This post if very long and not super well written. If you're not interested in the boring details you can use the preferences to switch to the short version.
The concept of hitchhiking doesn't exist here. That's what my first host told me. She was right. I'm not entirely sure why people ever pick me up. Every single person that's given me a ride has tried to drop me at a bus station, taxi hangout or in some other way arrange transport for me. They can't comprehend that I'm going to try to keep going by hitchhiking. They ask me where I'm going then how I'm getting there and I tell them I'm going to keep traveling how I'm traveling now and they usually don't understand. If they do understand they tell me no one will pick me up. People have been telling me no one will pick me up since I got here. I've yet to wait more than 15min for a ride.
I needed to get from the center of Denpasar to Padang Bai so I could hop a ferry to Lombok. I didn't know what to do on Lombok, all I knew was that several Indonesians had told me to go there. A couple new friends had written things down for me to do in Lombok but I wasn't sure if they were beaches, mountains or food to try. I figured I'd figure it out when I got there--that's been the general plan so far.
I easily hitchhiked to Padang Bai. Three cute girls took me to the edge of town and two young boys picked me up from there. I didn't expect a ride directly to Padang Bai, I figured I'd make it to one of the cities on either side of it. As luck would have it, one of the young men(Christian age 23) was going to Padang Bai so he could catch the ferry too. He offered to take me with him and I accepted. Christian and his friend helped me get through the unnecessary police interrogation at the port and buy a ticket to the ferry.
On the ferry Christian gave me some stuff to help prevent sea sickness. It was well received. He asked me what I was going to do on Lombok and I said I had no plan. He told me he had a little work to do there but that we was going to spend the remainder of his time touring around the island and proceed to list off everything he planned to do; it was exactly what my friends had recommended. He asked if I wanted to join him and I said sure. He asked me where I was staying and I said I didn't know. He offered to let me stay with him and I accepted. He was staying at the nicest hotel in town compliments of his employer.
Christians co-worker picked us up at the port and drove us into town. On the way to town we stopped and had a local specialty for dinner. It was delicious. A little while later we were at the hotel. I love freaking out the norms. There I was, a scraggly backpacker with a cardboard sign that said "anywhere" strapped to the side of his dirty backpack, in the middle of a fancy hotel surrounded by international businessmen in dress cloths. The room was nice. It had a king size bed, AC, free wifi, a hot shower and best of all, no mosquitoes.
The free breakfast in the hotel was phenomenal. It was a sumptuous spread of all kinds of local specialties. I ate 4 plates of food and 3 plated of desserts. Christian does marketing for a very large drink manufacturer. He said we'd be exploring the island with some of his co-workers--8 young women who do micro-visits to sell the drink. We packed 10 people and one child in an SUV and left to go explore the island. We went snorkeling at Gili Nanggu.The coral was ok but there was a spectacular dream-coat of tropical fish. After that we went to a traditional village and finally to a beach to watch the sunset. The next afternoon we went to Gili Trawangan(a party island), a lookout point and another beach.
Despite several attempts I hadn't paid for anything. Not for food, not for lodging and not for transportation or entrance fees. I figured we'd just settle up at the end. When the time came to part ways Christian wouldn't accept any money. He had taken me in like a true friend, showed me all around the island and shared all of the local delicacies with me. The food I had on Lombok was by far the best so far.
This account doesn't do a good job of describing the bonding Christian and I did in the 3 short days we spent together. The second night we stayed up in the hotel room until 1:30am talking and sharing some brum(another local spirit) one of his co-workers had given me. When we went separate ways he considered me his brother from America and thanked me deeply for my time. The feeling was mutual.
Christian was the first person to understand that I wanted to hitchhike. So on the day he went home he left me on the side of the road just out of town in a spot with shade and no taxis and where cars could see me from a distance. He had also drawn me a detailed map of the island, listed the places I should put on my signs and told me all the things I need to do during the rest of my time in Indonesia.
The only thing left to do on Lombok was climb Mt. Rinjani. A couple picked me up and drove me most of the way there. They were going to the first of the four cities on my list but took me to the second one anyway! Like almost everyone that's picked me up they offered me all kinds of things--chips, red bull, cigarettes, mango etc. My general pattern is to decline the first thing, accept the second thing and decline future things unless I really want or don't want one of the things(for instance cigarettes which I never take and mango which I almost always take). So I wound up with a redbull. I don't usually take caffeine. I don't drink coffee or tea and I only drink soda in mixed drinks. The redbull had surprisingly little effect.
When the couple dropped me off they talked to a supply truck that was going to the base of the mountain. They would let me ride with them. In truck overflowing with goods and people I sat on a bag of peanuts that was literally hanging off the back of the truck, holding on for dear life the whole time. This was the true local ride. This is how the people travel.
A little before they dropped me at the base of the mountain. I didn't really have a plan. I figured I'd find an outfitter, rent a tent and sleeping back, drop some unnecessary things, grab some dinner--I hadn't eaten since breakfast--and be on my way. None of that happened.
There were no outfitters and the information center was closed. There was a map outside the information center so I took some pictures of it and walked to a local roadside stand. There I used all my small money to buy 2 large bottles of water. This left me with 1 large mango, 7 tiny mangoes(half the size of a kiwi), 1 Cup walnuts, 1 Cup peanuts, .3 Cups cashews, 1 bar of Godiva chocolate, 1.5 bags of mini Dove chocolates, 500ml of Brum and 3.5 liters of water.
How I survived Rinjani
Whether or not I want to admit it, part of this trip is about forced introspection. I've got a lot to figure out and I need time alone to think. So far I've been with other people and busy non-stop. I'm sure I could have found some place to stay in the small town but I was ready to be alone. I started walking and quickly passed two restaurants. I stopped in each to try to grab some dinner but both told me they were closed. The first one gave me a rough map--the type you'd find on a place mat--and I took it figuring any map was better than no map. The guy asked me if I was going alone. I said yes. "No guide? No porter?" "No" I told him. I was asked that exact line of questioning easily another 30 times in the next 3 days. "Be careful" he said; another thing I got used to hearing. The map showed only one trail and the guy said to stay on it. Simple enough.
I didn't know much about the mountain other than that people said I should climb it. I'd heard it takes between 2 days 1 night and 5 days 4 nights to climb. My map told me there were three camping areas before the summit--the first(1300m) 2hrs away, the second(1500m) 1hr after that and the third(1800m) an additional hour. The map used time to measure distance. Being from the Midwest of the United States this is something I'm used to. Though I was very hungry I decided to keep walking until it was so dark I needed a light to see. I figured it would be slow going after that and I'd best make time while I could.
20min later the path split. I took the direction that seemed more traveled and led up the mountain. Another 20min later a motor bike was coming down the path so I flagged it down. I was going the wrong way. The guy was nice enough to drive me back to the fork. I had lost 40min of precious light and energy. After dark I stopped for dinner. I ate the large mango, .25C of each of the nuts and a piece of Dove chocolate. Oh, and a children's chewable multivitamin I'd picked up in Denpasar. There's nothing like walking by yourself at night in the mountains to make you feel alone. I had turned off my cellphone before I left so I had no sense of time. Eventually I came to the first camping area. There was a piece of sheet metal with a roof over it. I didn't look like a good place to stay and I had plenty of energy so I kept walking.
An hour or so later I made it to the second camp area. This time it was a concrete slab with a roof over it. 4 locals boys had pitched a tent under the shelter and had a fire of garbage going. I knew it would get colder the higher up I went and I didn't have a tent or sleeping bag so I took of my pack. The boys didn't speak English. I foraged some wood for their fire. They were very impressed--I had to hold myself off a bridge with one hand and harvest it with the other. Wood was very scare here. They offered me some coffee and cigarettes, both of which I declined. I offered them some brum and dove chocolate. They took a piece of chocolate each.
The campsite was filthy and there were no room under the shelter for me to sleep. I sat down on my pack to think. That's when I looked up and noticed the stars. I hadn't really seen stars since I came to Indonesia. I gestured to the guys that I was gonna go look at the stars. I walked a little down the path and laid down in the tall grass. The view was breathtaking. I decided to keep moving.
The stars on one side of the sky were far more numerous than the other so I decided to hike over a ridge that I could barely make out by the starlight so that I'd have a good view of the sky. When the trail got too rough to safely travel at night I bushwhacked to the top of a bluff with a few small trees on it. There I found a small dimple in the earth. I laid down my sleeping sack then took out my mango knife and started to cut the grass which was 5 feet high. I piled 5 inches of grass over my sleeping sack then covered that with my rain poncho. I climbed in with my shorts and t-shirt on and took in the view. Anyone that's climbed Rinjani and slept in a tent: you don't know what you missed.
It got cold and at some point in the night I had to change into longer cloths and pile more grass on my den. I woke up shortly after sunrise, ate just a few nuts and started walking. The goal was to get out of the mountain today so I didn't have to sleep at a high elevation with no sleeping bag again. I started passing groups coming down out of the mountain. They all had porters. It seems the only people walking the mountain in my direction were a couple locals I passed early on.
Before noon I stopped seeing other groups and the slope started getting steep. I could see the summit. Though I was starving I told myself to wait until the top to eat or take any prolonged breaks--it's best to avoid moving when the sun is at it's highest. One hour from the top the clouds got so thick I could only see 5-15 meters. Finally I made it. I demolished the small mangoes, a few nuts and a piece of dove chocolate. I only had 1L of water left. I was careful not to drink before or after eating because doing so reduces the amount of saliva you use and the amount you chew your food and hence the precious nutrients you get out of it.
Though I was weary there was no view to take in and the clouds were starting to get darker so I thought it best to keep hiking. The only problem was that the trail went in 3 different directions. My map only showed one. So I picked the path that looked like it went in the right direction and started descending. I was 20min down the mountain when I started to question the path. Where's all the garbage that was littering the path before? Is that natural erosion or a sign of life? Water wouldn't do that. Then again, in my day I've seen water do things even water wouldn't do. Fuck, the clouds are too thick; I can't see anything. I was starting to reconsider the notion that any map is better than no map.
The decision to turn back is a tough one, especially when you have no energy and you're not exactly sure where back is. It was around this time when I started taking pictures of anything memorable. It was getting cold(even for me). I started seeing stars. "I should take a break" I thought. I've heard hypothermia is a good way to go; you just go to sleep and don't wake up. I wasn't sure if I rested that I'd come back. Suddenly a large piece of earth gave way and I found myself sliding down the mountain with my left leg tucked behind me. I grabbed some tall grass and stopped the fall. I wasn't seriously injured, just some scrapes and strained muscles. For a brief moment there was a small clearing in the clouds and I was able to see some peaks I remembered. Some time later I made it back to a trail.
When I made it back to the top I found the group of locals that I'd passed earlier in the morning. Though I had entered the mountain to be alone I couldn't have been happier to see people. With my knowledge of the name of the town on the other side of the mountain and a little Indonesia I was able to find the right path down the mountain. A couple hours later the clouds broke and I could see I was descending into the caldera. I started passing groups again. Everyone asked: "You alone? No guide? No porter?" Then the final words: "Good luck." It seems I was still at least two days out.
I got to the lake at the base of the caldera an hour or so before dark. There was a group of fishermen and three groups of hikers. This was a designated camping area but the shelter had collapsed and was full of monkeys. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I don't trust monkeys. I was completely out of water and food. In a survival situation it's best to drink whenever you're thirsty--don't save your water. They've found people dead of dehydration with water in their packs. You're gonna get the same net amount of water anyway so you're better off taking it when you still have energy. Plus it's easier to carry in your body than on your back.
A group coming down the mountain had told me of the fishermen and mentioned that they new of a spring they could take me to. I gestured to the fishermen that I needed water and one of them led me to the spring. It was only around 100m away but I found myself having a hard time keeping up, even with no pack. I filled my bottle first. I stood up and the fisherman quickly bent down to fill his bottles. So quickly that he didn't notice me pass out onto a nearby boulder. I came to before he was done and didn't let on that anything had happened.
Back at the lake I tried communicating with everyone there. I told them my situation and one of the groups--I local brother and sister--offered me some biscuits. I took and ate them all immediately. To make the most of the daylight I continued on my way down the trail. 5min later I decided to turn back--the trail wasn't going down and I figured I'd be safer near people. I started asking around, all the tents were full--except the group of Indians. There were only three of them but two tents. A father, his son and his business partner. I talked to the father and he said I could ask his porter if I could stay with him--the porter was already sleeping 3 deep in a tent and clearly didn't want me. The father kept trying to say to him: "He pay dollar". It was clear the father just wanted to lessen his own price or teach me a lesson or both. All I can say from my experience with him is that it doesn't excite me to go to India. That said, the son was very nice and surely would have let me sleep with him if his father wasn't around. Also I don't judge a whole country based on the actions of a few citizens.
With nowhere to stay I immediately began gathering wood. I knew this would be increasingly difficult after dark especially since I had to journey high into the mountain to get it. When twilight came I began building my shelter. It was much slower going this time and probably took over an hour. The grass was shorter and further from my den and cut up my hands as I grabbed it. I put the rain coat directly over my sleeping sack this time which proved to be an improvement. I also put a layer of grass down beneath my sack to insulate me from the ground, provide some cushioning but most of all to cover up the garbage. Building the fire was the last thing I did--I knew the wood would have to last me through the night and I didn't need it for warmth yet. The fire would serve many purposes: keep away insects and predators and provide warmth.
I slept fabulously, never waking of discomfort or cold. The first time I woke up it was on account of large animals rustling in the bushes close to me. I grabbed my headlamp but they were gone. I stoked the fire all through the night taking care not to let it get too large next to my highly flammable den. Each time I arose I was greeted with a stunning new masterpiece the cosmos had painted just for me.
In the base of a volcano it gets totally light before you can see the sun. I had drunk all my water throughout the night so I started the morning with a journey back to the spring. I filled both my 1.5L bottles. On the way back I noticed some fishermen getting out of a steamy river. The night before I'd journeyed to some "hot springs" with the group from India but they weren't very hot or comfortable to be in. I went skinny dipping in these other springs and it was perfect. Very hot and very relaxing. Just what my muscles needed. When I got out I was covered in green scum from the rocks so I dumped the icy spring water over myself to rinse off. The air was still quite cold but it was a refreshing shock to the system.
I journeyed back to the spring to fill my water for a final time then packed up my stuff and headed off. Having no food I had accepted the hunger. Intermittent fasting is healthy(though probably not when you're mountain climbing). As I was leaving the lake I met two local boys headed in the same direction. I asked them if they were going to the other city and they said yes. I decided to follow them to make sure I didn't get lost again. The older boy--Dikka--had a small backpack with little in it. The younger one carried just a sash. It was hard for me to keep up. I crested a peak and found them waiting for me. They motioned for me to take off my pack and sit down so I did. Then some more boys joined us. Then two old women and two old men. No one was carrying more than a light backpack. It was clear that they were all a group. Dikka took out some sucking candy and gave it to the group. He motioned for me to take some so I did.
We moved as a unit all through the mountain. At the top of the other side of the caldera we stopped to make an offering to the gods. A few times the boys gestured at the water I carried on the side of my pack and I took it out and handed it to them. They didn't drink much. I gestured for them to drink more but they wouldn't. A little way down the other side we stopped for another break. One of the old women took out a small bag of crackers for the group. I guess someone at the lake had told them I didn't have any food. The old women kept hitting my arm and gesturing for me to take some crackers until I finally did. They had very little for all of them so I felt bad taking any of what they had. I reached deep in my bag and pulled out the full bag of Dove chocolates and threw it to Dikka to give to the group. The boys each took a couple pieces. One of the old men spit his piece out so I offered him some water which he gladly took. They gave me back the bag with about 1/3 of the chocolate in it and some more crackers and motioned for me to put it back in my pack.
Further down the mountain we stopped again. The boys all went in separate directions and I deduced they were looking for wood. A few came back empty handed so I went out to search. I found some and came back. They had already started a small fire for cooking. When they poured what little water they had into the pot they looked disappointed so I gave them the rest of mine. They used most of it and gestured for me to drink the rest and that there was another spring later on. Lunch was leftover rice and very spicy fish. I was given about 2 cups of rice and a half tablespoon of fish--the largest portion. They also gave me some coffee that they'd made with the water. I don't usually drink coffee but I made an exception. We were still very high up and several of the boys were shivering. It was clear they didn't have any other cloths. I took out my fleece and threw it to one of them and my sleeping sack to another. They gladly took both of them and wore them all the way down the mountain.
As soon as we got out of the clouds I noticed Dikka put on a face mask. I didn't smell any gas but many deadly gases have no scent(you know they add an odor to the gas that comes into your house?) I took off my bandanna and tied it around my face bandito style. The terrain was getting very loose and I slipped a few times. One of the boys offered to carry my pack. I offered to carry the little boy as well and we kept on walking. We started passing groups of people again. As usual I would great the porter with "Good morning/afternoon/evening. How are you?" in Indonesian. My new family got a huge kick out of this and gave me the thumbs up each time. Any time we saw white people they would gesture at me. At first I thought they wanted me to speak English to them but I later learned they were curious about what I thought of all the white women.
The last 5 or so hours were spent walking through a tropical jungle. I noticed Dikka and the next boy collecting a wispy green moss that was clinging from the trees as if it had been blown there by the wind. I gestured the question of what it was for and all I could deduce was that they either scrub with it when bathing, use it to relieve headaches or make a soup with it. The best moss seemed to grow high up and being the tallest person in the group I began collecting the stuff everyone else couldn't reach and silently handing it to the littlest boy who walked right behind me and would quickly grab it from my outstretched hand below my pack.
Eventually we reached the park gate. The only thing there was a small shop. The boys and I had reached it first so we sat down to wait for the elders. Dikka ordered me a sprite and some banana fritters. One of the boys gestured to ask if he could keep my sleeping sack. It made me feel bad but I gestured no. Then he pointed at my bandanna. I took it off and gave it to him. He quickly tied it around his face like I had done in the mountain. He was very happy to have it. When the shop keeper came to collect money I slyly took mine out and one of the boys spotted me and aggressively gestured to put it back.
It was almost exactly 2 days from when I'd left and I was eager to get somewhere to rest. The boys got up and started down the path and gestured for me to follow. 1min later the lead boy had wandered off the path and the second was waiting for him. He gestured for me to keep going so I did. A minute later I looked back and they were gone. I waited. No one came. I kept walking slowly--they never caught up. Perhaps that was their way of avoiding a sad goodbye. I think they might have lived in the mountain and weren't going into town. Each step got harder as the weight of my heart increased. I've never felt so alone in my life. As soon as this family had come into my life they had gone. I didn't get to say thank you. I didn't get to say goodbye.
An hour later I was out of the mountain and in the town. I saw all the outfitters and home stays. I had started at the wrong end. I was still quite high up and all the closed shops and abandon restaurants hardly seemed like a town so I started following the road out of the mountain. It started to rain. and naked boys gathered in the street to play soccer. I put my rain poncho on and kept going. An hour and a half later there was still no town and it was getting quite dark. I passed through a small village where a gang of young boys made me feel uncomfortable though I didn't show it.
Though it was completely dark I kept walking without bothering to take out my headlamp. A man on a motor bike came by. I could tell he was different than all the others that rode up and asked where I was going. In hindsight I think it was the way he was dressed, the way he pulled up, the way he spoke and the fact that he was wearing a helmet that made me trust him but in the moment it was just my gut. He said there was no town at the base of the mountain and it was very dangerous in these parts. He said I should go back up to the "town" I'd passed 7k ago. He said there were home stays there, only $50. He said he'd even call me a ride if I wanted. I didn't want. I'm not sure why but I just really didn't want to stay in that town. Perhaps it was admitting defeat, I'm not sure. He said he was worried if I kept walking. Then he told me I could come stay with his brother in the little village I'd just passed. He was staying there the night. He spoke very poor English but was trying to gesture to me that it wasn't like a home stay. I tried to gesture to him that I had just spent two nights sleeping in grass dens in the mountain. He didn't understand.
He suggested that maybe I offer his brother $5 and that seemed reasonable to me so I got on his motor bike and he took me home. It was a very traditional house. Two rooms of thatched reed with a bed/floor-kitchen in one room and a mat in the other. Livestock behind the house. I was just in time for dinner. We ate communally on the floor with our hands--something I've grown accustomed to doing. It was very spicy fish and lots of rice.
After dinner he asked me if I wanted to bathe and I said yes. We got on his motor bike and drove to a small empty structure that looked kind of like a mosque. Then he gestured to the channel that was in front of it. We were going to bathe in a roadside aqueduct in the middle of town. I was so tired I could barely scale the banks. When I went to bed I realized I was in so much pain I could hardly sleep. Just laying down was excruciating. I woke up to Islamic prayers and roosters out back. I couldn't bend my knees and most of my body was tender to the touch. We had breakfast--more spicy fish--and then he took me to his fathers farm 7k away.
When we got there his father and an old woman were shaving and drying tobacco. He gave me a tour of the farm. They grew rice, beans, tobacco, cotton and had all nature of livestock and fish. He explained that he was buying the farm from his father for $700. Then he climbed a palm tree and knocked down 4 coconuts. He cut one open and gave it to me to drink. I did. Then he brilliantly sliced off a piece of the outer hull of the coconut and handed it to me to use as a spoon to scoop out the flesh. It worked beautifully. Then he carved the other three into slim balls with handles for easy carying and put them in a sack.
He had told me the night before that the angkot to the ferry for Sumbowa leaves at 9am. We got back from his farm at 9:15am. I was bummed but tried not to show it. There was literally nothing to do in this village. If people weren't in the fields they were just sitting around. That's not my style and I'd already gestured everything I could think of to everyone there. He said the next angkot wasn't until 6pm. C'est le vie. 2hrs later he told me there was another one passing through that could take me. He clearly had flagged it down. I quickly grabbed my stuff, said good by to the family and started off. He walked me to the angkot. He wasn't gonna ask for any money. I took out $10 and gave it to him. He reluctantly accepted but I insisted. He told me how much to pay the driver and the ferry so I wouldn't get ripped off. Then we said good bye and I was off.
While on Lombok I got put up in the nicest hotel in town, a personal tour of the island, adopted/saved by a mountain family and taken in by a villager. If chance favors the prepared, adventure it seems, favors the underprepared.