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Published: February 14th 2017
Before I started, I did not expect to climb all 1700 steps up to the temple at the top of Lempuyang. After a couple hundred steps I was sweating like a pig. I know, pigs don't sweat. But if they did, I was sweating like one.
As we walked along, my young companion Uli listened to my story of my having resorted to riding a horse up the volcano in Guatemala as my two sons bounded on up the trail without me. There were no horses here.
Together we climbed the stairs to one of the first of seven temples on the mountain. Had the day been clear, we could have had a magnificent view of Mount Agung, the dominant volcano in Bali. But it was cloudy and threatened rain. That didn’t deter me. I enjoyed the mist, and the light cloud spray, the moody shadows in the sky, and the moisture that dripped down my face.
We both walked the paved roadway to the next set of steps. I told him that I might go just a little farther, but my knees wouldn’t take more. I was thinking about the decent.
Uli continued alone, quickly disappearing.
I chatted with the man at a warung, who told me it would be down and up, down and up, and I wouldn’t be able to see the view because of all the trees. And there were monkeys, too—I could see several in the trees nearby. The guy at the ticket booth said he didn’t want them to bite me, and he didn’t want me to get lost (on the well-marked path) so didn’t I need a guide? Nope, I’m an independent climber, so I had set off with Uli.
I continued alone on the longer route up the mountain, thinking I would surely turn around before long. I did, but only because I thought the path was too uneven with broken steps and holes. So back at the junction where the longer path split from the path going straight up, the woman there at the warung encouraged me to keep going up. I made a bunch of excuses—my knees, rain, monkeys. The man and his wife eating there said they had gone up already. “I think it will take you two more hours,” he said. My knees trembled.
But then something poked me. “Bisa!” I cried (I
can!) as I started up the stairs again from that warung. I’ll go just a few more steps, then go back, I promised myself. I kept going up. And there was Uli, coming down.
“It’s not that much farther to the next temple,” he said. I kept climbing, rising into the mist, breathing the dripping forest, passing a vagrant monkey now and then. The next temple appeared, just as Uli promised. People had just prayed and left offerings, and monkeys were planning sneak attacks to carry the food-laden offerings away. A woman left her food stall for a moment and ran back, laughing at a monkey who stole a bag of chips. Another woman pulled back a slingshot, and lobbed a rock at another monkey climbing on the temple.
Just then two foreigners passed through, descending, saying, “It’s only another ten minutes to the top.” The priest told me it was thirty. So I huffed and puffed along the trail, climbed more steps, felt the light rain—or was that gallons of sweat.
And I did it. Twenty minutes later I climbed the final steps and entered a small temple. A few fruit vendors lounged around in their
scarves and jackets while I sopped the sweat pouring off my face. “People from Bali don’t have this,” I said in Indonesian as I pointed to the rivulets on my face. The women laughed, and thought I was hilarious.
At the very top a group of Balinese, beautiful in traditional dress, shrouded in floating grayness, groomed immaculately, dry and smiling, were sitting and praying as the priest rang a bell and chanted. He distributed holy water and rice, the people circled the temple with their offerings, then ate bananas and other treats. They were all happy they had prayed at the top at Pura Lempuyang, a very special place in Bali, on the tallest mountain in the eastern part of the island.
The place sees few tourists, especially at the top. The Balinese people I spoke with say they try to visit every six months or so. One told me you’re not supposed to wear gold on the mountain, or claim that you are tired as you climb. Another told me that the priest gets the holy water from cutting a bamboo, which is very special. And as I recounted my story to another person, he told me
that all the people who told me to keep going were all sent by God. I think he was right—I was ready to turn around at all those times when someone appeared and urged me to continue.
I was blissfully happy after I reached the bottom, even though my legs quivered and my knees scolded me. Many Balinese people were surprised when I told them I did it. The sweet young man who drove me back to the homestay on his motorbike told me that not many “old people” make it to the top.
Well this old person did. You know what they say—60 is the new 40, you’re only as old as you act, the early bird gets the worm (but the second mouse gets the cheese,) why did the chicken cross the road, and all kinds of stuff that is quite irrelevant.
I climbed the 1700 steps, visited a sacred place, and elevated my spirits. That’s good enough for me.
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