[simage=1083,200,n,left,]We finally made it on a “Java Lava” trip and bagged Gunung Lawu (3,265 m) in Central Java, near to Solo. The Java Lavans are a group of expats and Indonesians that enjoy scrambling up and down the volcanoes of Indonesia and we have been meaning to join them for almost a year. Gunung Lawu is the sixth highest mountain in Java and has Hindu temples dotted around its slopes; each year thousands of pilgrims seeking spiritual enlightenment climb its peak.
We left Bogor on Friday after lunch and managed to negotiate the Jakarta traffic to meet at the airport and pick up our tickets to Solo from one of the other Java Lavans. After a smooth Garuda Indonesia flight we hopped into one of the waiting Java Lava buses waiting to take us to the hotel in Tawangmangu (1050 m), where we had dinner waiting – they even had cold beer. We did not need an alarm clock for the early start on Saturday, since it seems the hotel was next door to a mosque with the loudest call to prayer we’ve heard – 4:15 am. We had a quick breakfast before getting into a fleet of “bemo” mini vans and driving up to the trailhead (1,800 m). Here we were surrounded by all the porters that Java Lava had organised, who seemed to be eyeing up the hikers with small looking backpacks. We set off at around 07:30 am, feeling a little guilty as usual that we had hired someone to carry our bags.
The trail was great and slowly zig-zagged up, until we reached a wide gentle slope that led us towards the summit. We were a little concerned that the porters did not seem to have any gear at all, but we soon realised that are actually a few small “warungs” (food stalls) and basic cabins for the Porters to sleep in at the top. Before making it finally to the summit, we stopped by a house that one of the local residents had built entirely out of salvaged trash from (bottles and cans) – a real work of art, as you can see in the photos.
We made it to the summit at around midday and it was fantastic. We were above the clouds that tend to build quickly on the plains every morning and could see several other volcanoes rearing up through the clouds, including Gunungs Merapi and Merbabu. Gunung Merapi is one of the most impressive, and it was possible to make out some of the gases trailing up from the active crater.
It was hot when we arrived on the summit, but the wind was picking up and it started to go cold quite early in the afternoon. We pitched our trusty MEC tent and wrapped up with all our warm clothes (regretting leaving our thermals in storage in Vancouver) and cooked a great meal of Indomie (packet noodles), sweetcorn and pepper. It can get down to freezing on Gunung Lawu, but we were fine, and there was no way you could miss the sunset looking our towards the volcanoes in the west. It was quite staggering. Beautiful. Also nice to be cold somewhere other than a Jakarta mall or office building.
As soon as the sun was down (6:15 pm) , we headed for our tent to get warm, which took a while in our summer sleeping bags. We slept like people who had just hiked up a volcano and were up for the sun rise (around 5:45 am). The summit was pretty busy with people who had hiked up in the dark for sunrise and our fellow campers, but it was a lovely sunrise, with the clouds on the horizon turning electric yellow and orange before the first rays of sun hit the summit. Soon after we broke camp and had a lukewarm bowl of quick oat porridge and an instant coffee.
We descended through the wetter tropical forest on the north side of the mountain, to end the hike at a a temple called Candi Seto. The descent though some meadows reminded us of Canada, but pretty soon we were negotiating a narrow overgrown trail through the forest. The trail was quite tough, being fairly steep and the path was the slippy tropical clay soils. Much trudging, sliding, falling, cursing, grabbing thorny vegetation, and more cursing later we emerged on the slightly more gentle slopes where farmland of the local villagers started. We made it to the temple, a little too tired and dirty to enjoy it fully, but it was a beautiful setting. The temples on the mountain are among the last built on Java before the arrival of Islam and show the influence of the “wayang” style of East Java, though they incorporate elements of fertility worship. Candi Seto is a large temple complex that still attracts Hindu worshipers. Because of the phallic fertility symbols, the locals apparently call these temples Candi “Porno”.
After some culture, we took advantage of another brilliant Java Lava idea, which was to hire a local homestay so that we could all “mandi.” The water was freezing cold, but got the worst of the dirt off. We then enjoyed a lukewarm beer, before the buses departed for Solo. Unfortunately, there were a few issues with stragglers having a really tough time getting down Lawu, but everyone made it to the flight.
There was much talk with our new Java Lava friends about the next hike, and we are definitely now addicted to Gunung Bagging.
Check out the Gunung Lawu route in Google Earth – luckily there is high resolution imagery.