December 27, 2009- January 1, 2010
The Calm Before the Storm
The Mt. Rinjani journey has commenced with a stop in Senaru, the base town of the volcano. At Senaru, we visit two enormous waterfalls—the biggest I’ve ever seen!
We are taken to the waterfall by an Indonesian man, but we separate from him on the way back, and of course get very lost. Mj and I are walking for about 10 minutes, when it begins pouring rain. Typical. Then, we run into three very mean looking cows in the middle of the path. I immediately cower behind Mj. Then, the cow turns to its right, says something to its big cow friends, and suddenly we’re staring at a herd of angry-looking cows. I cower behind Mj for a few more minutes, then sprint ahead and run as fast as I can past the cattle. SAVE YOURSELF!
Day 1 of the three day, two night trek up Mt. Rinjani, an active volcano that is one of the largest peaks in Indonesia. We wake up to the rain, and the group debates whether we should still attempt the trek. I convince our hesitant group that we should just do it, and off we go! Little did I know what was in store for us… we spend three hard hours trekking with our backpacks before they finally give us lunch, and then we trek for another four hours up one of the steepest inclines I’ve ever climbed. We arrive at camp and witness the truly beautiful sunset illuminating the surrounding volcanoes and land. End of day one, the supposedly easiest day of the trek. Yikes.
Day 2- Wake up at 2:30AM to begin the rigorous 4.5 hour trek up the volcano to the summit. Wielding our flashlights, we all begin climbing at 3AM, before breakfast. Oh, my god. This is surely the hardest trek of my life. The last hour is almost straight up volcanic ash; the incline must be at a 60-degree angle. We literally have to stop every 3 or 4 minutes to catch our breath and every 2 steps we take brings us 1 step back, as we keep slipping backwards on the loose volcanic ash.
Around 7AM, we finally make it to the summit—thank goodness! Although we miss sunrise, we still have a spectacular view of the crater, the lake below us, and Bali in the far distance. The way down the volcano is SO fun, we literally slide down the mountain. By the time I reach the bottom at 9am, I have about 2 lbs of volcano in my shoes and have fallen maybe 8 times. Love it!
Immediately after the intense hike, we eat breakfast and relax for about 5 minutes; time to hike another 2.5 hours until we reach the lake! The lake is an incredible site. On one side is a volcano, with smoke coming out of it; just like a science fair project. The other side of the lake is a forest rich in beautiful foliage. Caddy corner to the forest are hot springs and hot waterfalls.
After having lunch, I lead the group (no one told them about my pigeon sense of direction) through 5 more hours of rock-climbing/hiking. It was so much fun, we were literally climbing hand over foot and some areas felt more like rock climbing then hiking. Surprisingly enough, I didn’t get us lost. We reach camp just as the sun is setting. Total trekking time for day 2= 14 hours. Wow, we are all hurting. Blisters, leg cramps, knee & hip problems; one of the trekkers even broke her toe on a rock. The next morning, we just want to get the hell out of here.
We wake early to a “breakfast in tent” and spend the next 4 hours practically running down the mountain. After the trek, we race back to Lombok, where we barely make the last ferry to Bali.
Dec 31- Happy New Year’s Eve! We spend the first half of the day trying to find accommodation, but everything is completely booked. Turns out showing up to the biggest tourist destination in Asia, Bali, on the day of New Year’s Eve was a bad idea. After having lunch, Mj and I decide to simply go to the beach and meet someone whose place we can crash at. Within 20 minutes, we meet Sarah, a Brit trying to sell us a surfboard. We get to talking and turns out she has extra room at her hotel….score! Then, she introduces us to Brian, who has an extra bed….yes! She also introduces us to a baby monkey, who pees all over me….sweet! ☺
After showering, we try to find Sarah’s hotel to begin the pre-New Year’s Eve celebrating, to no avail. Mj and I have been lugging around a bottle of vodka for almost two weeks at this point, as bought the vodka at the airport, upon initially arriving in Indonesia. We are so broke, we can only afford one juice carton. As a result, we end up drinking straight vodka, with just a splash of juice.Yum. After the drinks, we spend 25 minutes walking through elbow-to-elbow traffic to get to the beach, and ring in the New Years on the shoreline. Mj and I do a bit more partying on the beach, and head to bed around 4am.
Naturally, I wake at 8am, ready for a day at the beach! Mj goes to Dreamland with the Indonesian boy she met the night before and I spend the day trying not to think about my growling stomach, as we have just enough money to get a ride to the airport. When Mj gets back from Dreamland, she said her Indonesian friend can give us a ride to the airport, yay! We have a whole 85,000 rupiah (about 8 USD) to spend, and I go NUTS! I buy 2 sandwiches, soda, Indian food, and a chocolate bar! Woo! I spend everything I have, and get ready to go to the airport, where things get really wild…
Sneaking onto an Airplane
Because Mj’s friend can only take us to the airport one at a time, Mj goes before me. When I get to the airport, I can’t find Mj, so I go ahead and get my boarding pass, and walk upstairs. There’s a large queue at a long desk that blocks the entrance into immigration. What is the line for? To pay a 150,000 rupiah exit fee. Oh goodness. I have no money, no debit cards, and no credit cards (since wallet was stolen in Vietnam). There’s only one thing to do. Sneak past.
I walk to the left of the line, pretend I’m an airport employee and walk right past the exit fee desk. I get in line for immigration and notice everyone has a sticker on their boarding pass, noting they have paid the exit fee. Great. I wait in line, smile at the immigration officer and hold my breath as he looks at my documents. He looks back at me, looks down again, and pauses. 10 seconds pass. Then, stamp, stamp, stamp, and he lets me go through. Phew. At this point, I think it’s all over and I’ve made it! Not quite…
I spend the next 30 minutes looking all over the airport for Mj, whom I can’t find anywhere. I finally realize she is probably waiting at the exit fee table, because she knows I have no money and she wants to give me money for the fee. I go to airport staff and have them page her over the loudspeaker:
“Mariane O’ Connor please meet Tracey at Gate 2”.
After another 15 minutes, I hesitantly edge over to the immigration counter to see if Mj is nearby. I immediately see Mj frantically running past the officers, in tears, shirt untucked, and looking generally stressed out. When I see her, she exclaims, “Oh my god, the plane! Have I missed the plane!?”, to which I reply, “No, we still have an hour and a half before it leaves…”
Mj didn’t have a watch, and she thought the page meant the plane was leaving. As it turns out, she had checked her debit card in her baggage underneath the plane, and also had no money to pay the exit fee. She took an alternative route from me (the criminal way of sneaking onto the plane) and broke down crying, until a British woman who felt bad for her, paid her 150,000 rupiah fee.
After finally finding each other, we calm down and wait for our gate to begin boarding. This is where things get tricky. I think I’m in the clear until I notice the man checking boarding passes is not only looking at the exit fee sticker, but he is removing part of the sticker for collection. Oh no, I’m in big trouble. Even if I begged a stranger for money to get the exit fee sticker, I wouldn’t have time to wait through the immigration lines. If I don’t make this flight, I am going to be alone in Indonesia, without enough money to even buy dinner.
I look at Mj and she says “You know what you have to do. You have to sneak onto this plane”.
The boarding agent is checking people one at a time, just like in the States, and there are 8 other security personnel 10 feet away, checking everyone’s carry ons. All I can think to myself is, “How will I ever pull this off?”
As the man before Mj gets his boarding pass checked, I take one step forward. Mj moves forward two steps, and I take one step back, then two quick steps forward, pass the man, pivot, and turn my back to him. I hold my breath. A few seconds pass. I’m waiting for the boarding agent to tap me on the shoulder and ask for my boarding pass. A few more seconds pass. I wait for the “Ma’am! Ma’am!” call that will surely come any second. Nothing happens, and I eventually breathe a sigh of relief.
Until I see the see the secondary boarding pass/passport check. Are you kidding me?! This checkpoint has 2 men and a distance of about 3 feet between the men and a wall. No way to sneak pass. I have to take my chances. I give them my boarding pass; they take a look, separate it, and let me pass. Against all odds, I’ve made it. I have sneaked past four security checkpoints.
Of the thousands and thousands of people who left that airport that day, I can confidently say I am the only person to not pay the exit fee.