Obviously, Eat Pray Love was going to be on my reading list heading into 2020. Haven’t read it before and, so far, I’m more of a fan than I thought I’d be! But at 8pm on Sunday I would rather have been snoring than reading, only my nerves were jiggling too much for sleep to take hold. My alarm was set for 12:15am.
We and our driver Made were the only moving things on the main street of Amed when he met us just before 1am on Monday. By 3:30 we were trekking up the gentle lower slopes of Mount Batur, where volcanic soil nurtures a quilt of square fields issuing tomatoes, onions, garlic, eggplant and lots more. For now, though, the air was jet black save for the intense beams of our headlamps.
We climbed for about 2 hours, shedding jumpers and draining bottles of water as the demands of the more difficult route we’d chosen became apparent. Komang Nick, or just Nick, was our guide; he does this three or four times a week, and we saw the cheeky fearlessness this familiarity has given him. He leapt from rock to rock, jostled with other guides and – much later, on the way down – ‘skiied’ so hard down a sandy run that his backpack actually fell off the side of the mountain.
It’s true what they say about this summit: it’s crowded. Still, there’s something magical about a sunrise over mountains above cobblestone clouds that means it’s majestic even when the American woo-girls are posing noisily for the ‘gram. Mount Batur is a holy place in Balinese culture so, while they love tourists for the interest and employment they bring, the line is drawn at having toilets on the mountain. You can strike a yoga pose wearing not much at all or fly a noisy drone or run around throwing stuff at your mate, but if you need to go you’ll have to wait.
After watching the sunrise cradling hot coffee, eating banana sandwiches and boiled eggs prepared by Nick, we walked along the crater of which the summit forms a part. Steam billowed from invisible cracks in the rock-face, pearly in the sunshine. Our descent was more of a standing slide down steep runs of volcanic sand. (Here’s where we almost lost Nick’s bag.) In the daylight, we saw deep craters, monkeys (some with babies!), temples and views for days.
Doing the hike and a bike tour on the same day wasn’t the original plan. The day we’d arranged for our climb was pouring with rain so we rescheduled – and scored cracker blue skies! Good weather for sunrise trekking… and for riding bikes through rice paddies. At the bottom of the mountain, we met Made and headed for Ubud.
After supplementing the light mountaintop breakfast with fruit juice and other such carbs, our bike tour guide Wayan took us on a scenic route through this spiritually important part of Bali. We donned sarongs and serious expressions at the Holy Spring temple where Balinese Hindus perform purification rituals at the full or new moon. We gawked at the intricacy of the wood carvers’ handiwork, some pieces of which take a team of expert artisans up to three years to complete. We traversed rice paddies on narrow, cracked paths and joined the riotous traffic flying down the main streets of town. We got a lot of sun, got really sweaty and had a seriously good time.
Stiff and sore, we snoozed on the drive back to Amed. Made was a champion – he’d stayed with us, sustained by coffee and dozes in the car, the whole day. When a fallen tree blocked the way back to our accommodation, he even called his wife to take us one by one the final few kilometres on her scooter. Dinner, shower, bed was all we could manage.
I guess if you do it right, this is how leg day should feel!