After our experience in Bali, we were anxious to move on and see what the rest of Indonesia was like, starting with Lombok and a trek to Gunung Rinjani, the 2nd highest volcano in Indonesia. We took the fast boat from Ubud (Bali) to Sengiggi (Lombok) where we had planned to meet our friend Muthita, who was joining us for the trek. Since we don’t have phones or internet unless there’s wifi, it’s always a little nerve wrecking making plans to meet up and hoping that the person will just be there, but as soon as we stepped off our boat, we saw Muthita there waiting for us and we set off to book a tour and guide for our trek.
For the Rinjani trek, there’s a 1 night/2 day option and also a 2 night/3 day option. The one night tour goes to the crater rim, which overlooks the crater lake and the volcano. The two night tour takes you down to the lake (where you can swim in the lake and also the nearby hot springs) and then back up to the summit. From what we had read, you don’t see anything from the summit that you haven’t already seen from the crater rim and the Lonely Planet said that unless you just want to get to the top, it’s really not necessary to summit. While we didn’t really care about getting to the top (though I’ve never done the 2am wake-up and hiking in the dark to get to the summit, which Dave did on Kilimanjaro years ago), what we did care about was being able to go down to the lake and swim in the hot springs, which isn’t part of the typical one day package. We spoke to a couple tour companies who said we could go in a private group and make our own tour, including the lake in the one day package, however, once we compared the prices, it made more sense to take the extra day and night (we had read that the 3d/2n should cost about 175,000 rupees pp and we got it for 160, whereas the 1 night tour was selling for about 100 – so we were happy). So, that’s what we decided on.
After a quick lunch down the street, we headed to Senaru, the jumping off point for the trek. We had transport and accommodation included in our tour package, which was great. We got in with just enough time to check out the local waterfall and then pack for our trip. We had been looking forward to checking email and getting organized the night before we left, but of course, as soon as we started to pack, the electricity went out…. in the whole town. Luckily, before we left in the morning, we were at least able to email our parents and let them know we wouldn’t be able to communicate for the next few days.
We got an early start to our trek the next morning. On any treks we’ve done so far, we usually hike about 4-6 hours a day and then have the afternoon to relax and rest. The first day of this trek was pretty intense. It was 6 hours, and for the most part, all up hill. The first two hours were through the jungle and not too bad. Muthita was flying and we were following her closely behind. Then, we stopped for a great first lunch (these tours always have the best food, and a ton of it, which is of course, one of the reasons I love doing them:). After lunch, we had one more hour through the jungle and then the last 2 hours were pretty steep uphill, through sand and gravel. With every few steps you took, you were sliding back another step or two. Dave and I took the lead during this part of day one, with Muthita coming in a little bit behind us. I had a couple of slips on the sand but finally at around 4:30, we made it to our camp site for the night (Muthita arrived a little later with our guide), which was overlooking one of the coolest views I’ve ever seen (and definitely the coolest spot I’ve ever camped at). We were sleeping on the crater rim, which overlooked a huge lake with a volcano in the middle of it.
I had thought that we were actually hiking up the volcano, but it turns out, the actual volcano is in the middle of the crater surrounded by a lake, and we were hiking the mountain which houses it. It was pretty spectacular to see. We snapped photos from every angle and then watched a beautiful sunset before layering on all of our clothes and enjoying a great dinner at our campsite. We were asleep by 8pm (though I did wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and saw more stars in the sky than I’ve probably ever seen before. It was amazing.).
The next morning, we had breakfast and got another early start for the day. We thought day two would be a bit easier because we were spending the first couple of hours hiking down to the lake in the crater and then spending some time relaxing and enjoying the hot springs. I always tell Dave that it’s easier/faster for me to climb up than to climb down (to which he usually rolls his eyes and tells me there’s no way it’s faster to go up than down:), and this was no exception. Once again we were climbing on a slippery sand/gravel mixture, which I had some trouble with. Finally though, we made it down to the lake and the hot springs, and it was definitely worth it. I’d never been in a real hot springs before (we went to what we thought was one after our Machu Picchu trek, but it turned out to be more of a pool and also not very hot). This, on the other hand, was a little pond of water that was pretty much a natural hot tub. Whoever planned this trekking route did it brilliantly because at the halfway point through the trek, it was a perfect time to not only relax a little, but also to clean off all the sand and dust. It felt great!
We ate lunch after our dip and then continued on for the uphill portion of the day, 3 more hours, all uphill, to our campsite. It was another tough afternoon, but I passed the time by ranking the different trekking terrains in order from least favorite to favorite. And the order is: slippery sand/gravel, mud, scree (also loose gravel but there’s more of it so it’s not quite as slippery), straight dirt path, jagged rocks (don’t ask me why but I love climbing on rocks. Not only does it give your feet something to balance on/hold on to, it also makes me feel like a serious climber). So, there you have it, a very hard but also productive afternoon 🙂
We got to camp a bit earlier on the second day, and after setting up our tent (we made a nice cozy home in there), we sat overlooking the crater lake and volcano (though this time from the other side) reading (Dave has suddenly turned into an avid reader!!), enjoying the view and anticipating the climb we had in store for us for the middle of the night. We had dinner during sunset and once again, we were asleep by 8 (though this time for good reason, since we had to wake up at 2am).
Muthita had not been feeling great (before starting the trek she had been sick for a few days and then had also kicked a sea urchin a few weeks before the trip – both of which do not make for a good trekking combo), so she decided to opt out of the summit hike (and as we mentioned before, going to the summit is more just to do it and get to the top rather than to see a new view). Dave and I though, were up at 2:30am and ready to start hiking. We layered on all our clothes, put on our headlamps and set out to summit. At first, we were annoyed with our guide because by the time we started there were already a lot of people heading up (we told him we even wanted to leave a bit early to beat the crowds), but he told us not to worry.
There were three parts to the summit hike. The first part was very steep uphill through sand (my least favorite trekking terrain). This part was supposed to take an hour, but we did it in 30 minutes (our guide was racing through this part – I actually had to tell him to slow down once or twice so I could catch my breath). Within the first 10 minutes though, we were passing almost everyone headed up the mountain (about 100 ppl total tried to summit that day, I think) and finally we could see why he didn’t rush for us to get started. Also within the first 10 minutes, we were already starting to hear people saying they didn’t think they could make it and that they wanted to turn around. We didn’t think this part was too hard though.
Part two was supposed to take about an hour and was an uphill walk across the crater rim. It wasn’t too hard since it wasn’t very steep, but this part of the hike definitely seemed like the longest, especially since this is when it started to get really cold and windy. For most of the hike, our guide was a good deal ahead of us (I guess he realized that we didn’t really need much help) but we found him waiting for us near the end of part two with some snacks to give us energy for the final push to the summit (during the entire trek, our guide always had snacks handy for us, which was of course one of my favorite things about him).
Part three was very steep uphill, all through scree (my third least favorite trekking terrain). It was cold and pretty tough. A couple times, both Dave and I wondered why we had decided to go to the summit when we could be back in our tent sleeping, like Muthita. But, there wasn’t ever a point where either of us thought we couldn’t make it. We could only take about 20 steps at a time before stopping to rest, but we knew we could make it. Finally, at 5:45am, just 15 minutes before sunset, our guide stopped us (with more cookies), and told us to sit for a few minutes. He said that we were about a 3 minute walk to the summit and of course, Dave and I were anxious to get there after our long hike, but he said that it was warmer in the spot he was sitting (sheltered by a rock) and we should wait so we didn’t have to sit in the freezing cold for too long waiting for the sun to rise. Smart guy!
The summit hike was supposed to take around 3 hours, but Dave and I did it in 2:40. I was also the first girl at the summit, which was pretty cool (of the 100 or so ppl that summitted that day, I think only 5 or so were ahead of us). We went up to watch the sun rise and take some photos, but it was too cold to stay there for very long, so after a few minutes, we started the hour and a half hike back down.
We finally made it back to our campsite at around 8am and were very ready to clean up a bit and eat breakfast. I was still putting my stuff away when our breakfast sandwiches came out so I didn’t start eating right away. That was a mistake, because after a minute of my food just sitting there, all the sudden, a monkey ran up and snatched my sandwich away. I immediately started to cry – after our very long morning, this put me over the edge. But, after getting over the fact that my sandwich was gone, it was pretty cool to see all the monkeys coming to all the campsites to eat the leftovers from all the hikers. There must have been a hundred of them! That, combined with the view was pretty amazing to see.
By 8am, we had already hiked 5 hours and we still had another 5 to go for the day, though luckily (or so I thought) all downhill. Half of the hike down was through my least favorite terrain, the slippery sand/gravel. I was sliding and falling the whole time – it’s definitely time for some new sneakers. It was a tough and frustrating hike for me (this is when I cried the second time of the day, after falling about 20 times) but by the time we stopped for lunch (and met up with Muthita who had went on ahead of us that morning), the rest of the hike was pretty flat and not so slippery.
After a long and hard three days (I think this was probably the most difficult trek we’ve done so far, harder than Everest Base Camp and Machu Picchu, though the former is 11 days and so more a test of endurance/stamina than strength), we made it back and in enough time to make it to the Gilli Islands that night. After camping and trekking for three days, we were definitely ready to be back on the beach.
There are three very small islands right off the coast of Lombok which make up the Gilli Islands. Gilli Air is closest to Lombok and is known to be really chill, Gilli Meno is the second in the middle island and the most deserted of the three, and Gilli T, the furthest island from Lombok, is known as the party island. We, of course, stayed on Gilli T.
From the second we got there, we could tell that this island was going to be more like what we had hoped Bali would be. Fun but also very chill and beautiful. There was one main street running along the beach filled with great restaurants, bars, and hotels. On our first night, we explored the main area of the island a bit, but having been up since 2am, we were exhausted so we grabbed a great local meal near our guesthouse and called it an early night.
We woke up in the morning and were ready to explore. The first thing on our agenda for the day was finding a dive company for the following day. We had read that the two most popular dive spots around the island were Shark Point and Manta Point (as you can tell by the name, the first is famous for shark spotting and the second for manta ray spotting). Our biggest problem with diving is that we always know exactly what dive sites we want to go to, but a lot of the time, the company we dive with won’t give us a clear answer on where they’re going or they tell us they’ll be going to one place and switch it at the last minute. Of course, we understand that the dive site has to depend on the weather conditions for the day, but when you’re spending a lot of money (typically $100 pp) and only do it every few months or less, you want to get what you think you’re paying for. If you think about, we really can’t think of any other business where you pay for one thing and then end up getting something else. Because we’ve run into this issue a few times, our new diving strategy has been to pick a company but tell them we’ll pay after the dive and if they don’t end up going to the site we agreed on, we’ll either postpone our dive for a day or find another company.
The first company we inquired with told us they weren’t sure what the dive site would be for the following day but we could check back later in the afternoon for the schedule. Well, as we were standing there at 8:30am (30 minutes before the boat left), they changed their site for the day. So, that company was out. The second company we found, however, Aquaddiction, told us they didn’t have anyone signed up for the next day yet, so we could choose the sites. That sounded amazing to us! We signed up for Shark Point in the morning and Manta Point in the afternoon for the following day.
After that was taken care of, we set out to explore the rest of the island. Everyone on Gilli T seemed to be riding a bicycle, so at first, that was what we were planning to do for the day. Then, after learning that to walk around the entire island only takes 2.5 hours, we realized that if we did bike, we’d probably be done too fast and have nothing to do in the afternoon (remember, we get bored laying on the beach even for 10 minutes!). So, walking it was.
The island has a “road” (and I say that in quotes because it’s part road part just sand) that runs all the way around it right off the beach. We walked around the whole island on that road and it was a beautiful walk. The only problem was that when we actually wanted to go in the water, we found that it was almost too rocky to stand. Regardless, we had a great, relaxing day strolling around the island. We stopped for lunch at one of the restaurants right on the beach (and sat on our favorite bean bag chairs), spent some time relaxing on the beach, and then before we knew it, we were back where we started.
Then, we went to see the island’s view point. Unlike most of the viewpoints we’ve seen, this one did not have one specific platform or stop to look down from, instead it was more like a trail going over a big hill in the middle of the island. So, there were actually different views all along the way, which was pretty cool.
By the time we were done with that, it was about 5pm and time to go back and relax for a bit before going out for the night. The internet at our guesthouse wasn’t that great (or on the whole island for that matter – in fact, the first night, our guesthouse was the only place on the street that even had electricity). After being totally disconnected on our trek for a few days, we wanted to talk to our parents to see what was new, so we decided to go somewhere on the main street with wifi for an hour or so to try to video chat with them. We sat down, got a hookah, and talked to our parents for a few, which was really nice (though the internet was still very spotty). Then, the three of us went to dinner at what looked like the biggest/best seafood spot on the island (Scallywags). It was Muthita’s last night with us, so we wanted a little nicer dinner to say goodbye to her. At this place, you picked out your fish/meat (we went with a whole snapper, a filet of butterfish, and a half rack of ribs) and everyone got a free salad bar with the meal. It was delicious and SO much food. We were stuffed and ready for bed by the time we left.
We woke up early on our second full day in Gilli T for a full day of diving. We got to our shop, tried on all of our equipment, and after a ten minute boat ride, we were at Shark Point. Unlike our past few dives/snorkel trips in the Philippines where they pretty much said there was a 101% chance we’d see whale sharks/sea turtles/thresher sharks, our guide said that he couldn’t guarantee anything, but hopefully we’d see a shark or two. Well, he totally undersold it.
We got down to 25 meters and within minutes, he peeked under a piece of coral and there were two white tip sharks waiting to say hello. In the next hour, we saw 3 more sharks, 2 sting rays, 2 eels, 3 octopus, a lobster, a couple giant sea turtles and of course hundreds of other beautiful fish swimming around. It was by far the best dive we’ve ever been on (though we kind of felt like we deserved it – after about 3 years of diving, we haven’t had a “oh wow that was amazing dive” until now). We saw pretty much every big sea creature that you can possibly see. I was especially excited about the octopus, which I’ve never seen before (other than the tiny and very poisonous octopus that I didn’t even know was an octopus in Malapascua a few weeks ago). We got back into the boat and were SO excited about what we’d seen and already couldn’t wait for our dive that afternoon.
Typically, when you do a 2-tank dive, most companies will take you out either in the morning or the afternoon and do your two tanks at once. We don’t love doing it like this because 1) it’s very tiring getting out of the water and then getting right back in, and 2) after just half a day, you’ve spent a lot of money and you still need to occupy yourself for the other half a day. This company took us out for one dive in the morning, then we came back to shore, had a couple hours to relax and eat lunch and then took us out again in the afternoon. It was great!
For our afternoon dive to Manta Point, our instructor was even less certain we’d see anything good. He kept telling us there was no guarantee other than seeing lots of fish and some really pretty coral. Once again, he completely undersold it. The second we got down to about 20 meters, there was a big white tip shark sitting on the bottom waiting for us. He swam around a bit (I think he was putting on a little show for my video camera) and then settled back down on the bottom. Seeing him alone was enough to make for a great dive but then our guide proceeded to find us about 15-20 other baby sharks all hidden under rocks and coral. At one point, we peeked under a piece of coral to find 5 of them chilling there. This guy was amazing, aside from just being a cool guy and great instructor he also literally knew where all of these sharks lived. It was a seriously epic day of diving.
After we got done, we went back to our place to hang for a bit and then decided this would be our night to stay out late and see what the party/night life in Gilli T is all about. We started at a place on the beach with a hookah (and then moved inside to the hookah lounge) and from there, checked out a couple of bars. The nightlife in Gilli T is definitely fun and what I like most about it is that unlike somewhere like Koh Phi Phi or Kuta Beach where you are pretty much forced to party late into the night because a) there’s nothing else to do, and b) if you don’t it’s too loud to sleep, Gilli T is much more chill and relaxed (though by 1am everything is pretty much shut down so for those people who like to stay out all night, this might not be the place for you – for me, on the other hand, 1am is already a late night and I’m usually ready to call it much before then so I didn’t mind at all:). The option to party is there, but if that’s not your thing (or even if it is your thing but you just want to have a chill night), you can easily get a great dinner, even catch a movie at one of a few spots on the island showing them on the beach and just relax. It’s a great balance, I think. We had an awesome night checking out the Gilli T scene. That, combined with our best dives ever made for one of (if not the) best days of our trip so far!
We were headed back to Lombok the next day to catch an early flight the following day to Surabaya. On our way out of Gilli T, we were debating making a pit stop in Gilli Air to check it out but in the end decided we’d rather have a relaxing morning (plus we had all our stuff with us and didn’t know what we would have done with it). So instead, we caught the slow boat back to Lombok at around 11 and decided to spend the afternoon and night in Mataram, the capital of Lombok (and about halfway between the pier we were coming into and the airport).
We took a Bemo (the mini bus-like public transport in Lombok) from the pier (or about a 20 minute walk from the pier) to Mataram. A taxi would have been about $10 and this cost us $4. Plus, we got a more local experience traveling with about 6 other local women and the baskets that they carry around on their heads (I’m pretty sure the whole van was supposed to hold about 5 people, so it was definitely a squeeze).
We got to Mataram and after finding a place to stay, we wanted to check out the mall there (it was supposed to be nice though it really wasn’t – none of the fast food places were even open for lunch which led us to making/eating peanut butter sandwiches that we made after a stop at the supermarket) and then go to see the two most famous/important temples in the capital, Peru Mura and the Water Palace. Amazingly, as we were asking around for these two places, no one seemed to have any clue what we were talking about, which was pretty frustrating. Finally, after way too long, we found them but neither of them were really anything special. For dinner, we had at least thought we’d be able to get a great local meal but even though there were tons of warungs around the city, they all seemed to be empty. We think that maybe it’s because it’s Ramadan and since everyone is fasting all day they want to eat dinner as early as possible (we went out to eat at around 8pm). Either way though, it’s very hard for us to eat in local places like that when there’s not a soul around (typically, we only eat at local places when there’s a lot of people there so we can see what they’re eating and order the same, or when they have English menus or at least menus with pictures pictures; this place had neither) so instead we treated ourselves to Pizza Hut. We figured that since the rest of our time in Indonesia will be spent in very local cities, we’d have plenty of chances to try the rest of the local foods. It was a nice meal until just as we were finishing the power went out – good timing for us, I guess.
We had thought Mataram would be a fun little city to spend a day in and would help get us back into big city mode (the next three big cities we’re visiting – Jakarta, Singapore, and Kuala Lumpur – are the three biggest cities we’re visiting on our trip, other than maybe Manila, and all in a row). Unfortunately we were a bit disappointed with Mataram, but now we’re off to see our third and last volcano in Indonesia (Gunung Bromo), followed by Yogyakarta, the cultural capital of Java which we expect/hope will be like Ubud, which we enjoyed. Then the huge SE Asia city tour begins (the 3 aformentioned big cities), the latter of two of which my mom will be joining for. Considering we typically love big cities (not to mention my mom visiting), we definitely have a great couple of weeks coming up!