Indonesia – Lombok: Gunung Rinjani & Gili Trawangan

“When you live in the middle of the world, if you do not care to take time away from it all, you will be like the night butterfly, burning its wings with the heat of the lamp”

Hung Ying-Ming (1572-1620)

That’s exactly how I felt, in April, after 18 months working my ass off to singlehandedly develop the business of a startup in Singapore, with an almost too innovative product…
I badly needed a break.
I had initially planned to visit the east of Java, Indonesia and check out the Bromo and Kawah Ijen volcanoes, but a bad weather forecast led me to change my travel plans. Having already booked my flight to Surabaya, I could only reasonably look at connecting flights within Indonesia with local carriers and opted to return to Lombok to climb the famed Rinjani volcano and chill a few days by the beaches of Gili islands that I had just only had a glimpse of during my previous trip to Lombok.

Booking the trek in Senggigi / Getting there

Once landed at Lombok International Airport, there are plenty of options to go where you need to. In other words: there is a lot of haggling to get you where you need to. Inside the airport, locals call you from behind their booths to sell you the trip and probably the accommodation to their hotel, if you haven’t made any plans. Once you pass the airport doors, many legal and illegal taxis will also rival for your attention…
I did what I always do:
– stop at a booth and try to negotiate as harshly as possible to see how low they can go and get a feeling of the true market price (in Indonesia, I usually make an offer at anywhere between 25 to 40% of their rate.
– watch straight forward like i know where I am going, maybe ask a few prices along the way without stopping to get a better pricing idea, but just to get out of the mess.
– finally find the local bus getting to my destination, which usually works out 2 to 4 times cheaper that the taxi options (especially when travelling alone).
So I got into the bus to Senggigi (less than 2 hours trip) and feel already blessed by the sightings of the beautiful rice fields on Lombok detaching on the volcanic background.
I did not remember this town being so developped… A lot can happen in 3 years in South East Asia and the whole place was already overcrowded for me. Unless you can afford a very nice accomodation in the Senggigi region, I don’t think it is a nice place where to reside for holidays anymore…
Looking at it positively, there are many accommodation to choose from for a one niter, so I could shop around a little bit and enquire about Rinjani trekking, which is offered by almost any shop front, hinting at the future due negotiation.
I settled for Hotel Elen, at Rp 90k for the night in a single Fan room, not including breakfast. It’s right in the center and near the mosque, which can be an issue if you plan to sleep long hours, not if you plan to wake up early to go to Rinjani.
There are different packages to choose from for Rinjani:
2 days / 1 night: going up the crater rim, sleep at the rim and back next day by the same path.
3 days / 2 nights: going up the crater rim, sleep at the rim, down to the crater’s lake and hot springs, up to the 2nd basecamp, sleep on the other side of the rim, climb to the peak, and all the way back to the other side of the moutain.
4 days / 3 nights: same as above with one more night in the national park, I’m guessing near the lake which is very pleasant.
I booked the 3 days / 2 nights for Rp 1100k, all included (guide & porters, national park fee, F&B, tent, sleeping bag). This seemed to be a good price when I compared with other visitors who paid more like 1 million 500 / pax. That’s also because I was gonna join a large group.
I dined on a decent nasi goreng ayam (chicken fried rice) with a side of tofu, at a local warung (blue tent on left side of the road as you walk up north from the center), and stocked on energy packed snacks for the trip at the convenience store. A big bag of local brand peanuts (really the best buy at 13k, last almost 3 days), local honey (madu), 1 energy drink, cereal bars, and some sorts of mooncakes (horrible). I would strongly advise to stock on such items, as there is not much variety of food during the 3 days of trekking…

Day 1

So after a short night of bad sleep (1st night in a fan room is always hard when you live in Singapore air conditioned society), I woke up to the call to prayers of the local muezzin, and got into the van taking other climbers and I to Senaru where the trek will start.
Senaru seems to have beautiful views of the valley in the morning sun, but according to trekkers who had booked their nights there, accomodation are really terrible.
Greated with a coffee, I had to wait for my group to come with another van. Fine, I thought. After one hour of wait, I got told that my group was actually full, and had to wait for another one. After one more hour of wait, I am told that I will start the ascent with the guide, and that the rest of the group will join later with the porters.
“Join me later? Do you think I am slow walker in mountain terrain?” I thought, half-offended. Fair enough, let’s just go.
The gate to the Rinjani trek at Senaru

 

Local family established near the gate, you can buy snacks there. probably the last opportunity to.
It is pretty warm and humid in the first kilometers of the ascent, as you are surrounded by the lush jungle greenery from this equatorial island. I was sweating a lot after not even 30 minutes!
Welcome to the Jungle!
The first kilometers were not really hard on the legs, only reminding my thighs of the ascent of Mount Kinabalu and the trekking hardness to come…
Around lunch time, we stopped at a “POS” where the guides and porters started cooking the first meal of the trip, fried rice with a few vegetables and biscuits as dessert. Smelled really good but I was wondering when I was going to eat, seeing all the plates being served around me.
“We wait for the group” said my guide.
Waited another 90 minutes, started to feel pissed to have left Senggigi so early in the morning, only to wait for god-knows-what-group. They finally arrived and the guide started cooking dinner. Lucky I had the peanuts in the meantime, and many people to talk to!
Porters sitting while cooking dinner
It started raining a bit and everyone squeezed under the shelter and tarps installed. After having climbed only a small fraction of the first day’s due, it was slightly frightening but luckily it did not last…
We continued the ascent with my group and it got quite hard about 2/3rd of the way up, when proper steps and handrails have been cemented in the ground to make the path safer. Some of my group’s trekkers were already complaining about being scared / tired, the kind of thing you really don’t want to hear on day 1…
As we got closer to the rim, the forest opened up and the landscape changed to a more mountainous one, with grasslands manicured by goats. Sun rays warmed up our hearts, like a reward for this first days’ efforts.
My group seemed pretty slow, under equipped and with little experience of trekking / mountaineering, without much clue of the difficulty and physical / mental readiness recommended to climb the Rinjani. I had somewhat expected to encounter such people, given the proximity of mainstream backpacker hubs of Bali and Gili Islands.Now, I would not have cared if Rinjani had not been more than a short walk in the forest, but from my little experience I know that mountains are best enjoyed with some rigor in committing to a rythmn, understanding the potential hazard and steadiness in general. By being slow on the first day, i knew that:
– we were not going to have the best spots for sleeping,
– we were not going to enjoy the sunset over the rim,
– we would eventually finished the ascent by night, which is obviously more hasardous.
I tried to share these thoughts with the slower elements from my group, who did not seem to care or to think that I could be more than a downer that had set to bring down their “party-mood” (the slowest-3 had met on Gili and were loudly chatting all the time). Luckily the 2 others trekkers were a laid-back couple from South Africa. Guess what: we arrived late for proper sunset, had to install our tents far from the better spots right by the rim, and one of the slow-3 almost sprained her ankle in the last part of the ascent at dawn…
Tents at the first camp on the crater’s rim
Still, there was a bit of light left to let us enjoy the amazing above the clouds feeling..

 

A darkly poetic sundown
Our guides just had time to set up our tents (yup, they do that for you…), but we had to eat the warm and comforting curry chicken rice by night in the warmth our tents.  Another issue with arriving when there is no more sun, is that you have no time to make your eventually sweaty/wet clothes to dry…
It was a very cold night, with plenty of time to focus on the feeling thanks to the annoying-3, who coud not resist to loudly debrief their fantastic holidays so far and laugh withou
t concern everyone else trying to sleep. That’s not all, because once quiet, they started complaining about the dog getting too close from their tent. The poor animal was only trying to lay down next to a source of warmth, and thus lay right next to the first available human body part on a side of a tent. One dog came to sleep above my feet that were stretching the small tent a bit, and I let go through this night without making a fuss. “Heartless idiots” I thought.

Day 2

In the morning, we walked the 10 minutes to the rim with Tim the south africaner, who had booked the 2 days/1 night package, meaning that it was his only chance to see the crater…
If you get early to the 1st basecamp, that is the view you can wake up to…
 The crater is quite a sight with its enormous size and turquoise waters surrounding the Gunung Anak (litterally “child volcano”). After a few shots, we went back to our tents for a breakfast of tea with floury but delicious banana pancakes splashed with condensed milk. I was sad to see Tim and Jessica returning to Senaru, leaving me with the horrible-3 and the guide.
The guide was a young local lad that had a pretty good english for his age and he liked very much the fact that I had some basics in Bahasa Indonesia, and started teaching me some words in the dialect from the Lombok “Sasak” ethnic. From there on, I greeted all porters with a local “Bekembe khabar, Bro’?!”meaning “What’s up, Bro’?”. Yes, Indonesians from the Rinjani called themselves Bros, in actual Brooklyn english.
Walking down to the crater and lake is very pleasant great, as you can enjoy the beautiful landscape and gradually changing vegetation for hours, but the path down is very steep and treacherous at times with small rocks on which you can slide.

 

Arrived at the lake, it is possible to take a bath! The simple, organic pleasure of bathing after 10+ hours of trek is delicious, especially in the fresh water (probably 20 degrees?)
Further on, there are hot springs where you can enjoy a second bath, more spa like. Then there is like 4 more hours of ascent to the second base camp, where, I insisted, we arrive early…
Tents got set right on the rim, and we could enjoy a few hours of chilling after the second day of climbing. Porters even offered Bintang beer to cool down, and even at a very inflated-price (Rp 50k per bottle), I gladly supported their little side trade…

 

Clouds + Bintang = High
Day 3
After some collective nighttime scolding at the seriously irritating 3 on the ground of their never-ending verbal diarrhea, I managed to wake up more refreshed with more hours of proper sleep before the painful 2 AM wake-up call to the final ascent.
Tea and biscuits in the stomach, equipped with headlamps and hand torches, we started what was promised as the piece de resistance to the trek, an harduous climb to the peak of Rinjani. I was not disappointed by the exercise… Very quickly, the walk up gets tiring with high steps in black volcanic sand making you sort of moonwalk of your way up the mountain. That’s where having strong thighs start to become useful. I witnessed a few screams of despair / anger / exhaustion less than one hour up. But the climb is going to be a good 3.5 hours, so you better save your energy from wasteful complains and comments. It’s about going slowly, at a speed where you can carry on for the longest time. The more you go up and the more each crunching step into the sand becomes a painful dart planted in your thighs and calves. But you gotta carry: the skies are waiting for you.
After 30 minutes of freezing your sweaty self up on the windy summit, you can then start to feel accomplished and get your camera out for some serious shooting.
Trying to look defrost for the 15 minutes of glory
As the sun starts to rise, a gigantic 360 degrees panorama offers itself, stretching all the way to Bali, the Gili islands and the humbling Rinjani crater, and the endless slopes of the volcano… Being up there in front of this natural show is an awesome feeling and totally worth the efforts.

 

See this peak at the back, it’s the majestic shadow of Rinjani on far away clouds.
..
On the way down, the sand becomes much more fun to handle, as you can almost surf your way down the mountain…
A better look at the source of pain.

 

The 2 hours or so of going down to the basecamp in the sunny morning are pure joy. On both sides of the narrow path, the slopes stretch far out towards the green plains that end up in the seas.

 

Arrived at the basecamp, another fatty banana pancake makes for a good reward for the strenuous effort. Without much time to chill, it is already time to go down the mountain all the way to the village of Sembalun Lawang and the finish line.
I found myself a long walking wood stick to help my knees cope with my 80 kgs, and I’m glad I did. The walk down the mountain lasted almost 8 hours (with only short breaks), due to the slowness of the swedish boy from the dumbass 3, who managed to micro-cut himself on a toe while walking around barefoot during lunch break and to be a total princess about it…
It was a very long way down, and although they were some nice sights along the way on this second day, the fatigue has built up after the 20 or so hours of trek from the first two days, and deep inside, you really want to get over and done with the trek…
I came quite prepared mentally and equipped for this trek and i would recommend to be. Here are a few tips.
To summarize the trek of Rinjani…

Pros

– A good way to get away from it all
– A solid mountaineering expedition experience available to all, reasonably fit and prepared
– An intense 3-day workout (about 25 hours of trekking)
– Stunning views from the base camps and of course, from the summit.
– Guides generally speak a bit of english.
– Decent food although repetitive (nasi goreng, nasis goreng, nasi goreng,…)
– Easy to arrange from almost anywhere in Lombok, Gili islands, and I am guessing, Bali.
– Cheap considering the guide and porter work necessary, and the rental of tents and sleeping bags

Cons

– Not much time to enjoy the scenery (opt for the 4 days / 3 nights if you can)
– Little to no safeguarding of unprepared tourists. No one will check if you have enough equipment to survive the freezing nights, although equipment seems available for rent.
– Many trekkers on paths that can sometimes be narrow and dangerous. Don’t come on a hangover, and focus. This is mountaineering, not everyday entertainment.
– Terrible pollution of the site, due to the trek’s success and the lack of care and trash removal by guides/porters.

Packing list

– Backpack with rain cover
– Quick drying hiking t-shirt and underwear
– 2-in-1 convertible trekking pant / shorts
– 1 pair of socks per day
– Microfibre towel
– Cotton/Silk liner for sleeping bag for hygiene and warmth
– Water/Windproof jacket and one warm garment/sweater
– Wool cap and light gloves
– Walking sticks
– Hand cleaner
– High rise trekking shoes (don’t come with casual sneakers, you put yourself at risk)
– Swiss knife, just in case.
– Snacks: peanuts, cereal bars, biscuits, honey. Pick the foods and drink with the best volume / nutrition ratio, convenient re-sealable packaging, and as little packaging as possible.

Moving on to Gili islands

The horrible-3 were not done with their never-ending display of stupid obnoxious tourism. They needed to be at Gili the same evening in order to get back their luggage and to come back to mainland the next day for their flights :@ So they made a big fuss to get a shuttle van to take them to the port of Bangsal, where the ferry leave for the Gilis…
The local driver said yes, and since reaching Gili was my next step too, I thought, why not take advantage of this group, if they can finally be useful in some way…
What I did not know was that inn order to make it on time for the last boat at Bangsal, the van had to cruise the small roads of Lombok at 60 miles per hour, almost hitting a few school kids, bicycle rider and dogs on the way… I felt ashamed to be in this van, putting many locals at risk for the convenience of us few tourists. Bangsal is an awful place full of crooks, and I would advise to have one’s boat sorted before reaching this hell hole.
We got into the boat, then to the largest of the Gili Islands, north west of Lombok. I part ways with the forgettable-3 asap and got ready for 3 days of relaxation on Gili Trawangan.
For the first night, I found myself a room in a pension a bit inland, on the main beach on the east coast of Gili T.

Day 4, 5 and 6 – Gili Trawangan

I mostly slept, walked around eat, read,  swam the warm and clear seas, snorkelled, slept again, until restfulness invaded my whole being. It seems that Gili Air and Meno are actually better for that matter, since Gili T is the most developed and party inclined island of all three. Well, the whole west coast of the island is very chilled and there
are very few developments compared to the east coast.

 

La dolce vita tropicale

 

Beach path on the west coast of Gili T

 

Holiday view

 

A few tips
– To party, come with a few friends or stay at a backpackers on the east coast.
– To relax, stay on the north, west, south coast.
– Gili T is quite expensive for Indonesia, although still very affordable for the wallets of developed countries’ citizens. The street food stalls at night near the “port” are your cheapest option.
– I found the BBQ of Scallywag, that is inclusive an all-you-can-eat vegetable/sides buffet to be the most filling when hungry for comfort food.
– Best spot for snorkelling: in front of Coral beach bungalows
– Best spot for Sunset: the lounge chairs from Ascott Hotel on the west coast
– Most laidback / comfy place I wish I had booked: I won’t tell you
I returned to Lombok airport, got my Lion Air flight to Surabaya delayed by 3 hours again (lucky I had changed it to take delays into consideration after the first Surabaya – Lombok delayed by 2 hours: apparently commonplace with Lion/Wings Air).
And there it is for this blog post! Hope you liked it! Do not hesitate if you have questions, write in the comments section below.
Jumpa lagi! (Til’ next time!)

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