Gunung Slamet - the Nastiest Scree Java, Bali and Lombok

linguistic tour de force gets us through this one. Although local people are willing to guide you up the mountain, English is not their strong suit. In fact, English is nonexistent.

A dozen teenagers gather round me as I express our desire to climb the mountain, one that looms 7,000 feet above us immediately west; identified by its bare, volcanic top free of forest. Most of the mountain's volume is hidden by a substantial hill closer-by; and, nearer still, farmland growing higher altitude crops such as strawberry.
Trailhead warung where the Slamet
climb is arranged - Bambangan.

Somehow I am referred to a pair of men in their twenties, and we enter a warung to discuss our intentions and a price.

There, with Robert alongside, I learn that both men want to be guide. However we only need one, and make it plain that we refuse to pay for two guides. Clearly money is the only item these men are truly interested in. Given that premise, I suggest that both men serve as guide and porter in equal fashion; and that for 700,000 Rupiah - about $80, they will each spend two days on Slamet with us. To them, of course, that's a lot of money. To us, that comes to some seven dollars per client per day - a pittance.
fancy room
A fancy room - we sleep elsewhere.

I arrange for the taxi driver to retrieve us in two days at 5 p.m. near the gated entrance to a trail system leading towards Slamet's slopes. The concept of "day after tomorrow" cannot be expressed in English any shorter. However "lusa", with just this meaning, is one of the more useful words I learn because most of our climbs take two days; and so "lusa" becomes the time when a driver, Dodi or otherwise, should be available.
Gunung Slamet is the distant,
higher, bald-topped mountain.

We return three miles downhill for lodging next to a square lined by warungs that cater to Indonesian travelers enjoying a nearby park. Our room is spartan. Later we eat supper at one warung, the only one remaining open after the park closes. It is operated by an Islamic family, and we remove our shoes upon entering. The most memorable item is hot ginger tea made with sweetened condensed milk.

In the morning the two guides arrive on-time at our hotel, seven a.m. We provide them the group gear they are to carry in the porter role - tents, stove, fuel, sleeping bags, supper food. The sleeping bags must be in a waterproof outer sack because a wet bag is useless. We drive back to the trailhead and walk before eight.
A retired Mig-15 on display.

Our plan is hiking some 5,000 vertical feet to a camp that places us in good position for a summit bid the next morning. The usual habit takes over - Robert and I move ahead, while Bob and at least one guide move slower. Every once-in-a-while we stop at a broad clearing obviously meant for camping. Sometimes there is a junction, and we then wait for a guide to specify the route - their sole function under that hat.

The route is surprisingly dry underfoot, yet the jungle is all-about with its riot of huge green leaves, rotting logs, insects, and distant animal calls.
sun and rain
Robert catches this rain / sun contrast
during an afternoon shower.

We reach high camp by early afternoon, finding a wood cabin where the guides sleep. Three Indonesian students are there too, and, as always, they wish to practice English.

The sky is clear, and it is only 2,100 feet vertical to the summit - an excellent opportunity. I suggest we go this afternoon, since there's no guarantee what the morning weather will bring. Bob at first balks, as he is tired from the ascent. Later, after resting he agrees to this plan.
Gunung Slamet shortly after sunrise

Soon thereafter Robert and I head uphill, the trail suddenly narrow. We reach the shrubline 1,300 feet higher, having passed another wooden cabin, as post 6, with much graffiti. Hereafter the route is over volcanic terrain, principally gray, red, and black earth with that most nasty type of scree - the ball bearing type - and the worst of our trip.

The summit is broad, the temperature mild. Soon the students come, snacks are shared, including good chocolate. Bob arrives with guide, and even more photos are taken.
Adam takes a GPS reading
at the Slamet trailhead.
Ornate gated entrance.

The descent is uneventful, except that I decide to wait for Bob at the upper cabin since the guide has unexplainedly left him in favor of a rapid descent. After we reach camp the usual meal of noodles with swiss cheese sauce is enjoyed. The guides listen to my radio as we three sleep outdoors in two tents.

At dawn we enjoy great views of volcanoes, perhaps now climbed, well to our east. One of them has a very thin, gray cloud emanating horizontally from its top - and we interpret that as the gas plume of Gunung Semeru after it meets high winds in the upper level atmosphere.
Slamet summit
Slamet summit shot. Left to right,
Bob, Adam, and two porter/guides.

We reach the trailhead in remarkably short order, myself arriving roughly 9:30 a.m. after perhaps three hours of travel. Everybody is set to depart by eleven, and we soon are at our hotel room repacking for our next travel goal.

Our plan was to have summitted this morning, and descend by 5 p.m. for meeting the taxi driver. Then, take an 8 p.m. train from Purwokerto, overnight, to Jakarta the capitol. However we wish to leverage having come down so early by taking a 12:20 p.m. train - while avoiding loss of a night's sleep.
summit crater, Gunung Slamet

Nobody at the hotel seems willing or able to contact another operator, be it taxi driver or otherwise, for getting us in-time to the train station. A driver is depositing tourists at a nearby lodge, and I approach him with the offer of 300,000 Rupiah, some $33, to take us immediately. After some argument this plan works (a second driver must go); and we are soon careening down the paved road at breakneck speed as I insist, "Cepat, cepat!" - "Fast, fast!". The driver is going so fast, passing slower traffic on a winding road, that I must tell him to slow down for safety's sake.
dawn view
Dawn view east from high camp -
twin volcanoes and Semeru
smoking on the far horizon.

We make our train, and for $20 each enjoy an executive class railcar for the six hour transit into Jakarta. I have a window seat, it is air conditioned, and I enjoy seeing Indonesian countryside rush by at what I clock at up to 60 miles per hour using trackside kilometer markers and my watch.

Rice paddies with barefoot farmers, clothes drying on a side-track, steel bridges to ford the deeper, river-cut canyons - all pass my gaze in a blur of greens and browns.

We pass through slums on entering Jakarta, our first and only sign of true poverty for the entire trip. Skyscrapers appear in the gathering gray twilight, and, later, we locate a cheap hotel with air conditioned rooms.

Having enjoyed snacks the entire afternoon, I am not hungry. Bob and Robert eat dinner without me as I sit in the room and eat leftover cheese and chocolate-hazelnut spread with bread.

The next morning we arise early, drive cross-city before morning rush hour, and fly Batavia Air to Padang, Sumatra. We had to make air ticket purchases the previous evening because road and ferry service to Padang would have eaten too many days. Further, buying the tickets prior to our entire journey would have straightjacketed our itinerary with a specific date in Jakarta - and so, in hindsight, this eleventh hour purchase is appropriate.

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