Climbing the Gunung Rinjani: some nasty details

There is not so much virginity in the world that one can afford not to love it when one finds it.
(Graham Green, Journey without maps)

We were not looking for virginity, but what we found in the Gunung Rinjani National Park (Lombok, Indonesia) left us – to say the least – with mixed feelings. The climb to the summit was supposed to be a not-to-miss mountaineering experience. Not too hard, perfectly feasible and with outstanding views, our idea of the Rinjani collapsed under a reality made of noise and rubbish.

Noise and rubbish indeed. Because we got the views, the amazing setting, the summit, the hot springs, and the hiking. We got it all, but it didn’t come without a price. We expected the Rinjani to be a little bit crowded (high season, one of the major attractions in the area, proximity to Bali, etc.), but this turned out to be just a minor aspect of the problem.

Mata Air hot springs

Mata Air hot springs

We signed up with Rudy Trekker for a 3 days-2 nights (3D2N) track starting in Sembalu and finishing in Senaru. Our party included the two of us, Aari (the guide) and two porters. It’s not possible to undertake the trek without a guide, so we browsed the web, looked for what seemed the most reliable company and made the booking.

View from the summit

View from the summit

The issue is not this or that company. Companies like Rudy’s treat their customers very well, the staff are quite professional and, at the end of the day, the package is not so expensive. The real problem is how the National Park and the whole trekking experience is managed, and what kind of tourists such management attracts.

(1) first of all, guide and porters are not necessary. The trek is easy, the path hard to miss and a few marks on the way could solve any possible doubt. It’s quite clear that guides and porters are part of the business engendered by the choice of making as much profit as possible from the constant presence of visitors.

Aari, our nice and professional guide

Aari, our nice and professional guide

(2) the competitiveness among the trekking companies combined with the regular flux of comfort-seeking tourists from Bali (let’s do something different, let’s climb the Rinjani!) results in a surrealistic race where companies compete for customers by offering levels of comfort unknown to a prototypical mountaineering experience.

(3) a practical example is the quantity (and quality) of food offered to the trekker. You will be given (Indonesian) restaurant quality food we don’t know how many times a day. Regardless of your body conditions, you’ll end up refusing: please, no more delicious meals! We had a small surprise when we realised that in the several positions along the way some guys were trying to make a living by selling cokes, cookies and beer in tent-shops! The first day, we witnessed a porter preparing some sort of fruit juice with an electric blender and serving it in cocktail glasses…

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Vegetables soup

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Pancakes and fried bananas

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Eating: more tiring than hiking

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Hamburger after the climb (quite unexpected, as you can tell by Kakakin’s face)

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Yes, nasi goreng with chicken

 (4) and, of course, one can’t avoid to notice all the fucking rubbish generated by this huge cooking-eating-snacking machine: apart from the section from the base camp to the summit, which is (relatively) clean, there’s rubbish all along the way – cans, bottles, plastic bags, cigarette butts, broken flip-flops, gas cylinders, you name it. Some camping areas are real dumps, with the award going to the camp at the crater lake: such a lovely place ruined by all kinds of litter. Many porters don’t collect the rubbish when leaving the camp (being  faster than the average trekker, they usually leave after), and then bunches of uneducated assholes complete the picture.

Base camp

Base camp

Rubbish camp

Rubbish camp

Mass tourism tends to generate monsters, and monsters conquer all they can by means of a ferocious stupidity. Maybe one day we’ll be able to recommend the Rinjani experience. Maybe it’s not always like that and we’ve been particularly unlucky. Time will tell.

Starting the trek

Starting the trek

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Kakakin Kura

Kakakin Kura

Claudio speaking. I'm the co-founder of Freaky Tracks - quite happily, I must say. I taught Italian in New Zealand, undertook fieldwork research in West Africa and tested videogames in Madrid. I am a linguist, a minimalist runner and a travel addict… and nope, I won't stop moving around!
Kakakin Kura

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