The rewards of climbing volcanos (may or may not include banana pancakes)

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We got up at a time of the night that is neither late nor early. My cell phone alarm had gone off at 2 am, I wasn’t sure I had slept the hours before. Maybe I just dozed off. I slipped into my clothes, we got on the mini van. There were more people than seats. That seems to be the case often in Indonesia, but they make it work somehow. After a one hour drive through the night, we arrived at a parking lot, where thin tea was served with even thinner instructions on how to climb volcanos. The tour operator promised banana pancakes with chocolate sauce once we reached the top. And so the mount began. 

Our mountain guide introduced himself as Ketut. His Indonesian name gave away that he’s a fourth born. His heavy trekking shoes and wind jacket gave away that my new Nikes and thin long sleeve shirt weren’t necessarily the best gear to climb Bali’s most active volcano. The climb was difficult. Darkness covered the mountain before us like a thick, heavy blanket. The lava sediment slipped away under each of our steps. Trying to pull myself up the steep, narrow path, I pierced my hands on the harsh rocks I held onto. Lava dust filled the air and found its way into our lungs and eyes, just as it had found its way into each of Ketut’s pores. My legs trembled. I doubted it was a good idea to come along. After all I had just been released from the hospital a few days earlier.

We reached the top of Mount Batur after a two hour hike. We were gasping for our breadths, and our skin was covered in cold sweat and dirt. There were two slices of toast, some jam, a banana, and a hard boiled egg in our breakfast boxes. After hiking up a volcano on an empty stomach, this surprisingly seems close enough to banana pancakes.

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When the sun finally rose, it kissed everything with golden red warmth – the ocean, the vast sights stretching before us, our shivering bodies. At that moment, it was as though the sun cast some magic spell on us, soothing and quieting, so we could all watch it rise and change the world in awe, and with it feel our exhaustion change into a sense of accomplishment. Later, Ketut would confess with a smile that he has climbed the mountain over 2,000 times in the past 30 years.

All this seemed to reinforce a lesson larger than Mount Batur. Sometimes in life, you find yourself climbing volcanos in the dark, not knowing what you’re getting into, fearing you made the wrong decision, in pain and doubt, at the verge of giving it all up and turning around. Sometimes continuing anyways is worth it. Who knows. You just might find rewards that are better than banana pancakes with chocolate sauce.

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