There is silence. It crushing immensity looms over me but I find myself taking shallow breaths to preserve its purity. Birds are sleeping. Bugs are hidden. As we walk, the irregular crunch of our boots and my struggling breath beats beneath the stars. Our lamps bob as we take over-sized steps up the mountain. I can see nothing. I know not where I am or how much farther there is to the top.
We began in the night, giving offerings to the darkness, incense burning bright and casting our faces with a rosy glow. At the start of the climb, the thickness of the forest enveloped us in dense tree line and my head lamp did little to illuminate the dark earth and roots caught beneath my boots.
We climb upwards. The trees thin. The rocks grow bigger. The Milky Way opens up above us and we shiver with the feeling of impossibility and exposure.
A small fire built into the rock face. Huddled around the flame awaiting the light of morning, we share snacks and jokes. The summit only an hour above us, we know nothing of the incline. We do not understand how far we have already come.
When we reach the top, the crater dropps below us in the darkness. It’s presence more felt than seen in those early moments of dawn. I close my eyes and raise my folded hands to my head. Tears drench my face and dry in the cold wind as I give thanks to the sacred mountain for the journey. Agung.
The mountain is sharper than I imagined. The remnants of lava flows, unforgiving. The incline, unrelenting. We tuck into the rock and sip coffee as the sun emerges from behind the stone. The warmth is welcome and my skin and soul absorb those first rays.
When it is time to descend, I am filled with awe. We slide down the sheer rock face and I am astonished by the magnitude of our climb. Each step sends splintered rock down the mountain. As gray stone stretches below us, I see the temple where we began, the tree line, all of Bali beyond. My legs shake with the concentration. I must not slip.
We descend into clouds. The rich mountain soils bring forth new life. There is a green fuzz upon the Earth and the air stirs with fertility. I pick white flowers for my hair. I run my hands over tall grasses. I eat green beans off the trees. Fifty years ago this land burned with the intense power of eruption. This volcano is everything to Bali. Agung.
Our return is pure delirium. Sleep deprived, hungry and shaken with the spirituality of the pilgrimage, we giggle at the thought of our accomplishment. The mountain looms above us, hidden by the clouds. My muscles ache with its power. My blood pumps stronger. I hold my hands up to the sky and give thanks for my time in Bali. My time with Agung.