Chasing Agung – Indonesia

Bali's highest volcano Mt Agung, seen from the black sand beach at Amed village in East Bali, Indonesia. (Philip Hill/Phil Hill)

In search of Mt Agung, Indonesia.

I’m about as far east as I am going to travel on this trip, with only a day or so left this is the last chance I will get to shoot a clean, cloud free image of Bali’s highest peak. Making my way through the salt farms over to the jet-black sand of Amed village beach, carrying all the photographic gear I had with me, to find a spot close to the surf, hoping that when the sun showed up, so too would the top of Mount Ganung Agung be uncovered by its usual haze of cloud that has so far dogged me since arriving in Indonesia nearly 10 days ago.

A few short weeks earlier, I received a very nice email from the Art Director at National Geographic Traveller, UK edition.

“One of our writers has just visited Bali, she saw the images and thinks they would be perfect for the feature”

Brilliant I thought, however I had very few images from the specific locations and activities mentioned. Needless to say I offered to fill the gaps and after a bit more email tennis, an assignment back out to Indonesia was conceived (of sorts). Bali was on the list, also some smaller peripheral isles, the Gili Islands, Nusa Lembongan and Ceningan to the south. Agung, an imposing, some what iconic mountain of Bali and its highest was the articles main draw, firmly penned at the top of my shot-list. A dizzying 13m high cliff jump, and a beautiful beach resort on the quiet retreat of Gili Meno.

The window of opportunity was a small one, travelling to the area in December is essentially out of season, the weather is hot, humidity high, and the rain frequent.

Fishing from the pier at dawn on Gili Trawangan, Lombok can be seen in the distance. (Philip Hill/Phil Hill)

Bali often gets a bad wrap; I feel it’s as immersive a place as you want it. Certainly, if history and culture are not your thing but Bintang and singlets or even ‘Bintang Singlets’ are, then go no further than Kuta, a Faliraki of South East Asia. Alternatively, Bali has a rich heritage, unique in its Hindu beliefs at the centre of the worlds largest Muslim country. Possible to go on a one person & backpack rollercoaster never caught by the trappings of commercial tourism and a genuine Balinese sporting a wide smile.

For the first day or so it felt like no matter how much water I consumed, I was in a constant state of hangover. Travelling from $10 a night home stay to $10 home stay, I was getting accustomed to beds linen resembling the ‘Turin Shroud’. The happy trade-off was that many places came with breakfast included, a staple of banana pancakes and Bali coffee ensued, love that stuff. By 9am the best light was gone, most of my time spent running around during the early hours, travelling to the next place in the middle of the day.

Indonesian boys, using two halfs of a broken surf board skim the sea waters edge. (Philip Hill/Phil Hill)

Seeing in the early morning is also the best thing to do on the Gili Islands, Trawagan, the first of the three if you arrive from Bali, was happily free of hawkers during that time, leaving me to watch the sun slowly pick out the detail in the far off ranges of Lombok including Mt Rinjani.

Nusa Lembongan and Cenigan, and the only way to navigate the islands was with a 2-stroke vibrating wreck between my legs, me and motorbikes, not a match made in heaven. More than a few times I protested my inexperience to the man handing me the keys to the little Honda Vario, ‘no problem’, ‘slowly slowly’ his reply, possibly happy in the knowledge that if I broke it I had bought it too. So off I go; uninsured, bare foot, and with no helmet, precariously making my way out of the tight alleyway and alarmingly on the main drive of Lembongan barely holding down a straight line with the words ‘slowly slowly’ uttered one last time.

I’m not sure what is more frightening, complete unknown or the smallest amount of confidence, the latter almost leaving me crashed, burning on the side of the road once I had plucked the courage to twist the handlebar a bit more. Aware of the benefits in small and highly mobile transport I think I will still be wary of two wheels and an engine.

Sunset on the beach at Gili Trawangan. Lombon can be seen in the distance. (Philip Hill/Phil Hill)

Circumnavigating Lembongan was fun, with its famed beaches in the south and mangrove forest to the north, even crossing the bridge, normally seen in an Indiana Jones story, over to Ceningan to catch the thrill seekers falling off a tall rock.

A pack of dogs have the run of the beach as I click shutter, whilst they give me a wide birth I feel like a trespasser asking for trouble. Mt Agung is now lit in wonderful shades of pastel, confirming dawn is one of the best times awake on Bali. The cloud is quick, however I have something, pushing 7am now I am happy I got what I came for.

View more from Indonesia:

Bali | Indonesia | Indonesia – Instagram | Taking the plunge | National Geographic Traveler feature



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