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Village donuts, Balinese coffee and the magic of Mt Agung!

The stars were shining brightly in the night sky, the moon had risen and was glowing fiery yellow and red. Gede, Wayan and I were sitting waiting in the car park of the Besakih Temple having registered with the local police for the climb up Mt Agung. Made, my guide appeared on his motorbike, waved hello then once parked up, ran off into the temple to pray. The Hindus recognise Mt Agung as holy place so they pray for protection and safe travels before the treks. Offerings are also made 3 times up the mountain which reassured me they make a big effort to stay on the good side of the mountain. The air was cool and it was the occasional dog barking that broke the silence in the car park. Frangipani flowers and rubbish was scattered around and the smell of incense punctuated the air. Made appeared suddenly after praying, all gnome like bundled up in his long walking pants and jacket, with a dark cap on and a fully loaded backpack on his back. His familiar quicksilver bum bag that carried his cigarettes was slung across his chest and his wide, happy smile was visible in the torch light. He nodded to me, waved good-bye to the boys and we headed off up the track and began our climb of Mt Agung. At 3142m, Mt Agung is by no means a monster of a mountain but what she lacks in height, she does not miss out in steepness, ruggedness and packs a punch with cold temperatures and winds. Made has guided me a couple of times up Mt Agung and he is somewhat of a treasure in this area. He has been guiding for 20 years and climbs Mt Agung regularly 2 – 3 times per week. I am not sure if I could find someone more knowledgeable and passionate about this hill. On the lower slopes, we were shrouded in thick jungle, protected from the wind and the cold. The glow of my headlamp wrapped me up in a cocoon of light blocking out the rest of the thick vegetation around me. The track climbed continuously, snaking up the ridgeline and Made’s rhythmic pace and easy going chatter allowed me to relax into the walk and take in the surroundings, snatching glimpses of the lights of Bali below through the trees, the moon and stars above and the steep drop offs on either side of the track. We passed by small groups, some sleeping, some resting and some sitting by a small wood fire getting warm. It made for a peaceful setting and tempted me to sit down and join them. The night grew colder as we edged closer to the summit with the wind picking up and the moon moved down below the horizon, leaving only the starry night sky around us. Stopping at a small dirt clearing that was shielded from the wind by a natural rock wall, we had a short break. Made handed me coffee. It was hot, unfiltered but the warmth and sweetness of it was just what I needed in the early, dark, cold hours of the morning. Along with the coffee came a ‘village donut’ which was sweet bread, shaped like a hot dog bun, sprinkled with sugar and filled with chocolate. I sat there wrapped in my Gore-Tex jacket and pants, wool hat on, enjoying coffee and donut goodness while listening to Made’s stories about Balinese coffee, the yellow flowers he grows and the ceremonies that happen in the village temples. The lights of eastern Bali below twinkled with the shadows of the mountains around them. As the cold air seeped into my bones, we packed up, Made lit a cigarette and then we continued the climb towards the summit. The winding dirt track was replaced by rocky outcrops and scree and the climb became more of a rock scramble as we moved out of the trees and onto the exposed upper slopes. The view opened up and the wind found its way to kiss the parts of my skin not protected by clothing. Soon, the familiar glow of morning started to appear all around us, as the sky turned pink and the nearby mountains’ contours and textures became more evident. Boats were moving on the ocean far below and I made out a couple of planes departing the International Airport. As we waited on the summit for the sun to peak above the horizon, I took in a 360 view degree view that included Java, Lombok and pretty much all of Bali. Mt Agung was silent, majestic, proud and so very beautiful that morning!


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When not working on international adventure trips as a guide and medic, Rachel spends her time surfing, trail running, learning spanish, indulging in her passions for photography and writing and planning her next expeditions. Life is all about every beautiful sunrise and sunset!



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