We sort of slide-glide-ski down and it is only now that I realise how much ground we have covered. The dark not only blanketed my resolve, but also the amount of time and distance we travelled. Strange things.
We get down and have a small breakfast. Then we go further down into the crater. I have not really had time to rest or sleep and as we are taking big steps down big boulders, I can feel that being this tired messes with my mountain-goat abilities. I fear I may fall and crack my skull open and it is this fear – that I am unable to shake – that is making me clumsy and slow.
Thank god for the hour we have for lunch. We are nowhere near where we need to be, but Luke decides we’ll have lunch here anyway, as we are progressing so slowly. I fall asleep within minutes and after about an hour wake up to the smell of another curry. I eat a bit – still not very hungry – and then I feel ready to go again.
We are making much better time now and we have some time to get to know Luke better. We learn about his family and farming in this arid region. More importantly we learn about his love for the mountain and his fiancée and how much he enjoys being a guide; getting people to the top. He jokes how I thought I was not going to make it, but he knew I was a “strong woman”; that could do it. I can tell he rather likes this joke as he laughs every time we say something about it.
This young man, who I didn’t trust enough to lean on, turns out to be a very strong and rather mature guide. Ready to get married like is normal in Indonesia at his age and at the same time embracing the new concept of leave no trace on the mountain – which no other guide seems to be doing. It feels weird to say, but in him I can see the blending of cultures in the best sense. We are very happy with our guide.
The one thing that does really surprise me, is that fact that Luke is afraid of water and doesn’t know how to swim. Coming from a country that has less of a coast than Lombok, but where everyone learns to swim at an early age, this takes me by surprise. I can’t believe he is so anxious about swimming, that he won’t even sooth his aching muscles in the hot spring we get to later in the afternoon.
Neither Erik nor I have any doubts about it: this water is heavenly – and surprisingly hot, although that shouldn’t be a surprise, given the fact we are swimming in a hot spring. We relax en swim and wash ourselves – heaven – and after just a little while we have to get going again.
We hike along the lake at the base of the crater to the other side and then start our second ascend of the day. Tiredness is starting to set in, but knowing we have a dinner and a bed – not to mention a beautiful sunset – waiting for us – makes us push our legs a little longer and a little harder one more time.
Up seven stairs
Luke tells us we only have seven more stairs to go. We eat some more cookies – SUGAR! CHOCOLATE! ENERGY! – and start this final stretch. The stairs are not really stairs but big ascending boulders about half my size that we have to scramble up. Panting we go and count down. Just six more to go, COME ONE, just five more, WE CAN DO THIS, four more, YES YES, three more, GRRR OK, GO, two more, OH MY GOD, just one.
And that one turns out to be bigger than all the other ones combined. By now, even Erik is having a tough time. All we can do is keep scrambling, no longer waiting for each other (I am ashamed to say, Erik is better at waiting for me than I am for him) but simply pushing, pushing, pushing ourselves one last bit until finally we reach our tent.
It is already in the shade and being completely covered in new sweat – so much for our clean bodies after the swim – we get cold quickly. We layer up again and walk just a little further to enjoy the sunset and the final rays of sunlight.
I cannot believe how long we have been up already and how long we have been climbing up and down this mountain. There were times where I felt certain I was not going to make it, but as with so many exertion: the mind wants to give up way before your body does. Today was a beautiful reminder of that fact, although I still realise I do have to listen to my body. My fear going down is testament to how much you need to rest at times, to get yourself safely back up.
And the rewards for all this hard work are amazing. In just 24 hours we have seen two beautiful sunsets and the most beautiful and amazing sunrise I have ever seen. Nature provides its own show and it is so much more rewarding to watch then any adventure series on Netflix. The aching in my muscles tells me I have worked hard to earn this peace and quiet and beauty and again I feel that this is addictive. This is what I want more of in my life! Now I just have to find a way to do that in my own flat pancake of a country…