We got our first chance to trip-plan a few months back when my best mate Ted dropped the great news that he would be flying out to meet us. He had just over a week’s holiday to take around the start of November and he was looking to escape the usual dreary London winter…oh, and he didn’t want to just lay on a beach. Alrighty then, we said, challenge accepted!
We looked at our very loose travel plans and hooray for us we had nowhere to be in November. Good news then as we had lots of options to choose from. Partying in the Thai Islands, a city break in Singapore, adventures in Malaysia – lots of potential trips were considered. But knowing Ted as well as I do, I thought that something physically challenging, that he would likely be good at, would suit him perfect. He plays lots of sports, is an athletic guy and likes to be at the front of the pack you see. But he’s not a complete jock, he appreciates the beauty of nature and he even likes to paint the odd landscape now and again. Sorry if you wanted to keep that one a secret! Haha. So what could be more perfect than a gruelling mountain trek for oul Teddy Ted!!
A few years back, when I realised that I had to travel the world or my head would explode, I spent endless hours deep in the web looking for ideas. One of the first and most inspirational destinations that grabbed me was Mount Rinjani, in Lombok. The travelblogger stood beaming into the camera at the summit, pride emanating from her sun-kissed face as the light danced across the glittering lake in the background. “I need to be there” I sighed, it all seeming very intangible and unreachable as I swivelled on my ergonomic chair under a grey London sky. But I decided then and there, on that overcast morning, that I would one day make it to that mountain, to the very top. So, many London and Asian moons later, it seemed there was no better time to tackle Mount Rinjani than with my old football buddy. Ted was keen indeed, especially when we told him we’d be resting our tired muscles afterwards on tropical Gili Air (but that’s a story for another day), and so we got a planning…
Choosing a guide
Essentially there are two competing factors when deciding on a tour operator to take you up Mount Rinjani – Cost v Conscience. If you opt for a very cheap guide, whether you found them over the internet or on the street in one of the villages near the volcano, it is likely that they will not be adequately trained, prepared or able to look after you and/or the mountain. They will likely not have the equipment, supplies or know how to keep you safe, nor the education or inclination to take rubbish with them after the trek. There is obviously an onus on you, the trekker, to help out with this as best you can, although the porters have the empty baskets and are paid (if you use a responsible operator) to take most of your group’s rubbish off the mountain.
I have read blogs which advise heading to the surrounding villages and to haggle for the cheapest price with the cheapest operator, as apparently there is little difference between them and the “luxury” operators. This is irresponsible and, in our experience, misleading. If you do your research you will see that the main advantage of paying for a reputable guide is their adherence to an appropriate environmental policy, not having warmer sleeping bags or swanky toilet-tents!
After dredging the internet for information, we (well Emily did all the hard work) settled on John’s Adventures, a long-standing and well equipped operator who prides itself on its environmental ethics. We found various reviews online to verify its claims.
The price per person was US $235 for the 3 Day/2 Night deluxe package. The standard price of US $225 per person includes transfers in/out from the airport/shipping ports on Lombok, a trained English-speaking guide, porters to carry plenty of food and water, good quality tents and decent sleeping bags. But for only US $10 extra per person, you get a padded camping mat (a must!) and pillow, fizzy drinks (useful for a quick sugar fix), extra fruit and water, camping chairs and, as mentioned above, a swish red toilet-tent…
You might be able to just rock up at Senaru, where John’s Adventures is based, and haggle for a better price, but the ease of mind that we had everything set for Ted’s quick trip was more important to us.
Also, be aware that there are various chancers on Lombok who pretend to be well established operators like John’s Adventures and take your money but provide a much inferior service. They have been known to turn up at airports with John’s Adventures signs (so make sure you only get in the car with someone who has a sign for your name) and to also imitate websites. John’s Adventures doesn’t help itself in respect of this latter risk, as it has two different websites for the same trek and John has various email addresses!!! It was a tad confusing and a little disconcerting to say the least when we were in the process of booking. Not to worry though, to make things easier for you and to give you peace of mind, these are all confirmed details of John’s Adventures…
Trekking gear & flights into Lombok
Mount Rinjani is big. Really big. The summit is almost 4000 metres above sea level and the main camp sites are around 3000 metres. So the temperature at camp can be below 10 degrees Celsius, especially after dark, while the summit feels like below zero due to wind chill factor. That means you MUST bring cold weather gear. It is also likely to rain, frequently, so good waterproof gear is advisable as well.
We saw many people not adequately dressed for the occasion and they looked mighty uncomfortable and pissed off, apparently some of the lesser tour companies forget to warn their customers about these minor matters!
The trek itself, especially the slog up to the summit which is across uneven and loose terrain, should be done in proper trekking boots. Mine definitely saved my ankles on plenty of occasions.
So to give you an idea how you might want to pack, our gear included:
waterproof jacket & trousers
large brimmed hat to ward off the sun from my fragile Irish face
bandana, which can double as a balaclava
decent hiking socks – worth spending a bit to avoid blisters
good quality trekking boots
thermal undergarments – top and long johns for sleeping
Here’s me on the far right of the pic, looking silly and wearing most of the above (I also seem to have shrunk in the cold!)…
Ted was flying into Lombok from Jakarta in the morning of 7 November. He got a Lion Air flight for around £40. We flew from Bangkok to Bali on 5 November and opted to fly then from Bali to Lombok late afternoon on 7 November. We flew with Garuda Air, Indonesia’s national carrier. It was less than £20 per person and the flight only took 30 minutes!
Sorry Ted, not the most gracious welcome…
A couple of days before the flight, I think we ate some dodgy chicken in Kuta and on Ted Reunion Day we were both running to the toilet more than normal and we couldn’t just blame pre-flight nerves for our jittery stomachs. So when we arrived at Lombok airport to meet Ted, we were a bit out of it. Let’s just say that the slow motion run and hug reunion that I had imagined didn’t materialise! Instead we hugged, gingerly, I said we felt awful and Ted went off to buy some fried chicken! Hollywood, it was not 🙂
We’re in good hands
Sam (I think that was his name) from John’s Adventures had already found Ted before we arrived and so that part was seamless. Once Ted was back with KFC rip off chicken, we set off across Lombok to Senaru. Things settled in the car and we were chatting away like best mates again. After a few hours and a lot of toilet stops later, we got to John’s Guesthouse. We had a decent supper and sorted out payment for the trek (supper was not included in the trek costs, but it was really cheap anyway). Sam explained the trek itinerary clearly and professionally and the rest of team carried our bags to our rooms.
The allusive John was nowhere to be seen though and we started conjuring up conspiracies that he was some kind of marketing ploy, the Keyser Soze of the Rinjani trekking world! But it didn’t matter, Sam’s English was great and the other staff there were friendly and helpful. The rooms were comfortable, spacious and clean, although the air-con could have been a little better. So we went to bed that night confident we had made the right choice and felt we were in good hands.
The adventure continues in Part II, complete with Mount Rinjani showcased in all its photographic glory! That’s coming soon, although here’s a sneaky peek in the meantime…