Every travel selfie tells a story. This is mine.
You see that smug look on my face in the photo above? That’s the look of someone who just climbed a live volcano. You wouldn’t know it, but a moment earlier I wasn’t looking quite as Instagrammable (#nofilter).
When you travel, you look for moments you’ll remember for the rest of your life. I had one recently in Bali, climbing one of the Indonesian holiday island’s two active volcanoes. It was a bucket list activity I absolutely loved…even if it became more like pass-the-bucket at the top.
Let me paint the picture for you: Mount Batur is 1717m above sea level. Its terrain was rocky, steep and pretty full-on, even for my fit travel troupe, which included a red-belt kickboxer and yoga instructor/pole dancing extraordinaire (I am neither, but fit enough).
The Mount Batur sunrise trek is one of Bali's most popular tourist activities, all of us in some weird state of denial that it's an ACTIVE volcano. It last erupted in 2000. Not much damage done, but as recently as 2009 there have been shallow volcanic earthquakes, which is kind of worrying. The last major eruption was 1963, which destroyed local villages and killed approximately 1000 people. Shouldn't that be enough to put us off?
Not in the slightest. UNESCO declared Batur Global Geopark a place of cultural and environmental importance, thanks to its beautiful double calderas (the collapsed craters at the summit), its lake and hot springs, and its sustainable agricultural businesses run by the local villages.
You can see the attraction now. So, we started hiking at 2.40am, with only the light of a mostly clear sky of stars, a big moon and our handheld torches (which we gripped for dear life).
We met our local guide at the base. I tried to ignore my belly cramps. I tried to tell myself "those satay chicken skewers you ate from a local restaurant a few hours earlier mean NOTHING". I put it down to a little carsickness after a drive from Canggu to the wilds of north east Bali. Aka, the middle of nowhere.
The toilets at the base were grim. It wasn't a case of "just use another toilet" – all 10 of them weren't worthy of my trust. They looked like The Upside Down in Stranger Things. I didn't know what was going to come out of them.
One had brown puddles all over the floor. Another had a spider hanging threateningly above the loo. Another had the biggest moth I'd seen in my life, and I had horror-movie visions of myself flapping it away in a poorly lit grungy dunny. Not happening!
So, I decided I'd withstand my sore tummy and get over it. Our driver gave me some aromatherapy oil – with menthol I think – to apply to my temples to take the edge off.
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For most of the climb, I was okay. Whenever I stopped hiking, I felt that sick feeling rise again. One of my friends complained about having a "gasbaby", so I wasn't alone. Concentrating on keeping my footing helped take my mind off the belly woes – nothing like the threat of falling flat on your ass or tumbling down an ash terrain to keep you focused.
We were in the hands of nature – and our guide. And a beautiful local wild dog. You can actually be fined for trying to hike Mount Batur without a guide, I found out later. But why would you even try? It's like flying blind.
We were one of the first groups to arrive at the top. The volcano below was lit by a torch trail of trekkers coming to join us. In front of us was silvery Lake Batur, Mount Abang and Mount Agung, the other active volcano in Bali.
At the summit, we were served boiled eggs and coffee to stay warm from the higher altitude chill. The pinkish sunrise peeped through the clouds below us. The iPhones were up, the tripods were poised. It was like a watercolour painting.
And then I dry-heaved. My girlfriends giggled when I said I wanted to vomit. "I'm serious, you guys. Don't laugh at me!" I could feel myself panicking. All I could imagine was my own personal lava flow off the side of a volcano crater. And it dawned on me, as dawn hit: "I'M GOING TO ERUPT ON A LIVE VOLCANO."
It wasn't exactly convenient. Among around 80 trekkers gawping at a perfect sunrise, there's not many options for "private space to hurl". It's that weird scenario where a 360-degree-view somehow feels oddly claustrophobic. No private spots. No toilets. No escape route.
So, my partner dutifully escorted me to the spot where I'd be least likely to ruin someone else's Instagram-ready sunrise photo. I looked down and there was the crater.
My food from last night wanted to come up. It certainly couldn't go down anywhere! It's not like camping. You can't just dig a hole or find a bushy patch. So the only way is up.
I tried, believe me, I tried. I sounded like one of Khaleesi's dragons roaring on Game of Thrones.
After my loudest vom-burp, I got myself together. THIS IS A ONCE IN A LIFETIME MOMENT, ADAM. Remember it!
The self-satisfied look of someone who just climbed a 1717m high active volcano! My legs are ringing after hiking up steep, rocky terrains on Mount Batur (which last erupted in 2000). Fun fact: I almost erupted on the volcano myself, feeling sick but managing to pick myself back up and marvel at the spectacle of a stunning sunrise.
So I took selfies. I rejoined my group for some happy snaps at the peak, where the monkeys were. I reminded myself of the massive achievement we'd made together – we climbed a frickin' volcano! How cool is that?
After a challenging descent to the base, I saw those toilets again and tentatively approached one. Yep, still gross. Couldn't do it.
But climb a volcano with digestive dramas? Easy.
Adam Bub is Mamamia's Commercial Editor. He loves travel, monkeys and Instagrammable sunrises.