Volcano Love.

For my inaugural post, I thought I would tell one of my absolute worst-kept-secrets.

Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved-loved-loved volcanoes. I legitimately would answer the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” with “volcanologist”… I guess I watched too many documentaries on the Discovery Channel, maybe I was an Aztec sacrifice in my previous life, I don’t know what it was but I was absolutely infatuated with volcanos and totally drawn to them.

Being an Australian, I never got to see a volcano… I can remember when I was little, Dad took me to an extinct one (in retrospect it was probably just a hill) that he found through a friend of a friend (and I don’t care if it wasn’t real because I reveled in that trip). I was chuffed to get to Hawaii when I was 14 to see the island that was created from volcanic activity. And although I didn’t see the active volcano – my infatuation endured into adulthood.

Five years later, Jono (who was fully aware of my deep love of all things volcanic) and I get to Bali for a relaxing holiday with his family. Of course our first stop was to see two of the island’s active volcano’s, Mount Batur and Gunung Agung, our tour guide (Kadek) drove us to the base and my love was reignited. The still blackened base from its last eruption fuelled my need to discover the raw power within the earth… I had to get closer. Kadek told us that there is a hiking tour to the top of Batur, where you can see Gunung Agung, and eat a volcanic-steam-cooked breakfast, beginning at 2am. So we booked it in for our last day on the island, figuring it would be a good way to get tired for the flight back home and end the holiday on a high.

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Mount Batur

Most people reading this will know what happens the first time you go to Bali, usually you get a case of ‘Bali belly’. The whole week in Bali, I hadn’t been sick at all and Jono had only got a mild case of the sickness. We attributed this to actually eating the local food and not drinking the water, but also not being super super strict like everyone else who didn’t eat salad and still managed to get quite sick for a good few days. The only incident that happened to me was on the second last day. We went white water rafting down the Ayung river and the walk back to the cast-off point left me with an extreme allergic reaction to poison ivy. But not knowing it was even a risk, I put my “sunburnt” legs to bed early that night for my long-awaited-dream-come-true the next day… Getting up close and personal with a real, active volcano.

At 2am, the alarm goes off. I bound out of bed with Jono only a touch less energetic than I. We meet Kadek at the lobby and he is excited for how happy I am for this to happen. It’s a 2-hour drive to the volcano, I’m wide awake and rearing to go. We step out into the dark night and it was much colder than I anticipated so my boyfriend gives me his long sleeved shirt that he brought to protect from the sun. We set off with our hiking guide. I can’t remember how far the hike was, but I would estimate the time being two hours in before I feel that telltale rumble in my stomach…I grin through it. “I have done it before” I tell myself… I persevere… I ask how far away we are and the guide points to rocks ahead and says that’s half way… I can make it to the top… Just two and a bit more hours to go… I ask if there are toilets at the top and I get a laugh in return, he shines his flashlight beyond the track and says there’s the toilet. Not good…

It wasn’t long after that until the next wave hit me, this was as we were climbing the 45 degree loose rocks up the side of the mountain, where I could see no end. I had to say something this time. I tell Jono I have to go, he says “well you’re going to have to go off the trail”, and I say “no. I really have to go”. He understands and says “Well go on. It’s dark.” I go on. Fair enough, because what’s the worst to happen?

I take off my backpack, put my flashlight around my neck and pocket our last three tissues (because back road Balinese toilets usually just have a mosquito laden bucket next to facilities for butt-wiping). I climb probably 30ft to the left of the trail with loose rocks below my feet and tussocks of grass in my hands for some-semblance-of-support on what felt like the edge of the cliff face in pitch black darkness. I do the smart thing and take off my long pants and I tuck my two shirts into my bra. So there I am, grasping onto the side of the volcano. Pantsless, squatting, releasing to the monster that was upon me in the form of Bali belly… After just minutes it was over. And I felt alright. I used my three tissues (even accounting for the splash on my ankles) and by the tussock of grass I was gripping, I stood up. It was over. I survived. And it wasn’t so bad. I turned on my heel to get back to the trail. But the rock that was supporting me had a different idea… My ankle rolled and I had nothing to grab on to… I fell.

Sliding on my side about four feet down the hill, it felt like eternity. I was naked from the bottom down (excluding my shoes and socks) and covered it one hot mess. Unfortunately, for me, when I fell, I screamed. And I could see Jono’s much brighter flashlight scanning the grass where I had left the trail towards me… I managed a pathetic wail of “STOP!” And thank the volcano god he did (mostly because even didn’t want to see what I looked like).

Jono asked if I was alright. I collected myself and said “I’m OK… But I have to leave your shirt here.” And with his shirt, I wiped as much as I could off of my body so I could continue the hike. Stinking of shit and shame I returned from the darkness, back to the trail. Jono was sweet but, he didn’t ask, he didn’t laugh and he assured me that no one would know “Just forget about it because we are almost to the crater of the volcano, and you’ve been waiting your whole life for this right?”

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Gunung Agung from the top of Batur

We get to the top, the highest point of the island. It is much warmer on the peak and I soon forget about the shirt I left behind. The sun in almost rising from the ocean that we can see as we sit by the rocky opening that is emitting steam and cooking our eggs for breakfast. It was beautiful, the pink partial sunrise, the heat, the power, the lasting devastation I could see at my feet, the millions of stars I could see above me. I sit by Jono and we watch the full moon disappear not before a shooting star arches the scene in front of us. I was completely in awe, I had never been happier, a hole had filled my heart being on top of this volcano. Everything that had drawn me here had led to this perfect moment in time. Jono, my love, looks down at me as he says my name softly, he pauses and I look in his eyes, I say his name back and rest my head on his shoulder. Feeling a little tired, emotional, a tiny my life is complete tear wells in my eye. And Jono looks back to the sunrise over the water and says ever-so-lovingly to me “you still have shit all up your arm”.

And I did.

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