We listened to the pitter-patter of little rat feet on the corrugated tin roof of our restaurant as we dined on pizza with fried eggs on top. The Balinese put fried eggs on top of all of their food, it seemed. Well, Jim had warned us that we might experience a tradeoff at our hotel that evening between the fantastic view and other more variable conditions.
I had joined up with the “adventure tour” group after attending a business conference in Denpasar. The group was led by Jim, a swarthy Dartmouth graduate who’d lived in Bali for a long time and spoke the language fluently. I missed the first day of the tour in Ubud, but met up with the others that evening in a hotel that stood on stilts in a rice paddy. We had a retired doctor and his wife from Seattle plus two teachers who each lived on a tight budget but saved to satisfy their yearning for travel—and managed to achieve big trips.
The doctor was a photography buff who told us he planned to enter the pictures from this trip in a big photography contest. It was interesting to me that he never took photos of people but only of landscapes. His wife, a point-and-shoot photographer, had a way of engaging the Balinese with a smile and a friendly approach, and she got some wonderful photos. She was also a champion bargainer, and I learned from observing her bartering technique.
The doctor’s complicated wristwatch chimed on the hour every hour, which irritated him, but he couldn’t figure out how to turn it off.
The two teachers came from different towns on the West Coast—I forget exactly where. One was a woman about my age, and the other was a short, slender guy that I’ll refer to as Cal. He was quiet, but very smart.
We’d been trekking through lush, verdant country and had a big adventure ahead of us—we were going to climb Gunung Batur, a live but not very active volcano that had a beautiful lake inside its crater. The hotel sat perched on the very rim of the crater. We’d stashed our luggage in our tiny rooms and convened for dinner in the rat-infested restaurant.
Someone said, “What side of the lake will the sun rise?” Cal pointed and murmured, “Over there in the east, unless something goes terribly wrong.”
I cracked up.
The next day we made the climb up the 5633-foot Batur. As I recall, it was a climb of roughly 2000 vertical feet, and it took us a couple of hours. The guides attached to our group, both named Wayan, were augmented by local guides who led us up the steep gritty trail wearing flipflops and smoking cigarettes. They were fast. I was impressed. We reached the top and enjoyed the spectacle of the sprawling, pearly-colored lake.
Later in the tour I would split off from the group to engage in a climb of Gunung Agung with the plaid-shirt-wearing Wayan accompanying me. Agung is the tallest mountain in Bali, measuring 10,308′ following a huge eruption in 1964.
Bali is a beautiful place. I plan to return to Indonesia, land of green rice paddies and giant volcanoes, where the sun will rise in the east unless something goes terribly wrong.