Only the five best climbers were chosen from our group to challenge the summit. I must have been number six. I missed the cut and was bitterly disappointed. But, the summit climb is very rugged and dangerous. Two days before some hikers were literally blown off a ridge top. When Wyasa told me he had tried the summit, but had to turn back I didn’t feel so bad since he’s about ten times stronger than me.
So instead of getting killed, I spent the day at the hot springs. Thank God for being Number 6.
At the moment this photo was taken, I had this perfectly warm spring all to myself. Minutes later I was joined by 25 villagers from central Lombok. These villagers were Muslim and dirt poor. They had brought some food, a few plates to share and a pot to boil their rice. They were planning to catch fish at Anak Laut to supply the bulk of their food. They were ecstatic about their upcoming vacation. Of course they were surprised to find a white guy occupying their spring. But we talked and joked for an hour.
In America I might have been ticked off that 25 strangers invaded my space. But after living in Bali for 2 years, I’m used to the lack of privacy. It was fun in camp. Everywhere I went people invited into their tents for coffee or a cigarette. All these conversations started out exactly the same. For the first five minutes it was all about exchanging information: Where did I live? Where was my wife? How many kids? Where was my wife? When was I returning to Bali? Where was my wife? Did I like Lombok? Where was my wife. This is all pretty normal. Indonesians want some basic information on where to place you. Read Indonesia, Etc. by Elizabeth Pisani to get some funny insight on this.
But even though my language skills are still weak, I could have some conversations. I talked to a young architect about the techniques he uses to prevent his buildings from falling down in an earthquake. I asked everyone if they liked Indonesia’s dynamic new president, Jokowi. Most did not. 80% of Lombok voted for Jokowi’s opponent. I talked to a man who holds down two jobs as a teacher and hotel employee, and wants to learn the Hindu slokas (chants). I talked to a young couple who brought their eight-year old daughter with them on the trek. They are middle class, but still stressed about the basic economic needs of putting food on the table and sending their daughter to school.
Our final ceremony involved two fun events. First, a group of brave young men jumped into the chilly lake. They retrieved two stoppered bottles that had been placed in the lake the previous day. The mystery would be to see if these bottles had filled with water. Miraculously, as they do every year, the bottles returned filled with holy water (tirta). We cheered.
The second ritual involved collecting coins and jewelry amounting to several hundred dollars which would be given to the Gods of the lake as an offering. We cheered again as another group of brave men swam out to give this gift.
Then we went to bed early for a 3am wake up call. 4am prayers…and 5am hitting the road.
The way out started with a two kilometer climb to the ridge top. Wyasa and I started early, and avoided the traffic jams. At the top one of the old guys yelled down: Stop Smoking and Keep Walking. That’s because almost all of the young men would walk like rabbits for about five minutes and then stop for a cigarette break. They are “Smoking Bunnies”, he told me.
Just five minutes before the end, the rain started. We had achieved one of our key goals. Our prayers had been answered. It rained all the way back to Mataram, and I’m not sure if the rain has stopped since. These guys really know what they are doing. Places suffering drought, like California, might want to consult them.
We hopped back on the bus. Smoked a couple of clove cigarettes. And then the young guys dropped off to sleep sprawling across each other. They may be Smoking Rabbits, but at that moment they reminded me a lot of puppy dogs.