HCMC Dining Guide

Monday, September 28, 2015

Incredible Indonesia: Climbing Rinjani - Part One

By nearly any measure, Indonesia is a country that boggles the mind. Spread across 17,508 islands stretching over 3,000 miles along the equator, Indonesia is home to 255 million people, enough to make it the fourth most-populous country in the world. The population is extremely diverse, featuring hundreds of ethnic and linguistic groups. All of this means getting a thorough understanding of the people and culture there would be a major undertaking, and I certainly know next to nothing when it comes to these subjects.

However, my trip wasn't about people or culture, it was about nature and the great outdoors, both on land and in the ocean. In these aspects Indonesia came through in spades; no surprise considering it has the second-highest level of biodiversity in the world, after Brazil. My entry point was the island of Lombok, which sits between Bali and Sumbawa, and I had one main objective there: climbing Mount Rinjani, at 12,224 feet the second-tallest volcano in the country (out of over 150 active volcanoes). This was my first time traveling south of the equator.

I arrived in the dark, and after a three-hour van ride I was in the small hill town of Senaru, one of the gateways to Rinjani. It was cool at night, though I had no idea what the area looked like until morning, when I was greeted with this view from the restaurant of my guesthouse.
Imposing Rinjani - the summit is on the left.
I had planned to begin the three-day, two-night trek to the summit that morning, but my guide informed that the rest of the group had been delayed, so we wouldn't begin until the next day. I was annoyed at first, but this gave me time to recover from a long day of travel from Saigon and go on a short hike to a couple of waterfalls that begins right in town. The weather was utterly perfect, with barely a cloud in the sky - a trend that would continue for most of my time in the country.

The rest of the group arrived the next morning - two British girls in university, a Dutch couple and a Belgian couple, all of whom were great. After a short ride to the entrance to Rinjani National Park we signed in at the ranger's station and set off, our tireless local guide leading the way.
For the next few hours we were ensconced in dense jungle as we ascended the dirt path. This stretch was fairly easy, though it was hard to tell how much progress we were making since we couldn't see the surroundings through the trees. After lunch clouds started to move in, as Rinjani creates its own weather and clouds over every afternoon.

We continued on through the mist, spotting numerous monkeys along the way. The trees were beginning to thin out, while the clouds muffled all noise and lent an eerily silent atmosphere to the climb. There were plenty of other trekkers on the path, but it never felt crowded. Eventually we hit a very steep ridge through tall grass, followed by a rocky slope that made for tricky footing. Patches of blue sky were beginning to appear, which meant we were nearing the top of the cloud bank.

The terrain began to level off, but we still had no real sense of where we were, until suddenly we reached the rim of Rinjani's massive caldera and were treated to this staggering view:
Rinjani's summit can be seen on the left.

After slogging through jungle for most of the day, to suddenly have such an epic vista was somewhat shocking. We were now looking at what makes Rinjani so famous; the 3.7 by 5.3 mile caldera, which was formed by an enormous eruption in the 13th century that blasted up to 10 cubic miles of rock into the atmosphere and may have helped begin the Little Ice Age. The eruption caused the old volcano, called Samalas, to collapse, creating the present caldera. A deep blue lake, known as Segara Anak, has since filled the caldera, while the current active cone, Gunung Barujari, sits smoldering in the middle (it most recently erupted in 2010).

At this altitude the sun was still strong even though it was approaching 5pm, and we took in the spellbinding views while the porters set up camp away from the rim. I had seen pictures of the caldera while doing research for this trip, but nothing could have prepared me for the sheer scale of it. I had never seen anything even remotely similar before, and I found it hard to comprehend the sheer geologic force it took to create such an incredible view. The dichotomy between this and my normal daily view of polluted, overcrowded Saigon couldn't have been any more pronounced.

As the sun descended towards the horizon the temperature began to drop rapidly, and we started unpacking our cold-weather clothes, which I had to buy at a specialist outdoor shop in Saigon since I never need such gear in southern Vietnam. We had a very scenic camping site, perfectly placed to watch the incredible sunset.

Pitch-black darkness fell in a hurry, and the clear sky became a brilliant display of the stars, possibly more than I've ever seen. We went to bed early, feet throbbing and calves burning, ready to carry on the trek the next day.


  1. welcome back Mike. Looked like you had a good time in Indonesia. Were things a lot cheaper than Vietnam or the same?

    1. It depends on the island, Lombok was as cheap as Vietnam but really popular places like the Gilis and Bali are definitely more expensive.