(Bali, Lombok)

11 May 2000
We only had one-way tickets and Indonesia has an infrequently enforced requirement that if you arrive by air you must be able to show proof of onward travel. It turns out that a US$30 bribe (each) is sufficient proof. In just over a year of travel this was my first completely overt bribe.

12 May 2000
Shopping/exploring in Kuta, Bali's somewhat seedy tourist center. Lots of nice surf beaches, and never more than a short stone's throw from a bar or a souvenir shop.

13 May 2000
Rafting the Ayung river. Only class 2/3 so quite tame compared to the Zimbabwe's Zambezi or Nepal's Marsyangi, but a nice introduction to rafting for Tuk (who can't really swim (yet)).

14 May 2000
Bus to Ubud, the theoretical center of "cultural tourism" in Bali. The frat-boy bars are a bit thinner on the ground, but if anything, the souvenir shops are packed even more closely together.

15 May 2000
We rented a scooter and headed off in search of the royal temple Pura Taman Ayun. Without a guide, the temple was a non-event, courtyards and gardens full of multi-tiered pagodas but no way to discern their significance.

On the other hand, the ride there was quite an event. Bali is strewn with a maze of 1 1/2 lane roads plied by mammoth trucks and busses with size getting the right-of-way. We negotiated ancient blacktop strewn with glacier class crevasses and repeatedly dove off the shoulder as another behemoth lumbered by. On the back, Tuk was blissfully ignorant, driving, I was terrified.

16 May 2000
We took an organized tour.

The sights were mostly non-impressive, Pura Taman Ayun temple (again), Lake Bratan's Pura Ulan Danu temple, Gitgit waterfall, and Air Panas Banjar hotsprings. The highlight of the tour though was just being out of the cities and getting to see some of Bali's beautiful landscape. Steep volcanic mountain sides lined with coffee plantations and terraced rice farms, all like scenes from a picture book.

Air Panas Banjar hot springs.

17 May 2000
Email day in Ubud.

18 May 2000
Shopping for batiks in Denpasar, Bali's somewhat industrial capital.

19 May 2000
Bus from Ubud to Toya Bungkah, a small town on the shore of Lake Batur. The town, the lake, and several hundred sq km all sit within the huge outer crater of Mt Batur. The volcano is still quite active, it erupted in 1917 and 1926 killing thousands of people...

20 May 2000
Trekking up Mt Batur (1,717m, 5,630ft).

Our guide woke us at 3:30 a.m. so we could make the short drive and 2 hour trek to the top before sunrise. The hike is fairly easy and the views from the summit well worth it. The volcanic nature of the terrain, imperceptible from below, is readily apparent from the summit. The walls of the old caldera, several kilometers apart ring the entire area and cider cones dot the landscape.

Batur's volcanic nature is also obvious, the summit is pierced by a deep crater and steam hisses out of cracks and crannies everywhere. Our breakfast of steamed eggs and bananas is cooked by wrapping them in wet leaves and tucking them into steam filled vent.

Sunrise from the summit of Mt Batur. That's Mt Agung (3,142m, 10,300ft) in the background.
Tuk on the edge of the caldera. Cooking breakfast Volcano style.

21 May 2000
A soak in Tirta Sanjiwani hotsprings and then a bus to the beachside town of Padangbai, gateway to Lombok.

22 May 2000
Ferry to Lombok.

Bali, paradise or purgatory?

On the road, I'd heard nothing but bad about Bali. Nightmare stories of touts and hassles. We showed up prepared for the worst, but were pleasantly surprised.

Yes, there were a lot of touts. Walking down the streets of the main towns hardly a minute would pass (literally!) without someone trying to sell us something. "Transport? Dancing? Cold drink? Room? You want cigarette mister?" The offers were incessant, but for the most part they took their brush-offs well, and were not pushy.

And although Bali is about as on the beaten track as you can get, it's not hard to get a sense of real Balinese life. A few minute scooter ride out of any of the main towns reveals small villages with people living their lives in blissful ignorance of the tourist trade.

And actually, the commercialism makes things cheap and convenient. Door to door transport between towns and activities never cost more than a few dollars, and there certainly are a lot of activates.

My biggest complaint with Bali wasn't the crass tourism, but rather that it just wasn't that nice. The beaches were average, the food and accommodation average, and many of the attractions were struggling just to make it to average. For me, it was all hype and no bite.

23 May 2000
Explore Senggigi, Lombok's tourist center.

The brochures promote Lombok as "The way Bali was 10 years ago," in theory untouched and unspoiled, but really the two are quite different. The culture on Bali is Balinese, while Lombok is 80% Muslim. In 1999 violence erupted between the Muslims and Christians and the tourists were evacuated. To a foreign eye things seem healed now but the bad press lingers, and on the brink of the high season we find Senggigi nearly empty. Hawkers outnumber tourists by about four to one and as we walk through town we trail them like a fox running from the hounds. Watches, bracelets, food, drugs, transport... No, I don't want any damnit!

24 May 2000
My birthday.

We spent a relaxing day and then went out for what was supposed to be a "special" dinner. unfortunately at one of the nicest restaurants in town Tuk found live worms in her food, which turned her stomach and put a bit of a damper on things.

25 May 2000

We took a Sasak cultural tour.

Me, dressed as a Sasak King
(or so they told me).

The Sasaks are the indigenous people of Lombok and today still comprise 90% of the population. They follow Islam, but still maintain a their own culture and traditions. The advertised goal of this tour was to provide a glimpse into traditional Sasak life.

Stop 1: Banyumulek, Pottery center

The first stop on our "cultural tour" was a major tourist trap. A big pottery market with a few token artisans about to demonstrate some of the skills. In their defense, if the hype is to be believed this market is a well organized co-op providing a steady income from many of the surrounding villages. Despite the overt commercial nature of this stop it was still interesting to see so many examples of the traditional (and not so traditional) Lombok pottery.

Stop 2: Kediri Traditional market

A traditional market maybe, but very similar to every other market I've seen in Asia. Everything on sale, from fruit and spices to truck axles.

Stop 3: Sukarara, Hand weaving village

Sukara was an actual village with weaving actually being done, it was very fun and interesting. A local guide showed us the entire process, growing the cotton, spinning the thread, brewing the natural dies, and weaving on the looms.

It's a village tradition that a young woman can not get married until she masters all parts of the process and weaves her own bridal cloth. Tuk got to try her hand at spinning, but it would seem her maidenhood is in no danger from Sukara. The old woman demonstrating deftly pulled perfectly spun thread from wads of fresh cotton, but no one else could do better than a snarled mass of short, broken fibers.

A traditional Sasak house.

Stop 4: Rambitan, Sasak Village

We acquired another local guide who showed us around a "traditional" Sasak village. The houses were like the one pictured here. Inside they are divided into two rooms, a small, enclosed inner room, and an outer room like a porch. When a couple first gets married they build their own house and share the inner room until they have their first child. After a child is born the wife is supposed to move out onto the porch. It's not apparent how couples end up with more than one child.

Stop 5: Kuta beach

Not to be confused with it's trendy cousin in Bali, this Kuta beach is a quiet little stretch of sand in an isolated cove on the south coast of Lombok. There is a 5 star (corruption funded) hotel near by, but while we were there the only other visitors was a herd of buffalo munching on the sea grass.

Stop 6: Batu Bolong Temple

A Muslim temple that we weren't allowed inside, but it was perfectly situated to watch the sun set behind the 3,142m (10,300 ft) volcano, Mt. Agung on neighboring Bali.

Sunset over Mt Agung.

26 May 2000
Woke up too late to check out of the hotel so killed a day walking the beach in Senggigi.

27 May 2000
Taxi and Ferry to Gili Trawangan a sandy bit of paradise dropped in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Lombok. Only a couple hours to walk around the entire island, but chockablock full of restaurants, bars, and diveshops.

28 May 2000
Shopping for dive schools. Tuk needs to finish her open water certification and I want to take an IANTD technical Nitrox course.

What? More Diving Lessons?

There are a lot of ways to die from going underwater, and given that after the obvious, drowning, they get less pleasant, I thought I'd take a technical diving course in order to learn how to safely do all the things I'd always been told not to do (underwater at least).

The air we breath is made up of about 20% oxygen and 80% nitrogen. On the surface, our bodies happily burn the oxygen and ignore the nitrogen. Once we begin breathing compressed air underwater the extra pressure makes our bodies begin to absorb more nitrogen than usual. This isn't a problem until we begin to ascend. If we ascend too quickly the nitrogen forms bubbles as it off-gasses and this causes "the bends."

About half the gear for a technical dive

The least dire symptom is sexual dysfunction, less popular options include excruciating pain, paralysis and death. Recreational divers are taught to avoid the bends by ascending slowly and minimizing their time at depth to carefully control the amount of nitrogen their bodies absorb. Technical divers go beyond these limits but make "decompression stops" as they ascend to give their bodies time to off-gas the nitrogen. Skipping a decompression ("deco") stop is an invitation to the bends so technical divers operate with a virtual ceiling. The cannot ascend to the surface until after they have made their (potentially length) deco stops.

One way to reduce the amount of nitrogen your body absorbs at depth is to fill the tanks with gas mix containing more oxygen, and thus less nitrogen (Nitrox). Unfortunately in high concentrations oxygen itself is toxic, and the deeper a diver goes the higher the concentration of oxygen it receives. Breathing compressed air at 40 meters (130 ft), is equivalent to breathing pure oxygen on the surface. Breathing compressed air at 65 meters (210 ft), the body receives a sufficient amount of oxygen to cause toxicity. The typical first symptom is convulsions. On the first convulsion the diver spits his or her regulator out, and on the second convulsion he or she inhales water and we are back to drowning.

To go really deep divers blend a mix of gasses that wouldn't support life on the surface and then wait until they are deep enough before switching to that mix. Unfortunately, as you go deeper the pressure of nitrogen increases as well and causes a narcotic effect. So, just as the diver is faced with critical tasks like measuring bottom time, and switching gasses he or she finds themselves punch drunk! This is why to go very deep divers us a mix low in oxygen but with the nitrogen replaced with another inert gas (like helium).

I didn't have the time to certify myself to the "tri-mix" level, but while we were on Gili Trawangan I took an introduction to enhanced air (EANX Nitrox) course and an advanced Nitrox/deep diving course.

29 May 2000
Theory day for my Introduction to Nitrox course.

30 May 2000
My first Nitrox dives, 42 minutes at 26.3 meters and 55 minutes at 22.9 meters diving on a mix of 30% oxygen and 70% nitrogen.

Of course, that's the boring part. The exciting part is that on the second dive we were tucked in a canyon hiding from the current when a school of four baby manta rays drifted into view and we got to sit and watch them for 10 minutes before we had to move on.

They are incredibly graceful creature, looking like a flying wings with menacing mandibles as they float through the currents sweeping up plankton and other tiny sea life. Even though they were small (1 meter across), a school of four is still a great sighting and this isn't even the season for them in the Gilis.

31 May 2000
Theory day and pool skills for my IANTD Advanced Nitrox/Deep air diver course.

1 Jun 2000
More theory and skills in the pool.

2 Jun 2000
Tuk used to work in a dive shop and has been through the entire open water dive course twice (and logged 20 dives). But, she has only recently started learning to swim, so she is not yet certified. We spent today practicing for her swim test (200 yds untimed).

3 Jun 2000
The fun stuff-- gear. I learn how to configure my twin nitrox tanks for redundancy and self sufficiency. I'm ready for the dives.

4 Jun 2000
The first two dives for my advanced Nitrox course, 40 minutes at 30 meters on 28% oxygen with 18 minutes of decompression stops at the end of the dive. At 20 meters below the surface I deployed an inflatable bag with a line attached and then reeled myself slowly up the line waiting for the clock to tick away the minutes of decompression.

5 Jun 2000
And advantage to doing this course at Trawangan is that you get to do a dive beyond the limits of recreational diving. Today we spent 30 minutes at 45 meters exploring a Japanese WWII wreck. In addition to the twin tanks on my back I carried along a third tank filled with 50% oxygen used to shorten the shallow decompression stops.

The dive itself is fabulous. It's a small wreck but full of life. It sits alone the sandy bottom home to a huge number of lion and stone fish.

6 Jun 2000
Tuk passed her swim test and is a certified diver!!!

7 Jun 2000
The final dive of my course, we return for another 30 minutes at 45 meters on the wreck, but this time at night.

8 Jun 2000
I helped Tuk study the theory for her PADI Advanced class.

9 Jun 2000
Tuk's advanced day 1, Deep dive and Navigation dive

10 Jun 2000
Tuk's advanced day #2, Multi-level dive and Underwater photography dive.

11 Jun 2000
a.m.: I did another Trawangan "Tech dive classic." An underwater wall that starts at 30 meters and drops off into the depths. Deep enough to be beyond the range of most common reef abuses and therefore pristine.

p.m.: Night dive with Tuk, the final dive of her advanced course.

12 Jun 2000
With Tuk now certified we took a day to do two fun dives.

13 Jun 2000
Transfer back to Senggigi.

14-17 Jun 2000
A 4-day, 3-night tour up the 3,726m (12,200 ft) volcano, Mt. Rinjani.

In my book it's never a good thing to be woken at 3 a.m., so for a while I write off my negativity to general early morning surliness, but when it becomes apparent that our guide intends to lead us to the summit by the light of a single candle encased in a carved up water bottle, even I began to realize we are in a bit deeper than we'd expected.

Rinjani's crater rim, leading to the summit.

The first days trekking had been quite pleasant, a gentle climb through the farmlands at the base of the mountain and then steeper, but sane, hiking up to the rim of the crater. The entire endeavor endorsed by a cloudless sky and a warm, gentle breeze.

But at 3 a.m. on our summit day, a frigid wind howls over the rim as we pick our way up the near vertical "trail." Luckily I have a headlight and we are joined by three locals with flashlights that light the way for Tuk who has never before been this high or this cold.

We ascend steeply to the final ridge leading to the summit. We're exhausted from the lack of sleep and yesterdays trek, but the bitter cold makes it impossible to rest more than a few minutes. We need to keep on the move to stay warm in our layers of summer-weight jackets.

Tom, trying to stay warm on the summit.

As a less-dark blotch develops in the sky and then grows to expose the horizon, I count the minutes until the sun's rays might cut the cold, and swear this is the last time I'm going to let myself be talked into one of these "up before dawn for the mountain-top sunrise" plans.

Tuk bears it all well, and our spirits buoy in the post-dawn light. Like most volcanoes though, this one is a crumbling mass of rubble, and the final stretch up to the summit is steep scree. Tuk has a meltdown and develops an irrational fear of tumbling down the loose rock and falling off the mountain. Guiltily I leave her crouched behind a boulder and go with our guide, Tom, up the final few hundred meters to the summit.

Tuk copes with a sketchy bit of "trail."

The views from the top are spectacular, the lake filled caldera with it's ominous cinder cone one side (title image), and the great blue expanse of ocean on the other. On a clear day you can see the mighty but lesser volcanoes of Bali and Sumbawa. It's cold though, and I'm nervous about Tuk, so after a quick bit of photographer we make our way down, plunge stepping through the scree to reclaim Tuk and then picking our back down to camp from the summit ridge.

After lunch and a nap we descend from the rim into the crater and finally to the shores of the lake. The trail here plunges down the caldera walls and it's amazing to watch our two porters fly down wearing flip-flops but laden with our supplies suspended across their shoulders by a bamboo pole. We make our way a bit more conservatively and in some places carefully pick our way across the crumbling trail above large drop-offs.

Even so, the 600m (2,000ft) descent takes it's toll and our legs and knees develop and ominous ache.

Gunung Baru, the "new" mountain shrouded in the morning mists.

The lake is like a scene from the cover of a fantasy novel, a sapphire blue surface split by the "new" mountain, a cinder cone raised from the depths by recent eruptions.

The view back down to the lake
as we climb out of the crater.

We visit the famous hotsprings, but as it's the night of the full moon the area is packed with local people come for the purported medicinal properties. Outside the tourist centers Lombok has a conservative Muslim culture, and it isn't really comfortable for us to bathe. We respectfully soak our feet and then make our way back to camp where Tuk buys a just-caught fish for her dinner.

Day three of our trek, and we need to climb back out of the crater. What where just mild aches yesterday are today sharp pains in Tuk's knees. It's a hard day of trekking with occasionally sections of what might be called rock climbing if you could find any rock under the rain slicked clay.

From the rim it's another steep descent through open fields until we make our final night's camp just inside the jungle. Tuk's knees have gone from bad to worse and she just barely limps into camp.

Our fourth and final day is supposed to be an easy three hours but Tuk's knees are wrecked and she needs help to make even a small downward step. Tom cuts her a stick but even so it takes us nine hours to negotiate the winding jungle trail down off the mountain and back into the gently sloping farmlands.

It was a fun and interesting trip full of spectacular and varied scenery, but frankly I was surprised at the difficulty. These treks aren't really marketed as "hard core" but our guide said that only 1/2 to a 1/3 of people starting actually make it to the summit. Of the five or so parties we met, two were bailing on their first day. Also, if you are planning a Rinjani trek, go over the gear and supplies with your agency. Warm clothes and lights are essential for night summit attempts and this is "local style" camping -- typical provisions include bunches of pineapples and live chickens.

18 Jun 2000
Rest and recovery in Senggigi.

19 Jun 2000
Back to Gili Trawangan for some (scuba) gear shopping.

20 Jun 2000
An email and writing day in Senggigi

21 Jun 2000
28 hour bus/ferry ride to Labuan Bajo in Flores.

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