"Schlaraffenland", the German Arcadia.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Yes, You Climb Volcano!

As my focus has been on my other blogs since our return from our around the world trip, this blog has been snoozing. I'll re-post a few old favorites in the meantime until I am able to properly shake it awake.

A number of years ago Lorraine and I were traveling in Southeast Asia when we ended up in a little flyspeck cluster of isles in eastern Indonesia named the Bandas. The Banda islands are each quite small and low and are arranged in a kind of loose bracelet around Gunung Api, an active volcano that rises in a perfect cone out of the sea in Banda harbour like a child's naive drawing of a South Sea's volcano. There is little to do in the Bandas other than snorkel and stroll and fully exercise one's passion for sloth, but after a week or so of staring up at that magnificent volcano I could sloth no more and began to think about climbing it.

The idea was, evidently, not original. Our host smiled and nodded vigorously - "Yes, you climb volcano!!" - and arranged for Bapa Saleh, the guide, to meet me at five the next morning. I say "me" and not "us" as Lorraine has an uncanny intuition for detecting when I'm being an idiot.

So Bapa Saleh and I set off across Banda harbour in a dugout canoe at five the next morning, with me in splendid anticipation of the magnificent view from the peak of Gunung Api that would be had of dawn breaking over the glittering Banda Sea.

This anticipation was almost immediately replaced by bewilderment and then ever-higher states of anxiety as it became painfully clear that this thing was actually going to be bloody difficult to ascend. The volcano was entirely covered by loose sharp rocks on a slope as utterly steep as gravity and the established principles of physics would allow a slope of loose sharp rocks to be. Consequently I was reduced to scrabbling up on all fours with three slips down for every four scrabbles up. In short order, despite the pre-dawn coolness, I was completely saturated in sweat, coated in grime (albeit exotic volcanic grime) and both my knees were bleeding.

At this point it probably bears mentioning that I am a (relatively) young and healthy man. Bapa Saleh was sixtyish, wearing only bathing shorts and a Kentucky Fried Chicken t-shirt and was in bare feet. Bare feet! Moreover, the man could move at an incredible clip and, perversely, his only English was "Slowly, slowly!" which he would periodically shout down to where I lay gasping and panting as he continued to skip up the mountain.

Then it began to rain. Hard.

I have few recollections of the rest of that climb other than that of a strong smell of sulphur and a hazy photo taken by the hugely smiling Bapa Saleh with me looking like something that might have been found in the trenches at the Somme, clutching an Indonesian phrasebook and sitting at the utterly socked-in summit.

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