Brandon is one of 15 undergraduates who were awarded 2018 Streicker International Fellowships. Streicker Fellows design their own projects or internships in conjunction with a hosting organization. During his fellowship, Brandon is interning at Friends of the National Parks Foundation, an environmental and wildlife research center in Pejeng, Bali. The center focuses on rescuing endangered Balinese starlings and promoting best agricultural practices for rice farms in Balinese communities.
The alarm chimes in its high-pitched, redundant beep, as I struggle in the blackness to end its scream. After fumbling around my desk I finally manage to shut it off, and I rub my eyes and look at the clock. 1:55am.(!)
I throw on shorts and a long-sleeve, and grab my backpack which I packed the day before – a bottle of water and a rain jacket are all it holds (who knows? It’s Bali and rainy season just ended, but my homestay father told me to not take any chances). I lock the door to my room, head outside and step into a van waiting for me on the dirt road.
“Selemat pagi” I whisper to the driver. I think, ‘Is it too early to say good morning? Is good night more appropriate? And why did I whisper???’ He replies the same and as we start to drive, asks how I am. Although already obvious, I tell him I’m exhausted. I shut my eyes as the headlights carve a path through the darkness.
We stop for breakfast. A piece of bread with a banana, and strong black tea that gives me a burst of energy that I so greatly need. It’s three o’clock in the morning, and we have arrived at the base camp of Mount Batur. I am placed with a group of two seemingly fit couples from England and a Balinese hiking guide named Aya. She tells us that it’s a two hour climb to the top, so get ready for the trek – and use the bathroom while you have the chance. No doubt I take this chance while I still can!
As we put on our headlamps and begin walking up the path towards the hiking zone, I get to know the British couples and Aya a lot more. I have to say, I think that the experience of being in a foreign place with excitement (and fear, it’s very dark) all around you, combined with the lack of sleep, creates for a perfect mix to have people open up to one another. We learn about each other’s past, families, travel experiences, stories, and more, but what surprised me was that Aya opened up the most out to me out of everybody. She spoke good English, and on the way up the mountain I got to hear about her interesting point of view on life and learn more about how Balinese folklore and tradition center around the mountain we were climbing (apparently, every day dedicated local practitioners climb the mountain and meditate inside the large steam vents and caves carved in the mountain).
Time flew as we all talked, and only after an hour had passed I took notice that we had moved from the original path to literally climbing over boulders up the mountainside, and that my vision was blurred from what appeared to be dust all around me. I couldn’t see even three feet ahead of me! Fortunately, Aya had taken this path many times – twice a day in fact – and we all lined up behind her and hiked until the fog dissipated, or rather, we climbed above it.
As the climb steepened and our path narrowed, our progress slowed little, if at all. I have this feeling all of us wanted to reach the top as quickly as possible. Still enshrouded in darkness, the stars began to show, more vividly than I had ever seen in my entire life. Even star dust could be seen, cutting its way across the painted sky. I had to stop for a moment, take a screenshot in my head; hold on to the beauty.
We knew we were nearing the top when we began hearing the bells, and smelling the warm, sweet scent of incense. Local men wrapped in sarongs and women in headdresses began their prayers here in the morning, giving offerings to the gods, such as Barong (the lion god of goodness). As we arrived at the top and heard the ceremony, I turned to look around. The night sky in full view, an almost empty moon, and what could only be the faintest outline of Mount Agung on the horizon, Mount Batur’s sister mountain.
People say sometimes that pictures cannot describe the experience, and I agree. More so at this particular moment on the summit. Hearing the harmonious rings of bells from the ceremony commence behind me, looking ahead as the outlines of the mountain became more defined from the hues of purple, red, and orange entering into the sky, smelling the hardboiled eggs cooking against the volcanic steam vents, letting the crisp, cool air kiss my skin. All of this came together into something more that I felt in that moment, and no, neither words nor pictures can define it.
These “something more” moments have made up so much of my experience in Bali so far, as if being here has allowed me to stop taking what is beautiful and precious in life for granted. I know already that my life has been changed and I have grown in so many ways from everything that I have experienced and the people that I have met thus far here, and I am excited to see what the next month holds. This has only been made possible by the enormous generosity of Mr. Streicker and the Streicker fellowship that I have received, and I will be forever grateful.
Below are a few pictures that I would like to share from my time here so far, some of my “something more” moments:
The temple in my homestay where my family prays
A waterfall near my home
|A local Kecak (fire dance) festival|
Renon Observatory in Denpasar, Bali’s capital city – one of the most amazing buildings that I have ever seen