Indonesia is part of the Ring Of Fire, the circle of trouble that surrounds the Pacific. Fault lines mean earthquakes and volcanoes and that affects life over here as well as the landscape.
Just the other day I interviewed a young guy from Lake Toba Sumatra who told me he really identified with his area and plans to go back there to live someday.
Today I read an article that suggests Lake Toba might be in for some excitement in the future.
In the history of the planet, geological events have been the biggest factors effecting animal life and that has not changed. The thing is we get lulled into a sense of security as the timeline for geological events can be long. The people up in Batur in the highlands of Bali are actually living (farming and fishing ) at the side of Lake Batur that is itself inside a volcanic crater.
I have hiked a few volcanoes in my time and the ones in Indonesia are Gunung Agung, Gunung Batur, Gunung Catur (in Bali), Gunung Bromo and Gunung Batok (in Java). These vary in size and appearance ranging from the towering Gunung Agung in East Bali, which you can see from here in Seminyak on a clear day, to the atmospheric Gunung Bromo in East Java that itself is set inside a giant caldera.
Here is a lovely satellite photo of Central / East Java showing the line of active volcanoes. (Imagine the bottom of the photo is Central Java and the top is East Java & Bali.
Visitors to Indonesia and Bali may not immediately think of hiking up a volcano as a holiday activity but it can be enjoyable and interesting. Here are some of my tips on doing that.
First choose a volcano that suits your style. If you are into strenuous hiking, go for Gunung Agung in East Bali. There are 2 places you can hike from, Besakih on the west slope or Pura Pasar Agung on the SSE slope. A summit hike from Besakih might take you 6 hours and another 4-5 to get down. Only do this if you are in good shape.
There are local guides on offer at Besakih who you can hire on the spot.
Pura Pasar Agung might take you 4-5 to climb and another 3-4 to get down.
These 2 hikes are usually started at night (people from the Besakih side starting out at mignight) to see the dawn from the summit. The footing on Gunung Agung is a bit slippery, especially after a shower and is heavily rutted. Hard for people with knee problems but a reasonably fit person can make it.
There are a few guides hanging around at the base but they are mellow and one even told us we did not really need a guide. We ended up taking him as we did not want to fall over a mini-cliff in the dark.
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Gunung Batur in the Kintamani area will take 2-3 hours and about 1 ½ or 2 hours coming down. People start out here around 4am to see the dawn. Clouds roll right after the dawn so getting up any later can mean all you will see is clouds. The most popular volcano to hike in Bali and you can expect to pay a fee and meet local touts acting as guides.
The Association of Mt. Batur Trekking Guides has a fixed fee of 300,000rp per guide with a limit of 4 people. I remember back in 1993 before this existed the local guide would hassle tourists trying to climb the volcano themselves. This is their money-maker and they are going to hang on it.
Gunung Catur is a decent sized volcano that is forested the entire way to the top. Hiking can be done after dawn and the time is around 3 hours to get up and 2 hours to get down.
Very nice hike. Not many other people climbing this one. No fees, no guides and you really do not need one.
Gunung Bromo in East Java sits inside a huge caldera is surreal. The best place to watch the dawn from is the rim of the crater. The slowly changing light creates colors in the sulphur that is in the air and creates an affect like the rings around Saturn. To get to the volcano you hike down for about 5 minutes then trek across the flat volcanic soil towards the volcano which is small and a step of steps leads you to its rim, around 5 minute walk.
This volcano is ideal for older people who may not want a strenuous hike. No guides or fees.
My tips include to arrive at the volcano the day before you want to climb it. Get set up in a guest house and try to get rested and eat plenty.
Always negotiate with anyone you want as a guide because prices vary. If you tell a guide you have just come from San Francisco you might get charged $200. Ask the people in the guest house and restaurant how long the hike is and the best time to go. Ask if you need a guide or not.
Always bring plenty of water, more than you think you will need even. Hiking up steep inclines burns energy fast and you will be begging for food and water quicker than you think. I reckon for a hike like Pura Pasar Agung I would bring 5 liters of water per person, plus food.
Bring decent hiking boots, a hat a change of t-shirt and a light sweater. Also do not forget the sunscreen. We are close to the equator and the summit of Gunung Agung is 3142m.
If you decide to hike without a guide or even solo be sure to tell the people in the guest house. Take a business card if they have any or get their phone number. Take a cell phone if you have one just incase you break your ankle.
Of course while hiking pack all your trash back out with you.
Visitors to Lombok have a whopper of a volcano to try, Gunung Rinjani (3726m). This is a 3 day hike with places to stay on the way up. I would love to try this sometime.
Many people will remember a movie called Krakatoa East of Java, about the massive volcanic blast in 1883. Krakatoa is actually west of Java and here is a photo of that one.
Hiking volcanoes can add an interesting and welcome aspect to your trip. Not only are you exploring a new place you are using your own energy and interacting with the environment. Much better than sitting in Pub Bagus getting drunk. Okay get drunk in Pub Bagus after you return to Kuta and promise you will never hike up a volcano again.
One of the things I enjoy is the changing natural landscape I see. Usually I will pass rice fields on my way to a volcano, which start to change into forest as I get closer to the higher elevations. The hike itself starts off in forest and the vegetation changes after a while to low bush, which in turn gives was to grass and then rock and ash. Indonesia volcanoes are not usually snow-capped.
One of the coolest sights I have seen from the peak of a volcano was actually in the Canary Islands on the top of Mt. Teide (11,000ft). The clouds formed a thick ring around the mountain at about 8,000ft and it was totally clear above that. I sat there on the snow-capped peak watching airliners circle the island and descend to land below me.
Bali has a line of volcanoes that swing roughly East-West through the island and you might check one of these out on you next trip here.