Feeling supremely confident after Mt. Lawu, I decided to tackle the most active volcano in Indonesia – Mount Merapi, an hour west of Solo. I’m not in reckless things, but you have to agree that the title certainly adds a lot of excitement and thrill to the hike. A popular option among foreign tourists is to start with a guide at 1 am to reach the summit for sunrise. Sounded fantastic to me. I rolled into Selo, the base village north of Merapi, with an Indonesian woman and her 2 children piled on the back of my scooter. Her husband’s motorbike couldn’t handle all the steep inclines of Ketep pass and the family was by the roadside trying to fix it when I stopped to ask for directions. And naturally as we were all going to the same place, the woman and her kids hopped on behind me for the remaining 5 kms. Arriving in Selo, they asked me where I was headed to and I replied New Selo, which is the true base camp where the trail starts, and the husband took me to the turn where the road forks. Indonesians build some impossible roads; I felt like I was struggling up a vertical rise. After 15 minute, I arrived at a row of warungs with a big NEW SELO sign on top. They were all closed; not a soul around. Not a single one. The air was crisp, cold, and smoky under the orange light of a couple of lamp posts. Where was basecamp and other hikers? Dejectedly, I turned around, but on the way down, I stopped by a local’s house to ask and he pointed me slightly off across from the road and said basecamp. I said, yes, basecamp, I’m looking for basecamp. I looked at the direction he pointed and couldn’t see a thing so I decided that he wasn’t understanding what I was asking. And I clearly didn’t understand him, because the next day, I would find out that it was indeed basecamp where he had pointed. But it was so dark that it looked like any of the other houses in the village. Back at Selo, after 2 dinners, I found my way to a couple of lodging and guide houses. As I parked my bike in front of them, I heard a French dad and his son talking from across the street. I turned to say hello and asked for information. They told me how they got a guide and how much they paid and where they were staying. We talked for a little while and they offered to take me into their group and split the cost. Perfect, just as I had wished. But first we would need to find the guide and negotiate with him. To keep the story short, I met “Superman” – the owner of one of the 2 tour guide lodges. He quoted me 300,000 rupiahs for a guide, and 150,000 for a room in his house. It was steep, as much as the French team were paying in total for 2. After much discussing, Superman offered me a great deal of 200,000 rupiahs ($18) for both room and a group guide. Honestly it was a great deal, but I said no. Superman didn’t make a great first impression on me, and as the conversation went, I didn’t like the vibe of how he ran things. I felt like he was trying to push me to join his son’s group of hikers, and he was also trying to scare me away from hiking without a guide early in the morning, which was exactly what I decided to do in the end. I found a cheap homestay and went to bed early, setting my alarm for 4:30 a.m. Luckily, the home stay is right next door to a mosque which started blasting prayers at 2:30 in the morning. An hour later, after admitting that I could not ignore all the loudspeakers pointing at my window, I grumpily got up and got ready. By 4, I was at New Selo. I had the sleeping bag around me again as a jacket, but it was surprisingly warm so I took it off right away. A group of 3 young Indonesians were getting ready and we made acquaintances. Unfortunately, one of the guys in the group got sick so I left by myself, thinking I would see them either at the top or on my way down so we could chat more. I never saw any of them on the trail and assumed that they had to turn back to take care of their sick friend. The beginning 45 minutes was mostly dirt trail and fairly well trodden so I didn’t have any problem following the path with my headlamp, and later, in the soft lights of dawn. I was walking on a ridge with open views over the flanks on both sides. To my back, Mount Merbabu was so elegant and gentle. There was no way I could make it to the summit for sunrise, but luckily, the open terrain and low sitting clouds meant that I could still catch the sun rising out from the fluffy white blanket.

Mount Merbabu, Gunung Merbabu, Indonesia

stately Merbabu

sunrise, Mount Merapi, Gunung Merapi, Indonesia DSCN4622 By the time the sun had peeked out from the clouds, the trail got rocky but was fairly easy to navigate in the daylight, and I thought with caution, I could even hike that part in the dark. So far it had been surprisingly not too challenging. 2 hours and a half after I started, I made it to the base of the crater where I ran into the French group on their way down. We were happy to meet again and exchange our news. They were worried that I was outside the night before when the rain was pouring, but I happily reported back that I found a warm clean place and was soundly asleep then. They warned me that the ascent up the crater would be the most difficult part. The rocks were blown up during explosions into fine powdery black grains. Like stepping on a sand dunes, you slide down considerably for each step up. And since I was wearing open toed sandals, it would be quite uncomfortable with all the particles slipping inside. But I was elated, I was so close, and I was proud of myself for making it solo. This was not gonna stop me. Of course not. We said goodbye and I eagerly hopped forward, at the same time as a group of 4 young Indonesians.

Mount Merapi, Gunung Merapi, Indonesia

Mount Merapi crater walk

And damn my butt was kicked! Hardcore! At one point, I had to take off my sandals and socks so my toes could dig in deeper and grip firmer. But I couldn’t walk barefoot for long because the sun hadn’t been out long enough to warm the ground. Luckily, shortly after, I remembered my riding gloves and promptly put them on, climbing up on four whenever possible. I was panting way harder after 15 minutes than the whole trail before. Not what I expected it. On the other hand, the challenge was fun. How often do you get to hike up the crater of an active volcano? You look around when you take a mini break and the landscape is menacing – all black as a result of complete destruction. It took me a good 25 minutes to get past the sandy part before we hit the boulders. By this time, despite the complete lack of mutual language understanding, I had become a member of the Indonesian group and they were kind enough to show me the path to maneuver past the rocks. DSCN4667 DSCN4671 DSCN4694 DSCN4695 Another 10 minutes and I reached the crater rim. And wow! I definitely didn’t know what to expect and was so taken aback at the sight. You have been walking up the mountain for 3 hours, and all of a sudden it’s a sheer drop right in front of your eyes into a ragged hole. Sulphur was spewing out from cracks.  I was awed and humbled. I could easily slip down. It was extraordinary, even surreal. There was no magma but I was reminded of the lava boat tour on the Big Island. Feeling small and fragile at the power of nature. Such a sight to behold. DSCN4713 DSCN4717

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