November 7, 2016
People have asked about my profile photo where I’m standing in the yoga pose Natarajasana with mountain peaks and clouds off in the distance. That was an amazing day! Here’s the story:
On November 7th my alarm wakes me at 1:30 a.m. so I can catch a ride up to the base of Bali’s Mount Batur. The plan is to climb in the dark and reach the summit when the sun comes up.
But first we have to drive there. I sit in the passenger seat on the left (yes, opposite position than in the U.S.; many times in Bali I walk first to the wrong side of a vehicle to get in) of our driver, Agung. In the second and third rows of Agung’s big, new and super clean vehicle are six young ladies visiting our retreat center for yoga teacher training. I thought they would go back to sleep once we got going, but they are awake and talking. Everyone is excited about this climb.
Agung drives a lot of our retreat center guests around Bali. He wears a cool touring cap, plays hip music on his rides; has a good business going. Agung, by the way, means “great” and reflects his upper caste status. I notice many Balinese men act quiet around him.
As we wind up narrow and silent village streets into the darkness I see many dogs. Some are sleeping in the road and move lazily away when we approach. I say out loud, “Man, the dogs are out tonight.” Agung chuckles and says, “Yes, like this every night, many dogs all over Bali.”
We get there, a parking area with a lot of people and activity in the dark. There are many other tourists like us, and a row of guides lined up orderly. Two are assigned to us and we all get handed flashlights, bottles of water and a breakfast box I stash in my backpack…and we’re off.
The path starts easy and rises gently, but then we climb, following the flashlights ahead and above. The going is made even more difficult by the loose volcanic rock we walk on. Every so often I hear someone ahead slide back.
Mount Batur is an active volcano. The first documented eruption of Batur was in 1804, and it has been frequently active since then, most recently in 2000. Climbing, breathing heavily now, I’m not worried so much about another eruption as I am about sliding off the trail into the darkness. I crane my neck back to gaze almost straight up and watch the shaky lights of some of the hikers who started before us. We’re going way up there? I wonder if I made a mistake coming here.
I resign myself to focus on just one foot in front of the other. Stay mindful!
Thankfully, we make it. The sky lightens behind me. I turn around to see a new day beginning. Incredible!
“Hey, this hike was a great idea!” I exclaim to everyone. “The climb was just right, good workout!” The sun rises more and casts a warm golden glow. An elderly Balinese woman shows me a basket of bottles – water, soda, even Bintag beers – that she brought up here to sell. I decline, yet marvel that she got her load up here in the dark.
Monkeys come out of nowhere to jump around me. One stares me down, wanting to eat the hard boiled egg I just took from my pack. I toss it to him/her. He/she devours it.
On the way down I get to know one of our guides…now that I can see him. I find out that he’s 19 years old, does this hike everyday. “How many times have you climbed Batur?” I ask. Bouncing easily in red sneakers down the path like the playful, relaxed kid he is, he replies, “About a thousand times.” We find a nice vantage point and pose for photos.
At the bottom, back at the car, it’s around 8:00 a.m., but feels like late afternoon. I enter the SUV correctly this time and sit to the left of Agung. He has Britney Spears on. She sings over and over about if you want nice things in this world you need to work, addressing the listener each time as, “bitch.” Nice! Everyone in the big ride laughs. The mountains disappear as we wind down the sun splashed road into village after relaxing village. A few of us, myself included, fall asleep.