Climbing a Volcano

Bali, 7th June 2011

I lay in bed. The methodical drone of the ceiling fan, a dripping tap, I spot movement from the corner of my eye across the room, another cockroach.  I will the thoughts to stop and sleep to start, aware the minutes are ticking away toward 2am when the alarm will sound. From somewhere inside my head I hear a familiar tune, the song 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight'. I plead with myself for sleep to come, even for a few minutes. The night is promising to be a long one. I am starting to regret my decision to trek to the top of a volcano through the dead of night. It's been a tough couple of weeks, feeling alone, lonely and isolated, keeping busy seems to be the only way to stop myself from falling deeper into the dark thought patterns that dominate my mind. Distraction.

2.30am.  I sit in the passenger seat next to Yoman, the man with a wonky eye that I met yesterday on the streets of Ubud. We are driving toward a volcano. The streets are empty apart from the resting stray dogs that soak up the remaining heat from the tarmac road. When we arrive at the foot of the volcano, it's 3.30am. In the pitch black I can just make out the outline of a number of men. Yoman finds me a guide, his name is also Yoman, and even thou the only light is from the starry sky above I can see he is beautiful. We start to walk the gentle incline, Yoman and I, asking the obligatory questions that I had already asked and answered maybe 100 times since leaving England 5 months ago. Where do you live? Age? Occupation? When Yoman is not guiding tourists he grows vegetables such as cabbage. Not long into the trek I do not have enough breath to talk and we make our way, silently, apart from the crunching of feet on volcanic rock and dust, he like a panther, gliding effortlessly over the rough terrain, the light of our small torches lighting the path on an otherwise very dark night, away from the town of Ubud where the street lamps shine.

4.15am As we walk I carefully watch where Yoman places his feet and mimic him as much as possible to avoid slipping and to use minimum energy. I find myself sucked into the methodical, unhurried, steady pace, unable to see our destination but with each step my intention to reach two steps in front, where Yomans torch is illuminating the unchanging rocky ground. One step at a time, always heading toward the light.

My legs feel tired now, heavy. Each breath uses every available space within my lungs. 

Occasionally I look up at the magnificent sky, stumbling as I do so, losing focus and rhythm, the beauty above a distraction from my path, the time for wonderment is at our chosen rest points, these getting more and more frequent as the mountain grows steeper and more rocky. Yoman taking my hand when he senses I am struggling, not to lift or pull me but to steady and support. Always there, always guiding and only stepping in when he is needed. The path is windy and narrow yet very defined - a clear path leading to the unknown. Yoman knows what is at the top and he gently encourages me onward. As we move forward step by step I learn not to be distracted by the beauty of the sky but to focus my will and energy on placing each foot, some parts are harder than others, taking my breath and strength in ways other parts don't. I don't dare imagine the drop on the side of the path or any other dangers that might lurk there, surrounded by complete blackness with no clue where I am, alone with a stranger on a piece of land we call Bali. I feel alive. I can feel the blood pumping round my body, my breathing strong, senses alert in this unfamiliar situation, surrounded by darkness and silence I find I am completely aware of every single cells in my body. Just 10 more minutes Yoman says. The face of the volcano is so steep now, to stop would be treacherous, there is nowhere, no space to rest, only to move forward. I feel so grateful to Yoman who silently encourages me to keep going.

Then we arrive on flat ground, it is still pitch black, I take the opportunity to throw back my head and open to the beauty above, to breathe in the cool crisp air, my clothes wringing wet from sweat and dew. I have made it.

I feel amazing, I feel alive, I watch a shooting star jet across the night sky and I laugh and smile as I make a wish. Thanking God for this moment. Gradually others start to arrive at the top and there is a feeling of comradeship and we congratulate each other as one by one people appear over the summit, gasping in the cool night air, discarding bags and coats onto the floor. I carried with me, up the volcano, raw eggs and I give these to Yoman now who takes them to a woman who will cook them on steam from the volcano. As first light arrives, my new friends and I gasp in awe as we eat warm eggs with bread and drink thick, sweet Bali coffee. We take photos of each other and make silhouette shapes against the horizon line, laughing and smiling and as the light changes I see heaven and I feel God. The totality of everything is this single moment, there is no past, no pain, no broken heart, no loneliness, only this, only now.

I watch the first breaking of the sun over the horizon, the dawning of a new day, I close my eyes and I feel the sunlight, I become a warm golden red glow, I can feel the inside of my body, every single cell renewed.

Yoman shows me where steam comes through the earth's crust and we drink mineral water that is collected in bottles placed strategically around the crater edge. Gradually people start to leave, Yoman and I still hanging out, taking photos and enjoying the views. I feel at peace. From behind I hear a woman's voice singing, the song I hear is 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight'. I turn to look at the woman exclaiming 'How strange, that song was playing in my head at 2am this morning', we both laugh and right in that instant I know we are exactly where we are meant to be. Doing ok. Moving through struggle, one step at a time, knowing that at the top of the difficult parts of the path are relief, a sense of achievement, strength gained, beauty, wonderment and awe and, there is always always a guiding hand, if only you will take it, not to avoid the pain, but only to move through, one step at a time, one step at a time.