I had to wake up at 4am so Og could take me to Mataram on his scooter. It was a great temperature, it was nice to be a bit cooler for a change, but Og is so small and skinny he was shivering uncontrollably. Hug me tight he says. Err, ok.
We are working on Indonesian time which includes time for sitting around drinking coffee and smoking. We could have left an hour later than we did, but eventually I got picked up by a man in Mataram and we did the fairly long drive to Senaru. Og was right when he said the road to Mataram was flat, but after Mataram is a whole different story. That’s when the hills start. I think I might be able to make it to the north west coast on the bike, but I’m glad I didn’t cycle to Senaru because some of the hills were super steep. And that’s only what I saw, because despite the precarious driving I was lulled to sleep.
We got to Senaru and I was deposited at a company called Lenk Rinjani. I was pretty are that Og said I was going with Rinjani Trekking, but there are so many companies all with Rinjani in the title.
DO NOT GO WITH THIS COMPANY.
There are many blog posts out there which explain it better, which I read and obviously paid no attention to, because I ended up doing exactly what I was advised not to do. I booked through a third party tout (which everyone in my group did), and the biggest problem is that everyone you speak to has a boss, who is only ever on the end of a phone.
So I was with a different company to the one I had been told I was with, I had no briefing which was promised, I had an undercooked banana pancake for breakfast and then two girls arrived. I was so glad to finally see some other trekkers. Liv (from Teddington of all places, where I used to live) and Laurie from Canada. They were so nice and we immediately made friends. They were both solo travellers in their 40s which I loved to see.
Then a bunch of other people arrived and my group of 6 was now a group of 11 which I wasn’t happy about. Thankfully they were all really nice people and we all got on well, but I was told it would be a group of 6. I was also told that we would be summiting on the second night, taking the Senaru route. But we didn’t. We drove off in the truck with everyone crammed into the back of a pick up for the hour drive to Sembalum. We were passed off to so many different people and I lost track of what we were doing. It was only later in the day I realised we weren’t doing the route I had signed up for. Everyone (the locals) is so cagey and never straight with you about anything, it’s so frustrating. Some of the group were told they could borrow warm coats and hats and when we got to Sembalum they were told they had to hire them.
There is nothing nice about the first day. It’s so hot and the dust is hideous. It gets everywhere and having dust in your lungs isn’t helpful. There are three things that stand out…
I have heard about the litter on the mountain but I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. It was absolutely disgusting. Piles of rubbish everywhere. Toilet paper everywhere. Plastic everywhere. However beautiful a mountain is a shit tonne of trash and human waste will really spoil it.
The most expensive company, Green Rinjani, who I initially wanted to go with, claim to pack out all of their trash and each client gets to plant a tree. I don’t know why they don’t use that extra cash they are making to organise a clear up of the litter. It’s the worst I have seen anywhere. I really was quite shocked.
The first part to the lunch break isn’t too bad and took two hours. The differences between the standard and luxury companies are levels of comfort (the expensive companies provide chairs to sit in, and you get better food, but how ever much you pay you still sit in the trash strewn mess.
They have a really unique way of carrying their loads, two baskets on a bamboo pole and they carry it on one shoulder. It looks awkward and uncomfortable. The walk barefoot or in flip-flops. They all chain smoke. There is very little fresh air to breathe up here.
There are hundreds of people on this mountain. It doesn’t matter that my group is 11 because we are always in a bunch of about 50 people. It isn’t my preferred hiking experience.
The next three hours of walking is so dusty and so steep. It is littered with toilet paper and the smells of fresh waste. It is slippery and hard going. We were in a cloud which was a nice break from the sun and the heat and we got a little sprinkling of rain.
We got to the crater rim after 3 hours and there was a nice view over the lake, apart for all the trash, again. And this really was another level. Our tents were pitched amongst the worst of it and if you want to cross the line of filth to try and get a photo that doesn’t contain copious amounts of toilet paper you have to run a gauntlet of old toilet holes. It really is repulsive.
A little poll found out that I have paid the most for my trip and the others paid a bit less and a lot less, but I had a lot further to come than they did. I paid $10 more than the girls who got picked up from the Gili islands, and they were put up in a hotel overnight, I wasn’t. I spoke to our guide, Sum, about it and said I was unhappy that we weren’t doing the route I was told we were doing, that I was in a much bigger group and that I had paid a lot more than everyone else. He got very confrontational and he told me I could leave and go back down the mountain now but myself. That’s great customer service!
“If you are happy then I am happy” he said this morning. So, I’m not happy I told him. “It’s not my problem” he said. I told him I would like to speak to his boss after the trip. He came to confront me twice more and eventually Laurie helped me make him see that it wasn’t him I was unhappy with but what I had been told wasn’t correct. And quite frankly I was at the end of my tolerance for feeling like I am being ripped of in this country.
We made up with a high five but there is something really devious and untrustworthy about this man. I started to worry about my possessions and bike that I had left with Og. I just had to hope he was the only genuine Indonesian I had met.
We watched the sunset and had dinner of fried rice and layered up when it started to get cold. The porters seemingly had no warm clothes and were shivering as they served us dinner. It’s the same the world over, porters are woefully underdressed for their climate.
We got into the tents early and because there are 11 of us I got a tent to myself. The roll matt is about 1cm thick and it’s like lying on the ground.
We got a 2am wake up call. So after 5 hours sleep the night before and 5 hours tonight I wasn’t feeling my perky best. We got given tea and these weird crackers with sugar on top and that was to set us up for the 1200m climb to the summit. It was chilly but not cold. I started with my long sleeve top and rain jacket. Our guide didn’t come because he couldn’t be bothered. Great guide. So we had two porters who spoke no English with us, dressed in socks and flip flops and plastic bags. 3 of our group also decided to stay in their tents and not attempt the summit.
It wasn’t too bad to start with, then we had to climb up loose gravel which was tough. There were so many people and our group got split up straight away, we found ourselves in a queue moving very slowly, which was ok! It flattened out a little along the ridge and then the real ‘fun’ began. It wasn’t fun though. I hated it. It was now steeper and looser with bigger rocks. Every step you took you slid backwards. Sometimes you would take two steps and slide so you gained no ground at all. The wind picked up and it was strong and constant and cold. About a third of the way I stopped to put on another layer and my hat and gloves and I ate some chocolate.
About half way I was so frustrated with the terrain I seriously thought about turning back. I couldn’t see how it was worth it to carry on. I saw other people from my group when I thought everyone was ahead of me so that made me a bit happier. I was moving so slowly I thought I would never make it to the top but I picked out small goals and thought if I could make it there I only have to keep doing that over and over again.
One of the porters tried to walk next to me and when I slipped, which was pretty much every step, he tried to grab me and hold my hand. I didn’t like that at all. Just let me get on with it!
I’ve done some pretty tough things in my time but this was one of the toughest and most draining. I just had no energy. Probably not helped by the previous 4 days of diarrhoea and the type of food we were eating. You can tell I wasn’t feeling great because I took hardly any photos on the way up. I didn’t even take a photo of the sunrise. I was walking two or three steps then stopping, the increasing altitude making it harder to breathe and the dust getting into my lungs.
I got to the summit eventually, about 15 minutes after sunrise. Just before the top was a tunnel of rocks where the wind stopped for a few moments which was nice.
Laurie was waiting at the top, she was shivering and her teeth were chattering so I gave her my down jacket to wear. It isn’t actually that cold but the wind goes right through you. It is definitely worth having a hat and gloves. There was all sorts of footwear out there. From hardcore hiking boots and mountaineering gaiters to converse and flip flops.
On the way back down we saw lots of people still coming up, a lot of them were being dragged up by guides or porters. For a lot of people this is the first time they have climbed up anything and it must be a bit of a shock for them. The way down was pretty treacherous, I mostly slid down with half of the volcano in my shoes. They became really heavy and very tight so they had to be emptied a few times. It was so tiring, the relentless struggle to try and sty upright. There were a whole bunch of monkeys hanging around, scavenging dropped banana skins. Everyone was in front of Laurie and I, except one of the French guys, and our two porters seemed to stick with us, both behind us. One of them really should have been guiding.
As we got nearer to camp I started to relax a bit and of course I slipped. My feet went from underneath me and I fell backwards, cutting my hand when I tried to brace my fall. It really stung and it had loads of grit in it. Thankfully it was only short distance back to camp, where we found out that our guide wasn’t carrying a first aid kit. My first aid kit was pretty depleted and I didn’t have plaster big enough to cover my cut. The French couple – Quentin and Marion – helped me out, gave me some stuff and helped me clean it. They did their best with a bandage but it was never going to stay on!
Breakfast was banana pancake and a jam sandwich. The banana pancake was gross and undercooked so I only ate about a quarter and donated the rest. We hung around camp for a bit and 4 people left, Billy and the three Estonians. They were doing 2 days 1 night, going back the way we came up and I was a bit envious of them getting off the mountain. We had a 3 hour descent to the lake (after our 6 hour round trip to the summit. It was steep, slippery and rocky and my legs felt like jelly. I was going so slowly, not wanting to fall over again. It felt like we were taking forever but we made it down to the lake in 2 hours instead of three. Our guide Sum told us stories that we clearly lies. It costs 4 million a month to go to school. His mother is 70 and he is 26 and his brother is 22, etc etc, and it was just a blatant attempt to get money from us.
Unsurprisingly the lake was gross, dirty and covered in trash. So we went to the hot springs which was only a five minute walk from the lake. It was cloudy and a bit chilly so we weren’t very inspired to get undressed and in the water. They were very hot springs and we just dipped our legs in. The hot water did feel nice on my sore muscles. It was disappointing that the hot springs were also gross with so much trash everywhere. There were a lot of people there and a nice girl gave me more plasters for my cut. Keeping it clean is futile.
Back at the lake we had lunch and it was vegetable curry with a boiled egg and a couple of spoonfuls of rice. I was starving after not eating much for breakfast, but as soon as I start to eat I lose my appetite.
After lunch we had a big climb up from the lake. We got to half way in one hour, but the next part was so tough. Steep and up and rocky and slippy. Lauri and I leapfrogged with the porters, they were so knackered and we kept letting them past as an excuse for a rest. It got really really steep at the end, we were basically rock climbing, I don’t know how the porters did it. I went super slow because I was lacking energy. At one point I was so hungry I had to stuff down some Oreos before I could carry on.
There are some luxury trips out here and they had burgers, omelette and spring rolls for breakfast after the climb. They also have one porter per person but they have paid about 5 million. We heard from 2 German guys that they had been given no water for 24 hours so we gave them some of ours. Another group arrived to camp to no porters, no tents, no food and they had to be taken in by other groups. They paid 3 million. There are a fair few horror stories from the mountain.
Our company isn’t great but it isn’t the worst.
At the top of the climb we saw tents and assumed we were at camp but our tents were set up about 10 minutes walk away. We were in a surprisingly beautiful spot with a great view above the clouds. Some Italian people from another group came and joined us and they brought popcorn! We watched the sunset and ate dinner in the dark. I was so hungry but as soon as I started eating I didn’t want it anymore. It was a struggle to get it down. Plus I’m really dehydrated. As soon as it gets dark it gets cold so we went to be early, and after 12 hours of walking we were all tired anyway.
I fell asleep quickly but I woke several times in the night, mostly because my body was so sore. I felt like I had been beaten to a pulp and l thought there was no way I was going to be able to get myself upright to walk. Everything hurt. My legs especially, and my bum where I fell over hurt too. I also felt like I had a full scale cold, probably because of the copious amounts of dust I had inhaled.
When morning came I felt terrible. After having the shits for 4 days prior to the climb I then went without going at all for 2 days and this morning I had to go. Squatting over a hole in the ground in my state was seriously hard work and I didn’t think I was going to be able to get back up again.
We had a couple of hours of treacherous downhill with rocks and slippery sand. It was agony and Laurie and I were at the back hobbling along. I took another tumble and scraped my hand along the gravel getting dirt and rocks into my cut. It was Quentin to the rescue again when we reached the break spot and he cleaned and dressed it for me. He is a chiropractor and you can tell he is in a caring profession, he is always the first to help people out.
He then carried one of the porters loads, which he estimated at around 30kg, down to the lunch spot. We had now descended into forest / jungle, it was a bit of a mix between the two. We saw some Black monkeys swinging through the trees. The rest of the way down was slow going because it was steep in some places and rooty so you couldn’t stop concentrating for a second and when you did you tripped, of course.
We got to the lunch break and I was starving but when the noodles and egg came out I could only force down a little bit. I never want to see instant noodles and egg again! We gave the porters their tips, not knowing if we would see them when we got back to Senaru.
We saw lots of people coming up the other way and I wasn’t at all envious. We made it to the gate and signed out and bought a cold drink which was so good after being so dehydrated for ages!
We got in the back of a pickup for a short drive back to the office where we all went our separate ways. I didn’t bother speaking to the boss because I was too tired for the conversation. One thing I wanted though was to be taken back to Lembar and not just to Mataram where Og was going to pick my up on his scooter, I wasn’t in the mood for scooters today. I confirmed with the ‘boss’ and with the driver twice, every time they reassured me I was going to Lembar. On the way back there were so many monkeys and so much trash. People were just throwing stuff out the windows for the monkeys. (They have learnt they will get fed here and can become really aggressive, I found out later on that a girl got bitten by one and had to go to hospital on this road).
I was having all sorts of thoughts in the car. I was tired, and I was sick of the pollution and the trash. I miss home. I want to see my friends and family. I didn’t want to cycle in this environment by myself anymore. I don’t like the corruption and the scams. I looked up flights and I came up with about 15 different plans.
Then we arrive in Mataram and the driver tried to make me get out. Og was there with his bike and I refused to get out of the car. I spoke to Og and explained what had happened – I wasn’t with the company they said, I had no briefing, I did a different route, etc. He was so annoyed. In the car I was beginning to wonder if I had made a really stupid mistake trusting this Og guy but it turns out he is the only genuine one I’ve met. The car took me to the Lembar junction and then we got on his scooter for 10 minutes for the rest of the journey to Lembar.
My bike and all my stuff were fine. His mum took one look at me and said I needed a shower! I did need a shower but instead I had a bucket wash. She cooked me food which was lovely and I wanted to eat it all but it was too spicy! I felt tired and sore and I went early to bed.
So, is it worth it?
It has been over a week since I did the climb now and some of the pain has faded. But I still remember there were too many people and too much rubbish on the mountain.
You have to pay a park entrance fee of 300,000INR and in this totally corrupt country they don’t appear to use it for anything. They should be using to clean all the trash, but that clearly isn’t happening. But ultimately human behaviour needs to change, everyone needs to pack out their trash, if you can carry it up there you can carry it down.
Aside from that little rant, do I think climbing Rinjani is worth it?
Yes and no.
I think it should be avoided until it’s cleaned up, and I am sure there are other volcanos out there which are cleaner and have more spectacular views, better companies and less people. But I am glad I did it so I can’t tell you not to…
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