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Stars over the bay, sunrise over the crater

Randall Wood

Making my way around the south of Bali I came to to fishing port of Padangbai, looking for someplace cheap to stay. A block away from the water, I found a little place striving for excellence. They showed me some fancier rooms going for 10,000 rupiah each – more than I’d spent to travel there, and more than I wanted to pay. But when I asked for something simpler they took me up to the second story to something more charismatic and far cheaper, and that’s where I stayed. It was a simple room with wide planked wooden floors well-trodden, windows overlooking the harbor, a single bulb, and just the hint of a smell of creosote from the shipyard next door.

After a simple dinner I crawled out onto the balcony with some candles, my notebook, a fountain pen. There was an oil lantern hanging from the roof and I lit it and watched as the moon rose over the Lombok strait. It was possible to travel more comfortably than this, I thought to myself, but impossible to travel more happily. With the exception of a sailor’s marlinspike knife in my pocket, everything I wanted in the world was in my bag, and nowhere on earth would have suited me more than where I was.

Gunung Batur (Mount Batur)

… or where I had been! Because I arrived in Padangbai by way of the Batur volcanic crater and a lovely, pre-dawn hike under stars to its summit. In Kedisan I’d stashed my bag with the hotel office and set out in hiking boots, my favorite, green flannel shirt, and a lumbar bag up a grassy trail that led to the volcanic crater. It was an easy ascent up 1717 meters to a shockingly beautiful view, and a lovely experience watching the stars fade into the first colors of morning as brightly-colored birds traversed the footpath and morning overtook us. At the top, a cool morning breeze lingered still: before too long the sun would climb overhead and the Indonesian humidity would creep up the slopes.

“There is an intense but simple thrill in setting off in the morning on a mountain trail knowing that everything you need is on your back. It is a confidence in having left all inessentials behind and of entering a world of natural beauty which has not been violated, where money has no value, and possessions are a deadweight. The person with the fewest possessions is the freest: Thoreau was right. -- Paul Theroux”

Westerners feel a proud sense of accomplishment in summiting Indonesian volcanoes, but it doesn’t last long: in places like Batur, Indonesian children make the same hike every morning. In lieu of lumbar bags and fancy boots they do it in worn flip-flops or barefoot, with a crate of soda bottles on their head. I’d like to say I bought one from them, but I did not.

I set southward instead, and down from the bright summit, following a lava flow part of the time. It had oozed forth in two long streams, bridging once in a gorgeous, balsatic arch you could sneak under. It looked so fragile, but poking at it with a variety of sticks and rocks, I found it was extremely strong. Lava goes where it wants with inexorable determination. So did this lucky traveler, nudging eastward along the Ring of Fire.


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