In one of the previous texts about going north from Ubud I told that we have met a guy from “tour guide mafia” – well, now it’s the time for more explanation on this topic. When googling how to climb Mount Batur we’ve encountered a lot of bloggers complaining on Mount Batur Mafia and recommending staying far from this place. Saying that the local guides are pushing to buy an expensive tour from them and forcing independent hikers to the extent of physical abuse, including spitting in the face and throwing punches. All of them working for mysterious “Company”, about which we’ve heard a lot – both from the texts and on the spot later.
Regardless for that my dream to climb a volcano was too strong to pass on this opportunity and I’ve already missed Mount Bromo and Mount Merapi on Java, so Bali was the last chance to do this – at least in 2014. Staying on the safe side we’ve bought the tour from one of “mafia” guys that we’ve met during biking from Ubud to Kintamani. Celebrating my low-cost nature I will complain now a bit about this being the most expensive one-day hike in my life, but well. Kvo da pravish (whacha gonna do?). And at the same time hiking shoes stayed with Agung, our host from Kuta, so sandals it is – adventure!
We got picked up in the middle of the night by an unknown driver and led to the bottom of the mountain. Unknown, but it was ok, he was from the Company. Dozens of other tourists and their guides were already going around with flashlights, swirling around in excited state of mind. We’ve met our mountain guide and set off for the hike up. I got also excited, as it was finally mountains, on the other side of the world and most of all – a volcano!
And here the mafia story begins. Mount Batur trekking is an ideal example of how the touristic industry shouldn’t work. First of all I am sure that if we’d show up there without a guide we would experience all this stuff that bloggers were writing about. It was virtually impossible to pass by all the guides, everybody seemed to know who are you climbing with, and that you were “arranged”. Maybe if going around Indonesia alone I would risk it, but anyway it might be harsh.
Second – the guide tried to push us into buying stuff on every stop. And the road up the volcano was dotted with stands with water and snacks. Additional profit, and as described everything goes to the Company and every guide is supposed to push for profit for it. Only guides working for the Company are allowed to lead tourists up the mountain, for what they receive salary from the firm. Speaking badly about the Company is considered a personal offence and might lead to very unpleasant situations. Basically it rules over the business here as the most profitable enterprise in Kintamani. Divide et impera.
But the real face of the Company policy showed when our guide on one stop told a melancholy story about a small boy following us in the night hike with a heavy backpack.
– You know, he carries bottles of cola and water up the Batur every night, and only if he sells enough he is able to come down and go to school in the morning. You know, he’s very poor. Buy cola from him and then we can go further.
And he looked at us decisively with the mentioned boy handing over a bottle of cola with despair in his eyes. As I hate being pushed into such stuff with stories that aim at melting my heart (solid stone!) I got pissed off. Yeah, he might be poor, but I was sure at this point that he was also forced to work for the Company. And with 70$ per person it was not my fault that they cannot distribute the money in a more just way. When the guide heard that we won’t buy anything from the poor poor boy he turned his back on us and started to walk 20 meters ahead of us, not keeping any contact. Well, heartless European tourist deserved it, I guess.
Last part of the spectacle took place on the way down, when the guide gave us a sad story about himself. How he is poor, how he has large family, how hard it is to be a guide, how he has no money, there are no perspectives on Bali etc. And openly asked for the tip, like he already didn’t know how heartless people he was guiding. Well, he got nothing and again went ahead of us angry. Dani even made up a story about her kids waiting for her at home, and I could have honestly said – “hey man, you own a car – I don’t. You’ve got a job – I don’t. You’ve got a house – I am currently homeless. Maybe you can spare some rupias?”.
Whole attitude of the employees of the Company made the trip really frustrating and took the charm out of it. Not recommended at all, I am joining all the bloggers out there with discouraging from visiting Kintamani.
Ok, after this long introduction, when you are aware of why not to go there I think I’ve prepared you well to resist the charm of why-to-go-there pictures below. Sunrise was amazing, as well as eating steamed eggs and bananas on the summit while watching it. And as well as the whole volcanic landscape spreading before my eyes.
In the end – feelings of frustration go away, you forget about the dollars spent, but experience of volcano hike and photos stay engraved deep in the memory.
The guide in a rare moment when not being mad
One final thought – hiking up a volcano in sandals was really a fun challenge. But don’t try it, kids (unless at home).