The concrete passage soon became natural path with vegetable farms on the sides. What was planted I couldn’t see; the sky was still dark though. It was 2 am, way too early for the light to come. Above Dieng Plateau the wind never stopped shooing every clouds covering the pale moon and glittering stars. The valley was decorated with high columns of solfatara, illuminated by mellow lamps of geothermal power generator. Yellow lights emanating like fireflies from houses dwelling in the old valley below beckoned a hiker like me to come down and take shelter on its warmth, comfort, and stability—it is natural though for a hiker to regret his decision right after he takes his first step to scale a mountain, yet as he walked his way the feeling would peter out.
The lane ended to give way to a cobblestone road, which was even more difficult to walk on than the previous. Though it was less steep than the dirt road, the moss growing on the stones made it more slippery. My feet felt heavy; my stomach was empty. Yesterday, both Roiz and I only ate twice—once in the morning, then at 8 pm at Eko’s. While hiking, a heavy rucksack and an empty stomach weren’t a good combination—trust me! To make it worse I didn’t jog or do any other sports before starting this journey. I used to then—during one or two weeks before hiking I’d run or swim to put my lungs together. Consequently, my right-head felt warm and throbbing, cold sweat started falling down from my temples. I had already lost my breath while the journey was still young—I hadn’t even reached the first shelter yet.
I bet Roiz was surprised when he got last minute call from me on Thursday to schedule a Monday hiking. Quite impulsive though. But what was to be done? I missed the thin air so bad for I hadn’t hiked more than four months. The last mountain I visited was Lawu on the Islamic New-Year’s eve, 1 Suro, before the end of kemarau.
The first rain then saw the last day of 2015’s hiking season. Most of the mountains were hitherto closed to outdoor activities. The weather was still unpredictable—and mountains should be given a break to conserve themselves.
Under such uncertain weather I longed to hike. Through the misty disctrict of Wonoboyo, we went to the basecamp of Mount Prau without finding out whether it was open for hiking or not. We swerved our way through gardens of cabbage, carrot, coffee, and other plants and vegetables. The road was too narrow and winding that once we had to stop to give way for a cabbage truck that almost jumped into a valley. The road eventually ended at a triple-junction right in the middle of Kejajar market. The traffic then again became packed. It wasn’t too long until my vision came to rows of houses bulit on hills, like that of Nepal or Tibet which I had seen on books. We drove through gardens laid out on impossible places—from the valley to the top of the hills. Zigzagging for a while, the road at last came to an end: Dieng! The temples, where the cutting of gimbal hair is annually held, were towering in the distance.
We turned left to Eko’s house located three doors down from Telaga Warna. Thereon we visited the legendary hostel cum cafe of Bu Jono.
Roiz had so many friends around Dieng that our spot became packed with people in no time. Cups of hot black coffee brewed on the table. Unfortunately, Mount Prau was still closed for hiking and would be open on April 1st. All the time, the rain poured and thunders roared. It was dangerous and ill-advised to spend the night on the peak. “They say the top of Prau is all iron,” said S. I didn’t know whether it was true or not—all I know is thunders tend to strike pointed things on top of the hills or mountain, or any other higher-grounds. I gazed at Roiz. Our plan was doomed then—I brought a ukulele to play at the campsite, but now that we couldn’t camp up there, well…
“But it’s still open for a day trip without camping,” said S, relieving us. He suggested to hike from Patak Banteng which is steeper but shorter than other routes. The most popular gate, Dieng, that starts from the back yard of Bu Jono’s, was still closed for bushes growing during the rainy season were still covering the path. Let alone the landslides. S simply didn’t want us to get into trouble.
As one of the local-youth leaders, S words could be counted on. Out of curiosity, I asked him about someone who died while hiking Prau around one and a half year ago. S was a great story teller. Listening to him was like paying attention to an investigative TV programme.
The deceased came from a group of thirty people from Semarang. From the capital of Central Java they went by a truck. Arriving in Dieng at 11 pm, they soon started hiking without resting, aclimatizing, or briefing. Before the sun rose, around 3 am, they had summitted the mountain. No way it wasn’t cold. Then out of the blue, at 6.30 am, the base camp of Patak Banteng was phoned by the Semarang group, telling one of their friends was seriously ill.
“How about the team leader?” The first thing I always asked if a calamity like this happened was the team leader. Taking care a group of people to a dangerous place and condition is not easy. It surely takes a lot of knowledge, courage, wisdom, and experience. The leader should be prepared for the worse.
“The one that was sick was the team leader himself,” answered S. I was speechless. On a hiking organized by, for instance, a university outdoors-club, a hiking trip is more organized. If the leader couldn’t perform, the one appointed as the deputy would be consequently obliged to take the lead, following the standard operating procedure.
Anyway, the Semarang group didn’t have to waste time by calling the base camp because the rangers had set a camp nearby, signed with the national flag of Indonesia—red and white—which would be more than happy to help hiker-in-needs. It was S’ duty to stand-by at the camp that morning. Afterwards, the basecamp forwarded the call to S. ”The tent is Rei” was the only clue given by the base camp. There were dozens of Rei then. S had to walk around and kept talking to his handy-talkie for some time before reaching the tent eventually.
S then tried helping: he boiled him water, covered him with sleeping bag and warm-blanket. Yet his condition was still the same—he didn’t even move anymore.
S accidentally uttered: “Well, he’s dead.” Upon hearing it, some of the Semarang group spread it to their friends. Many of them started crying histerically. Realizing that he had to be decisive in order to take the deceased down, S gave them options: either they stopped crying or the corpse would be burried here and now on top of Mount Prau.
They obviously didn’t want their friend to be burried there. S asked them to help him. They couldn’t use a dragbar because it had to be carried by four people—the path is too narrow. They had to improve. So they cut a tree branch big enough to hold a person and tied the deceased like a hunted beast and wrapped it with sleeping bags. To get to the base camp fastly, they descended through emergency pathway. On the way down, they met a group of people who shouldn’t use the path—for it is for emergency only. They asked what they were carrying. To prevent mass-hysteria, S answered that they were carrying a sick hiker. “Should carrying a sick person be like that?” Were they knew, they’d zipped their mouth. At the base camp, an ambulance was waiting.
We swapped stories for a while at Bu Jono’s, sipping our hot black coffee. As we talked a couple entered and checked in. The weather was overcast, but as the hours passed by people started appearing on the road, some on foot and others by vehicles. The wall on which “DIENG” was written just across Bu Jono became crowded with tourists taking photos.
In the afternoon, we strolled to Petak Sembilan through vegetable farms behind Eko’s house and arrived there to see the twilight. Years ago I went there with a group of friends, memories of which are still preserved on photographs, when the ticket booth was still a shack. On a pine tree they had built a platform so that people could take good snapshots with Telaga Warna.
In the evening, Eko took us to his grandma’s house on the western side of Dieng, where we sat in the living room circling around an anglo and seventeen birdcages, listening to her—Eko’s grandma who is believed to be a centenarian—recollections of her childhood.
We fell asleep at Eko’s at 11 pm and woke up before 2 am, after which we went to the basecamp of Patak Banteng. Mamat, who voluntarily led us to the top, had been waiting us for a while there—like I said, Roiz has many friends around Dieng. No one at the information booth. Stretching for a little, we started hiking.
As a guide, his pace was a little bit different from us. So not so long after we reached the cobblestone, I lost my breath.
I hadn’t vomited before in all my hikes, though I had lost my strenght on two of them for different reasons. But it was the most unprepared hiking I had ever done, and I had to pay the price: before reaching the first shelter, some kind of liquid surged out from my throat, I threw up, letting out crumbs of bread I had eaten. I was hungry and my stomach was upset. It rejected my simple meal to protest, as simply as that. Yet I gained my spirit afterwards. By the time we reached the camping ground around the top, the sun was about to climb out from its limbo.