Climbing Bali’s Highest Volcano – Part 2

As Gunung (Mount) Agung erupts, shooting up a 3000 meter high giant cloud of ash, I think back to when I stood at its top looking down into the massive crater in which right now, boiling orange lava is breaking out of the earths surface. It feels surreal. I suddenly realise that climbing this volcano was nowhere as safe as it felt at the time.

Coming from Europe, where nature is mostly tamed, altered and secured, it is both strange and humbling to see the unpredictability of our planet. In a second, life can vanish, everything changes and instead of this always being a “bad” thing that us, humans need to prevent at all costs, to make sure we can live peacefully, I have come to understand that destruction and reconstruction is very much at the essence of life itself.

Just two weeks ago, whilst visiting the Australian Outback, I learnt how vital the process of burning certain areas of the landscape is in order to keep the balance of the flora and fauna. The desert is unforgiving, just as much as Bali’s sacred Agung. Somewhere along the lines of our “Western development” we forgot that just as all plants, animals, rocks and seas, we are not apart from nature, we are a part of it.

The Indigenous Australians see themselves as belonging to the land not the other way around. Their task is it to keep the landscape as untouched as possible and yet make sure the balance between predators and prey, between grazers and grass is kept. That is why during the winter months, they burn large areas of the spinifex grass, very carefully without destroying the bigger trees and other life. The ash acts as fertiliser and furthermore, many desert seeds require the gentle heat of the burning spinifex to crack open their shell. During the night, temperatures fall below 0, the topmost layer of the soil freezes. When the sun comes out the next day it melts the ice, sucking out the water from the sand, humidifying the seedlings which in return start to grow a little green sprout within a couple of days. New life has begun. Another cycle has started.

I want to write more of my experiences in Central Australia, and I will, but this post is a memory refresher of my Gunung Agung adventure which I feel very honoured to have been able to go on.

The feeling when we reached the top of the mountain (exclaimer: we did not climb Agung’s actual summit, there are two different routes you can take, one takes around 4h up, this is what we did, the one to the summit takes 6h, very glad we chose the milder version) was exhilaration. My head felt light, my lungs hurt, my heart was racing, sweat dripping down my spine, yet I was freezing as the temperatures on that altitude before sunrise were roughly 8 degrees celsius. The sky was already changing colours, the long stretched clouds at the horizon broke the perfect hue of rainbow into different shades and forms. Whilst our guides were busy heating up the tea and unpacking our breakfasts, which thanks to my still weak stomach, I didn’t eat, most of us were fixated on the point on the horizon where we expected the red fireball of a morning sun to appear at any second.

It’s astonishing that despite our society’s materialist values, our greed and and our preferred state of staring into screens of various sizes, the beauty of a sunrise or sunset still has most of us in awe. I’m glad it has because it is truly a celebration of life, of the beauty of life, a thanksgiving to our ultimate life supporter, the literal sun of our world, our centre in this infinite universe.

When the first rays hit my face I felt the muscles in my tense body starting to relax. With light came warmth and with warmth came joy. I had made it up the 2000 elevation metres, had walked on, despite feeling like dropping dead any minute, despite the blisters on my feet, the pain in my stomach and until then I wasn’t sure if it had been worth it. But now I knew. Witnessing the sun rise over the ocean, waking up the island, waking me up from a fuzzy nightmare of never ending rocky slopes, it made it worth it.

I don’t know if ordinary people like me, tourists, will be allowed to continue climbing up Bali’s most sacred site, and a part of me questions if what I did was wrong, disrespectful even. We’ll see what happens after the lava has dried up and the ash has settled down. I hope the Balinese will find a way to do what they feel is right.

As for me, I’m grateful to have been privileged to experience what I did, see what I saw. And I hope others like me feel the same.

The guides taking us up to the crater’s edge are also the priest, bringing offerings to the highest and most sacred site in Bali

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