When I sat down for the Monday Morning meeting, the first thing discussed was the high probability of lockdown getting extended. Not a great way to start the week, eh?
I tried to push the speculative news aside, along with the thought that I most probably won’t see my parents nor go on Kumano Kodo pilgrimage this year.
Instead, I spent the day working, reading a few pages from the boring CPA textbook, running, practising yoga for runners, texting friends and gentle journaling.
Some highlights of the day include bed coffee, payday (I pulled the King of Pentacles), cozying up on the sofa with Fafa and watching The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel on Netflix, the smell of the burning candle ━ a gift from Jik, getting a package and Wood Frog’s pumpkin seed sliced bread.
When the guide told us that there is a magical blue fire that could be found only in two places in the world; one in Russia and another one here in Kawah Ijen, near Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia, we got more excited.
Unfortunately, he neglected to inform where and how far it is from Bromo, the main reason we visited Surabaya. On the day we found out that it’s 5 hours away, but it felt silly not to go there since I was already in Surabaya, so we decided to go for it but needed to stop somewhere in the middle to rest for a while.
The day started early, hiking the gorgeous Madakaripura waterfall which had tired us out. And we had to start again on the same night around 10 PM to begin the 3-hour drive to Kawah Ijen. We got into the car and slept almost immediately. In the middle of the journey, I woke up. Half aware that we were driving fast on a pitch-black road it didn’t look safe at all, if anything, it looked the opposite. I mumbled a little prayer and went back to sleep.
Once we reached there, I realized that my thin top wasn’t a bad choice, fortunately, it felt warmer when we started walking at 12.30 AM.
At first, we all walked together with thousands of stars covering us from above.
The guide said it was a 1 km walk. We thought it was doable. Unfortunately, it was on a steep hiking trail! In the pitch dark. Btw, 2 km was not 2 km, but 3 km. And we were walking beside a cliff and that one-sided cliff turned into two-sided cliffs without any warning sign whatsoever. Also, did I mention that it was pitch dark, people!
This was not my terrain.
I paused every 5 minutes and was getting passed by other trekkers.
At 4 AM, we reached the top.
We then had to pass hundreds of people who sat by the cliff. It looked like they were camped there the whole night and most of them didn’t wear masks. I didn’t get it; weren’t they aware of the strong sulfur smell in the air? I could feel my lips peeling and my eyes watering; didn’t they feel the same? Also, what if one of them decided to go cray-cray right there and pushed me off of the cliff?
We rushed past them to reach the part we could see Kawah Ijen’s magical blue fire.
I was like, “Where is it??” The guy beside me pointed out to a small, teeny tiny thing down below. It was a fog in a faint purple color. That, apparently, was the blue fire. My legs were like “WTF man, you dragged me here for this?!! I am going to murder you!“. I zoomed in as much as I could and snapped a picture of it. Below is the depressing result of my best effort.
It was one of my biggest travel disappointments, right in between Vietnam and Wellington. I felt like crying, but I was worried that the sulphuric air would turn my tears acidic. The guy beside me, who was apparently a guide, continued the conversation by sharing a story that 7 tourists died here a few years ago.
That was the last straw for me. I needed to get out of this crowded sulphuric unsafe place.
On the way, in the dim light of sunrise, I was reunited with my colleagues, who had gone up much earlier because, unlike me, they had normal human strength.
All that wasn’t a total waste though; the sunrise at Kawah Ijen was magnificent! It beats Bromo’s. Which brought me to the conclusion that people go there not only to see the stove fire if at all but to enjoy the starry night, build a campfire and stay until the sunrise.
I thought going down would be easy, boy I was wrong. My legs decided to punish me for making them walk for 4 hours only to see the damn fog. I had to squint with pain every step-down, all the way until we reached the exit at 6 AM. All I wanted was to reach the car and drink some coffee, maybe even embrace the morning.
But instead, I passed out the minute I entered the car.
“This is it! We are on a pilgrimage, the Australian way”
I excited told Jik at the airport while waiting for our flight to Ayers Rocks. She stared back at me as if I had lost it, before getting back to her laptop screen. It has become a routine, pretty much how we usually start our girl trips, with me saying some absurd things and her ignoring it. But this time, I was serious. We were going to Uluru.
I feel like Uluru called me.
The first time it caught my attention was in a bookstore in New Zealand, of all places. Once we came back home, I mulled over visiting Uluru for a while, forgetting about it for some time, before being called again by the mystical rock. This time, by a blog post. I decided to give it a visit, even if just by myself, but at the last minute, Jik joined in.
Hence our conversation in the airport waiting lounge above. Four hours later, we reached the small airport of Ayers Rock and hopped into the resort bus immediately afterwards.
Uluru was magnificent! I can’t explain the attraction of a huge rock. I came prepared that travelling to see a rock, one stone, might be a little over-kill, but that mental preparation wasn’t required after all. I was all teary eyed when I saw a glimpse of Uluru from the plane earlier.