By : Dr. Dietrich Lerche
1815, April 10th, a day that literally shook world. The largest natural (volcanic) catastrophe in human history, 20 times the power of Mountain Krakatau (1886, in 1987 we went up to “Anak Krakatau”), 600 km2 rock blown away, ashes around the world. 50.000 died in the region, another 100.000 in the aftermath of crop failures and climate changes, which even caused hunger epidemics in Europe.
From the once 4.300 high peak only a crater, 6 km in diameter, and with the highest rim of 2.850 m remained. After having climbed many others of Indonesia’s majestic volcanoes (Kerinci with 4.000 m, the highest in Indonesia on Sumatra, Gunung Merapi, Gede and Semeru; my favorite 3x), Tambora has long been on my list.
As Regional Economic Development Advisor, with office/home in Mataram, the island Sumbawa, where Tambora is located, is also part of “ my region “ There were series of GTZ workshops of Participatory Appraisal of Competitive Advantage (PACA), which I attended in Dompu and Bima, so this was an opportunity. Though in Lombok the rainy season had started already early (another climb of Rinjani; thus did not materialize) the weather in Dompu was still fine, sunny and dry, in fact on the road it was fairly sticky hot. Weather wise we were lucky, seeing both sunset and sunrise at the top of Tambora and parallel to it the rise of a full moon with bright lights just right for the night (climb). Along with me was Michael (GTZ volunteer, 28, student geography/ economic who assists REDA on data management information system/MIS).
After the last participatory appraisal of competitive advantage (PACA) “mini workshop” on local woodworking in Kecamatan Woja and before Friday prayers (and possible road closure in front of the mosques) we headed east, direction Calabai. The first 40 km were still a good surface, but then all at once it was all broken asphalt. It was better to stir in a tilted position on the side banked rather than to try to avoid or circumvent the asphalt craters. Altogether a torture for both vehicle and passengers. In between sometimes suddenly some stretches of new asphalt. In general a sign of very poor maintenance of what must have been once a “road”.
A first stop in Hodo where large billboards announced as big tourist attraction a (sweet) water spring from the foot of Tambora, coming up right at the seashore. but other than a small creek or puddle there was little to see. no pool or any refreshment we had hoped for nevertheless we ate a good lunch at the ‘’seaside café’, ocean view and afterwards a ginger special coffee.
From then on it was all a terrible, bone braking, road; another 80 km or 3 hrs when we finally reached Calabai. Such a sweet sounding name (Tschalabai) but the road got even worth, it looked and felt lake a field where the lave had flown yesterday and not 200 years ago; another hr 15 km. Just to show how nice a well maintained gravel roan can be, the last 10 km to Panca Sila were easy ride. The village now has been renamed Tambora (Soeharto terminology no longer en vogue ); we went straight to the house of the village chief ( Kepala Daerah ) where we were warmly welcomed by him and his wife and some elderly. There is no accommodation in Panca Sila. The KD was talking about building a “ guest house” and asking already for donations. Rather ambitions as the guest book indicated only about 20 foreign and 100 domestic tourists for the whole of this year. We hade some long and interesting discussion about village, social and economic life; most of the 700 house holds are engaged as coffee small holders or in timber cocoa plantations as well as rice farming. Most of the coffee plants are fairly old, there is some “wild” coffee planting in areas, which have been “ logged” but not an apparent systematic approach for a sustainable development.
Then it was dinnertime a simple but tasty meal on the floor + fingers. Despite rich in coffee local people traditionally add 1 : 2 parts rice in the mix which does not add to the flavor though. KD boasted of low crime rate, no political demo in Pancasila, and his achievements. Young thief’s for example are chased through the village as punishment, after Friday prayer all join gotong royong for village clean up (we missed the day ).
We slept in the KD’s “office” arranging for an up/down twin bedding as the 120 cm wide mattresses was may be Ok for some young lovers.
Up at 5.30 in the morning for standby waiting for a logging truck which might bring us to pos 1, saving us 3- 4 hrs on a rather boring road. At 7.00.we jumped aboard together with crew of local lumberjacks. There where several changers in trucks, breakdowns, slippery roads etc. but at 9.00 we arrived at pos 1,the last and highest logging camp. I had learnt from the truck driver that is was all licensed to and worked on by P.T. Veneer (calabai) owned by timber tycoon Bob Hasan. Now it has more or less finished off (it really looks devastated), the company will close down in a years , move to Kalimantan, most of the 500 workers dismissed .now the locals have the right to finish of what can sill be cut and taken out .with no logging gear the jungle giants are cut with chain saws into beams of 15-25 cm still manageable by human labor , put on the trucks and then by truck (4-6 t) sent to local markets or Lombok. Here they are cut by circular saws into planks. Overall not a very economic operation.
As this is “production forest”, there should be reforestation but an attempt to plant Mahogany apparently failed, now it is burned and up for coffee plantation.
We soon left this unsightly scene, smoldering ashes and fires etc, entered the trick jungle: over or down below fallen trees , passing rotan thorns or some rare jungle flowers- though altogether very few attractive flora or wildlife , except some birds .
Without a guide at least on this stretch on would easily be lost. However, our ‘’guide’’, arranged by the KD, a rather skinny, tiny man ‘’guided” mainly the rear, having a hard time to catch up. It was the porter (and he would have been sufficient) who run up front and was worth his money (35.00 Rp p.d. unfair compared to 50.000 Rp for the guide).but the luggage was fairly light (small tent sleeping bag just bought in Mataram )with Michael and myself- carrying our own rucksack .
By 10.30 we had already made it to pos 11. Fortunately it was dry so the leeches did not bother us. Two hrs later we were already at pos to 111 were most climbers’ camp overnight. Either we were so fast (as our exhausted Indonesia “mountaineers” said; ready to build a fire already) or the guide books used different standards.
Getting to pos 1V was only a brief intermezzo and by 14.30. we had reached already pos V. pitching up tent took only minutes and large fire was lighted immediately as it was getting cooler , now at about 2.200 m. our Indonesian friends ate mountains of rice but still looked so skinny. The water from the well “cave” looked a little brownish but tasted all right, at least for a chilly ‘’pop mie”.
The sun was still shinning brightly thought the trees and we got rid of sweat-drenched clothes. As there was little also to do I walked up another ½ hr to enjoy a marvelous view of Tambora bay with Moyo and Satonda island across, watching the fantastic play of the clouds. This would be a much better place to camp. Later we sat around the fire, small talk. Play card.
At 20.00 an extremely bright moon rose over the crater rim. Shortly after we went to tent, the Indonesian crew huddled shivering around the fire .At 3.30 rise and shine and at 4.00 sharp we started the last ascent , a pleasant crisp morning walk , the moon our light .in another hr. we were at the rim and half an hr later on the summit, not much higher than the rest of the Calderas, about 6 km in diameter. Down there 500 m deep gaping holes, sharp edges some fissure’s but no real volcanic activity, during the last 1 Mio year, the volcanoes had exploded 4 times, so another 200.000 years to wait, but don’t get to close to the edge as there are frequent land slides. Some people have been down (steep, dangerous) and one of the KD stories was that a herd of now wild buffaloes lives there. As we climbed the last 100 m the sun broke through the cloud, a red fire ball at 6.00 o’clock.
Instead of a summit cross we found a marble plaque that the Bupati (district chief) of Dompu, and his able men had made it to the top ,in May 2003 . a sack of cement still there (they had forgotten the water for the mix ) but the stone held firmly as only a (relatively) mild wind was blowing but cool enough (10°) to finally use that sweater and jacket (gloves only for the porter). We enjoyed the panoramic view, blue sea, island in the distance and on the other side the intimidating massive rocks, barren and serene.
Down hill was a quick run for breakfast at pos V which are guide, who stayed behind, was supposed to have ready. Except for the stinging nettle (even trough the pants) it was an unexciting down run or struggles though the jungle. At 11.00 we were already waiting, much to the relief of our guide. But we were also not keen on walking another 3.5 hr in noon sun on a boring flat logging road, particularly as we had decided to head straight back to Mataram .at 12.30 we returned to P.S, a quick cold shower and soap felt wonderful.
Back to that awful road, we slammed into a rock on the road. Muck to my dismay I saw the temperature gauge go up, a leaking radiator was the last we needed. Fortunately there was a canal nearby, and even better the motor stayed cool, not like us. One of the tires also leaked albeit slowly, so we could have it fixed later on. We were very relieved to hit a ‘’normal” road after 6 hrs. With late ferries, some detour etc. However it was not before 4.30 in the morning until we arrived safely in Mataram. More of a motor – than a mountain marathon.
All together the climb took us about 8 hrs up and 5 hrs down, less than 1.5 days. One may have to add 4 - 6 hrs once the logging trucks stop operations. Compared to other Indonesian peaks the most attractive climb, must of it jungle, the nettles (and leeches) can be nasty. Plenty of water on the way. Summit also spectacular. But once is enough, considering the long and awful access road. Next time Rinjani again.
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