Having climbed Merbabu once and Merapi twice, I would see Lawu towards the east, often shrouded in clouds. My friend, Jack, had told me that Lawu was the easiest volcano to climb, in Java. Several years ago, he had made a solo summit with a full backpack. He came back and told me that he needn’t have carried all that food, because there was even a warung, quite close to the summit !!!
My misadventure started even as I booked my tickets to Jogja. I could’ve caught a flight to Solo instead, but the AirAsia schedule suited me better. I also have this romantic thingy with travelling in trains. These days, air travel has taken over, as it saves so much time. But I also thought that by flying to Jogja and then taking a train to Solo, I would kinda add to my adventure.
So, where did it all go wrong ?
I chose the last weekend before the month of Ramadan, to climb Lawu. What it meant was that I would have at least a few hundred university students as company on the summit !!! I admire the kids, so many of them grossly unfit, even then they make it to the top of the mountain !!! That calls for some courage.
Next, I wanted to try out a different guide and porter. So, I found one guy who was recommended on GunungBagging site. Contacted him and he told me that he would sort out everything, and that I can be rest assured.
My misadventure began from the time I landed in Jogja airport. The guy came late, he took me on a motorbike to his place, where one of his friends came later on another motorbike. We had lunch somewhere and then went to the train station to buy tickets. The guy hadn’t even bought tickets !!! Obviously, the trains were all full. So, we decided to go to Solo by bus. Another motorbike ride ensued. We left the bikes somewhere, then jumped into a running bus. It took forever to reach Solo, dropped us in some unknown part of town. We grabbed some dinner, sitting on a mat on the roadside. It was all fun, no doubt. By then, I was seriously tired. So, I suggested that we fix a taxi to drop us off at Tawang Manggu, the starting point of the trek. We did that, reached Tawang Manggu around midnight. As a regular climber, I would have expected this guide to have enough contacts for accommodation, that he could have called ahead. Instead, the guide and his friend left me by the roadside and went in search of accommodation. They came back after 10 minutes and we were ushered into someone’s house. We would sleep in the living room on the floor and the family would sleep elsewhere. All nice and fun, but I expected something more organised. Isn’t that the reason why you fix a guide beforehand ?
Anyways, we started the trek the following morning, via the Cemoro Sewu route. I kept mostly to myself, as I set my own pace.
I found the trek quite boring. There are no views, whatsoever. In terms of views, nothing can beat Merbabu.
This one is mostly through jungle. Somewhere along the way, I met a few other trekkers. And as I was ahead, I went off till the warung. I was resting there when one of the trekkers told me that my guide was looking for me behind. How could I be behind, when I had forged ahead ? Anyways, we had lunch at the warung, and then made our way to the summit. We found a place near the monument on the summit, to pitch our tents. We then went to the summit, for the customary pictures, and then made our way down to the piece of land that juts out to the west. We were above the clouds and I could easily see Merbabu and Merapi in the distance. We got back to the summit, some more pictures and then pitched the tents. Made an attempt to cook dinner, these guys weren’t simply equipped for all that. In the meantime, clouds gathered above us, and my mood took a beating. I went out at night to check if I could see anything. Nothing, apart from lightning in the distance.
At night, it started to rain. The water started to seep through the tent, the boots were getting wet, and it was terribly cold as well. No 3000m++ high mountain should ever be underestimated. All through the night, I could hear lots of noise – of other trekkers who were making their way up to the summit in the darkness of the night.
By morning, it was a circus. The rain had stopped, the sun had risen, but my mood was the crappiest of all times.
There was hardly any inch of space left on the summit. Even the piece of land that juts out into the west was teeming with people. On a rough estimate, there would have been at least 500 odd people on the summit that morning. And the noise was unbearable. Even though its physically demanding, I climb a volcano for two reasons. One for the views, and second, for the peace and tranquility. I had a similar experience on Mt Penanjakan. Why do people need to talk so much ? And even if they have to, why not keep the decibels a bit low ? What is the need to yell and scream so much ?
I started to feel unwell with the entire experience. I developed a bit of nausea and headache. Might have been a combination of everything. The strain of travelling and the altitude and the overall experience.
I vomited a few times, until there was nothing left in my stomach. Drank some water and ventured out to witness the circus. My cameras were well packed in the bag, and I had no mood for any sort of photography. Decided to break camp, and get down. I think we came down by the Cemoro Kandang route. It was longer, plenty of switchbacks, and was bloody slippery, because of the overnight rain. Somehow made it down to the blaring of horns from cars, buses, motorbikes and trucks. I didn’t realise that we still had to walk a fair distance, a km or so to the homestay near the starting point of the Cemoro Sewu route. Bought all of us a can of coke each, I was hoping that the coke would kill whatever bugs I might have picked up with the street food the previous day…
Reached the homestay, showered, and tried to make arrangements to get back to Jogja. I was not in the mood for public transport. My mood was already so terrible. I had to coax the guide into making the arrangements, he was somehow in his own world – obviously still very inexperienced.
We made it back to Jogja at night. My regular lodge was full, so I checked into Grand Tjokro, a hotel that I saw when driving aimlessly, once we were in Jogja. Paid an exorbitant sum of money for the average room, settled the score with the guide – quite disappointed with his service, but let bygones be bygones…
I ordered a vegetarian pizza, while I showered, scrubbed myself clean, and freshened myself. In some ways, I was becoming like my bro, Leonard. Unlike him, I don’t need a lot of luxury. But I do need my comfort.
Gunung Lawu. Probably the easiest volcano to climb in Central Java, but my climb was a forgettable one…