Happy New Year!

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Monday, 3 January, 2011

Kerinci, Indonesia

While Christmas in Singapore was confusing, New Year’s Eve in Indonesia was enlightening – pulling your mate’s face out from within their own puke is not the only way to spend the night, apparently. Sure, I’m certain I’ll be back playing drinking games in my friend’s basement before hitting an overpriced club next December – but, climbing a mountain was a very nice substitute for one year.

Mt. Kerinci stands at the pretty intimidating height of 3,800 meters – this would be my biggest challenge since the time I tried to convince my parents that it was actually the cat that drew all over the kitchen wall. Naturally, I asked Ruby three or four times if she was sure that getting obliterated on shots with the locals wouldn’t be a better option, but she was adamant that we should climb the mountain.

The majority of the hike is an upward trek through the jungle, which comes with luscious wildlife and a variety of different living creatures – unfortunately though, while pumas and antelopes were around us, we didn’t get to see them.

It’s a tradition for many of the locals to make the climb on New Year’s Eve, thus, the animals were most likely scared into hiding due to all the joyful chants by enthusiastic, local, teenage hikers. In other words, if Indonesian kids got drunk on New Year’s Eve like they’re supposed to, we may have seem some pumas.

Beyond the jungle was the campsite area, the views from there were incredible – we admired, took pictures and then attempted to nestle into a hard-earned rest. Our tent, however, would be shared with a Dutch man who had rather sweaty feet and a snore that could signal a jungle animal – not exactly ideal.

Basically, tours were divided into small groups and we were part of a team of seven – us, a Russian couple, the Dutch guy and two guides. The Russians were fitter, faster and more determined than we were – don’t get me wrong, we were certainly devoted, but very much in a more stop-start kind of way.

Therefore, their reward for being generally better than us in every way possible was claiming the two man tent after arriving at the campsite first – leaving us as quite the cosy three.

It gets pretty cold when you’re trying to settle 3,400 meters above ground level, thus, I was unable to sleep – of course, stinky feet and the wild snoring didn’t help. I suddenly needed a wee too – I was now sleep deprived and my body was forcing me to leave the tent and it was frigging freezing! Give me a break, man!

Fortunately, I was offered my shining light mid-flow. I looked up to the sky and saw more stars than I had ever seen before – there must have been a thousand, not to mention, three shooting stars racing through the darkness – it was mesmerising. For ten seconds the cold weather didn’t matter one bit, the stunning sky had entranced my mind – although, admittedly by the eleventh second I was running back into the tent.

Before we knew it, it was once again go time. We had a nice shot of whiskey to toast the New Year, kindly provided by the Russians, and then we set off to complete the mission. It was now four in the morning and pitch-black, thus, torches were suddenly very essential – we weren’t worried though, we came prepared. Prior to leaving England we had the ingenious idea of grabbing a couple of little pocket torches from Poundland.

Apparently, torches that cost a quid are pretty unreliable – imagine that. Ruby’s stopped working before we had even left the campsite – making this challenge a hell of a lot harder. Mine was still working just about, although more to the style of a disco flash rather than an efficient tool used to shine light on an obscured view – which I suppose is actually kind of fitting on New Year’s Eve.

All jokes aside, this was not a good predicament to be in. We frantically searched high and low for two spare torches, but could only find one. Ruby was now sorted, I, however, would be left trying to adopt cousin Peter’s spidey senses in order to survive. Naturally, I had become a lot more nervous.

As we made our way up the mountain, I was the last person in a line of us making the climb – which quite simply meant that if I slipped or lost my grip, I was dead, and I promise you, that was the cold, hard reality of the situation – this made me slightly nauseous.

In fact, fifteen minutes from the top the guide showed us all the graves that had been made for those who had previously fallen victim to the volcano we were then standing on – that was anything but a nerve calmer, let me tell you. Simply put, lesser men had tried and failed to achieve what I did on that fateful night in Kerinci.

Obviously jokes come easy now, but at the time I was petrified – it was unbelievably frightening!

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Not only did we survive, but we only went and made it to the bloody top too! After a few high fives, we looked around and once again the views from every angle blew us away.

We watched the incredible sunrise for a few minutes, before switching our interests to the volcano edge. We made ourselves comfortable and then stared down the inside of this huge, natural crater and watched the stream rising from the lava at the bottom – that was a special sight.

Next, we walked around the top – wandering along the head of a volcano is really bloody cool! That also allowed us to take in some more magnificent views, this time of the town below – most notably, the beautiful lake Kerinci.

The walk back was rough, but who cares? The views were like nothing we’d seen before.

If somebody had told me in October that this trip would take me to both the top of the tallest mountain in Sumatra and The World’s Bee Museum, I would have called them a liar. Travelling allows you to do a whole bunch of firsts, most of which you would have never even previously considered – a frigging museum that is entirely made up of dead bees – the world can be a weird place!

To end this one, I’d like to offer a special mention to our head guide, Pani – he was tremendous in ushering Ruby to the top. She was wearing market purchased shoes that were about as useful as rollerblades when it came to mountain climbing – so without Pani’s help, she may never have made it.

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