In which I visit the peak of Bali's largest volcano - Gunung Agung - and then head to Java.
Well after a couple of days of reading by the pool, contemplating the cosmos (thanks a lot Anathem!), checking out the local waruns and hitting the town with my new Ubud friends - surfer Lindsay and his Finnish workmate Anina - while waiting for a second person to join me on the Gunung Agung hike I finally cracked. I called up a random guide from Lonely Planet and paid for both me and an imaginary friend.
The guide picked me up from Ubud and I stayed with him in his tiny village of Muncan. Here, I went to bed at 7pm after reading a section of Anathem in which one of the main characters is bizarrely killed by a pyroclastic flow - then the guide told me over dinner that some of his village friends had died in a pyroclastic flow from Gunung Agung when he was young - I'm getting pyroclastic flows coming out of my ears!
Luckily this didn't happen on our climb (and nor from any other orifice), which we started at the confusing time of 11 o'clock... PM. This was like the Melbourne Uni Mountaineering Club tradition of Midnight Ascent, but with double the vertical elevation (rising to 3000m) and having to head back down the same day (but minus the formal dinner and keg scolling).
Annoyingly, after about an hour of climbing we came across a different group - he was an Austrian called Franz and he had his own guide too. Neither of us needed to exchange words for us both to know what we were each thinking: rather than both of us having to invent imaginary friends to climb the mountain with us why couldn't we have both imagined each other and bootstrapped our way up automatically? This feeling was compounded by the fact that the path was so easy to follow it was set inside a rut that was at times a metre deep. Plus my guide was so slow he kept on getting puffed out and demanding rest stops (I'm the fittest Westerner he's ever met, he reckons, which sounds like it can't be many).
Just before reaching the top at about 4am, my guide told me we were two hours ahead of schedule and that we'd need to have a break before summitting - it's chilly at the top! But this involved lying on my back on a cold granite slab angled towards a steep gully and I certainly didn't get much sleep out of it - plus I was keen to see my first sight of the Andromeda Galaxy that I figured was just on the other side of the peak.
The summit was pretty awesome - we saw the sun rise over the slightly more impressive Rinjani in Lombok, and the volcano managed not to erupt while we were standing on it. The way down and the rest of the day got pretty blurry though. I ended up staying in Lindsay's spare room in Ubud, the rent for which I paid in beer.
In the next couple of days I worked my way around Bali to Java, stopping briefly in Lovina to seek out the place where I have a vivid memory from when I was two of being chased by geese. I'll never know what revenge I would have exacted on them or their descendants because they evaded detection... for now.
After the ferry ride over to Java my environment changed pretty drastically. For one thing people stopped speaking English and all the Westerners scooted off. Also, people suddenly got very serious about religion with the Call To Alms being frequently loudspeakered over all the towns I passed through. I actually think it's an eerily beautiful sound... except for when they let the local kids in the village sing it one by one out of tune and all the adults tilt their heads and go "Awww, isn't that cute" and I try not to throw up.
Getting to my next destination from Lovina took a bus, a ferry, a train and another bus. I spend most of my time traveling like this lost in the depths of my own brain, often resurrecting old conversations, song lyrics and poems I'd assumed were lost to the ages (it's amazing how much junk there is lying around in there). But every now and then I suddenly stop and think "Hold on - where am I? What's going on? How did I get on this bus?", to which a small voice in my head would reply, "Relax Felix, I prepared a dossier of memories linking you to this moment. Just sit back and let me take care of everything", and I would then return to my own thoughts.
Next up, another couple of volcanoes - I climb Mount Bromo and then make a poorly planned and ultimately failed trek to another one. Stay tuned.