Inglorious Gunung Agung

01:00a.m. the alarm wakes us up after barely 2 hours of sleep, with our stomachs still processing the 3 courses delicious dinner of the night before, washed down by a couple of pints of Bintang.

Still in a lethargic state, we meet our driver in the hotel lobby in Candidasa. He will take us to Pura Besakih where our adventure is going to start. We ask him if he has ever climbed Gunung Agung and he says he has done it a couple of times. This is a holy volcano and for the local people climbing it is a very spiritual experience.
It takes almost an hour to arrive to destination where we meet a 21 years old woman that is going to be our guide. I look at her little thin body and make the first wrong assumption of the day: `If she can do it, it can't be that difficult`.
After a few steep flights of stairs I’m already out of breathe when the guide stops at a little shrine for some offerings and then gives us two flashlight headlamps: it’s pitch dark out there but the holy volcano is waiting for us.

We start the climb and suddenly I realise that this is not going to be an easy trek! `Why do we always have to go 'off the beaten track'? Couldn’t we just lie down on a sandy beach instead of climbing a 3000 mt stratovolcano? And how comes I didn’t see that line on the guide suggesting the trek `only to the very physically fit`? What was I thinking, overweight and out of shape after the bike accident I had some months ago?`

I’m embarrassingly slow but I still manage to keep the situation relatively under control. Then the nausea starts and makes breathing even more difficult. Luca doesn’t seem to suffer at all and I suggest him to speed up and join the other group ahead while I’m left behind with our guide. It looks clear that this is too much for me and the young lady mortifies my ego even more by offering to take my rucksack. I have no other choice than to accept so I feel relieved, for a bit.

It’s getting clearer and we are getting over the tree line. The jungle thins out. `I’m sure we are getting closer to the top`…but I’m too scared to ask the guide, so I stubbornly carry on while two little voices in my mind argue on the possibility of abandoning the climb. I am not sure if my guide is appreciating my obstinacy and pride or if she is just feeling compassion. It doesn’t matter now. 
I climb ahead.

In the last kilometres I found myself literally crawling on solified lava but I am almost there; I cannot give up now. The scenario has totally changed, there is no vegetation around, however it is full of monkeys. 

I get on the top too late to fully enjoy the sunrise, but the view is totally breathtaking (right, like there was any breathe left in me!). The panorama of whole Bali brightened up by the early sun is astonishing. The clouds around makes you feel like suspended in the sky. I can even see the top of Mount Rinjani in Lombok. It looks like only a few steps on the cloud are separating me form it. 

I have some minutes to rest, have a cup of tea and breathe. I am just starting to feel slightly better when the guide tells me it’s time to go. The morning haze and mistiness can make the descent quite difficult. 

It takes 4 long hours to get down and I arrive completely covered in mud due to the slippery ground.

11:20am I made it! The driver is waiting for us, he looks at me with pitiful eyes and asks: `How did it go?`
I’m not ashamed anymore `I did it and I’d do it again!`


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