The Always Smoking Country

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September 1st 2013
Published: September 6th 2013
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Kalimantan to Java

Across the Java Sea by Pelni ship - Indonesia's national passenger ferry line.

Gunung MerapiGunung MerapiGunung Merapi

On the ascent around the 5:45 am sunrise.
The Always Smoking Country is Indonesia, home to dozens of active volcanoes regularly spewing noxious ash clouds into the environment. Indonesia is also home to dozens of millions of men regularly spewing noxious ash clouds into the environment and it is this factor for which I give Indonesia its moniker. That's really one of the only few downsides to traveling in Indonesia which, with the exception of Bali and even there mostly Kuta, is practically devoid of travelers on the Banana Pancake Trail compared to other more crowded destinations such as Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. My second trip through Indonesia this year (first in Sumatra back in May and June) started in Pontianak, Kalimantan (a.k.a., Indonesian Borneo). I ended up bolting from Kalimantan 3 weeks ago much earlier than I planned and have since been chilling in Yogyakarta (pronounced and occasionally spelled Jogjakarta) on Java.

Trekking to the summit of Gunung Merbabu was definitely not chilling. I went with the 2 owners of Venezia Garden, a French expat, and another Frenchman. I was the only non-smoker. It took ages to navigate Yogya's traffic and we arrived in Selo at the base of the mountain around 5:30 or 6:00 pm last Saturday evening. I

Gunung Lawu in the distance. Had designs on summiting this volcano until Merbabu wrecked my lower extremities.
thought we were going to snooze for a bit then go for the summit in one shot without camping but that was not the plan much to my chagrin. We left Selo around 7:00 pm with a couple of porter/guides, overnight gear, and the Indonesian equivalent of ramen noodles. About an hour out of Selo we found ourselves in the middle of a cloud layer and proceeded to get soaked. The trail was insanely steep but not muddy which would have made the ascent nearly impossible. After 3½ hours we reached the first potential campsite but after a short rest forged on for another 30 minutes to the next spot. Sleep was not possible for me due to the altitude and noisy groups passing through. Since it was a Saturday, many locals from Yogya were also on the summit.

After missing our prescribed departure time of 4:30 am, we left camp at 5:00 am, reaching the summit around 7:00 am. There were amazing views of Gunung Merapi directly south and several other volcanoes to the east and west. It was very sunny and not at all windy so we were able to enjoy the 3,145 meter (10,318 feet) summit
Still Ascending After SunriseStill Ascending After SunriseStill Ascending After Sunrise

Summit just behind the grassy knoll.
for a while before descending back to camp which took a little more than an hour. A power nap was definitely in order then we packed up and left by 11:00 am and 3 hours later were back in Selo. Upon return to the village, the omnipresent banana pancake was served to the foreigners for a late breakfast while the Indonesians chowed on nasi goreng (fried rice). I love Indonesian food but fried rice or noodles is a bit rough for me for breakfast. Breakfast aside, about 90%!o(MISSING)f my meals in Indonesia have been local food where it is difficult to spend much more than $1.50 for a substantial spicy meal. Cha-ching! There's a great Italian place nearby in Yogya where I went for decent pizza for an inexpensive indulgence the day after we returned from the volcano. The restaurant is called Aglio and the first time I tried to go with a few other backpackers we were denied entry because we did not have reservations. Better to go for lunch when it is not at all crowded, reservations are not required, and service is prompt.

Not sure my body is ready for another volcano climb so next
Looking at Merapi from Merbabu's SummitLooking at Merapi from Merbabu's SummitLooking at Merapi from Merbabu's Summit

"Api" means fire and the "mer" prefix makes it a verb. So Gunung Merapi is the mountain that makes fire and did so with a serious eruption in 2010. Still open for climbing, however. How convenient...
up is Bali from where I am flying to Cairns, Australia on September 18.

Ciao, chicos.


Additional photos below
Photos: 16, Displayed: 16


Summit Pose on Gunung MerbabuSummit Pose on Gunung Merbabu
Summit Pose on Gunung Merbabu

"Babu" apparently means "maid" so Gunung Merbabu would be the mountain that made a maid. Quite clever homonym even if totally by accident. Maybe Merapi used to be higher (couple hundred meters lower now) and Merbabu was the lesser stature sidekick, like Bluntman and Chronic.
Looking West from MerbabuLooking West from Merbabu
Looking West from Merbabu

In order: Gunung Sumbing, Gunung Sindoro, and Dieng Plateau. Sumbing is ~40 kms away.
Beginning the DescentBeginning the Descent
Beginning the Descent

The trail does not entirely follow the somewhat defined ridge but mostly a series of snotty, dirty, incredibly dusty gullies. How convenient...
Aforementioned Grassy KnollAforementioned Grassy Knoll
Aforementioned Grassy Knoll

Along with the trail that never heard of a switchback.
Back in CampBack in Camp
Back in Camp

Short nap followed by liberal sunscreen application to ward off the brutal midday sun on the painful descent.
Clouds Building Around MerapiClouds Building Around Merapi
Clouds Building Around Merapi

The hamlet of Selo wedged in at the saddle between Merbabu and Merapi. Selo somehow avoided serious destruction during Merapi's most recent eruption.
Lots of Farmland Available Around the VolcanoesLots of Farmland Available Around the Volcanoes
Lots of Farmland Available Around the Volcanoes

Volcanic soil is super rich in nutrients. Downside is having to carry ~50 kilos of cabbages back to the village. That and the constant threat of imminent obliteration by the still active volcano is a little disconcerting.
Selo and MerapiSelo and Merapi
Selo and Merapi

Life in the shadow of one of the world's most active volcanoes.

6th September 2013

Great to see those (active!) volcanoes, John
My family and I lived on Java in was quite dangerous to tour the country 'without your own militia,' so we only saw real countryside around Djakarta, Bandung, Djokdjarta, and of course all over Bali...where many of the indigenous folk looked forward to being (at least metaphoircly) to being caught in an that would give hope of fertile soil for their progeny well into the future...All the Best, Bill R from Chemistry. Certainly of note is how the spellings have changed in the past 60 years. Keep well, and will we see you "soon," or simply you in evermore expanding travel?
6th September 2013
Summit Pose on Gunung Merbabu

Fantastic to see Merapi so close...summitting Merbabu to do so. Hope you see more of Java...full of surprises.

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