Of mus­cles and flip-flops

dur­ing this christ­mas sea­son, we re­mem­ber the un­sung he­roes of moun­tain-trekking: the guides and porters. In this case, we look at the heart-felt ser­vice they pro­vide at Gu­nung rin­jani on Lom­bok is­land, In­done­sia.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - OUTDOORS - By SELINA NG selina.ng@thes­tar.com.my

WE deck out in full (al­most win­ter!) gear and hik­ing boots; they wear T-shirts, shorts and flip-flops.

We carry (only) our own wa­ter and snacks in hi-tech er­gonomic back­packs; they carry food, wa­ter, fire­wood, camp­ing gear and all the be­long­ings of the en­tire en­tourage us­ing noth­ing more than bas­kets (at­tached to bam­boo poles) bal­anced over their shoul­ders like huge dumb­bells.

Th­ese are the in­domitable, in­de­fati­ga­ble guides and porters of Gu­nung Rin­jani, an ac­tive vol­cano on Lom­bok is­land, In­done­sia.

We share high qual­ity tents be­tween two or three hik­ers and still com­plain about be­ing crammed; all seven of them spend their nights un­der one makeshift tent that is nei­ther wind­proof nor rain­proof.

De­spite th­ese ob­vi­ous dif­fer­ences in lux­u­ries and in­ad­e­qua­cies, we climb up and down the moun­tain at snail’s pace but they tra­verse the trails like moun­tain goats.

With throb­bing veins on their calves and tanned skin from con­stant sun­burn, their ex­tra­or­di­nary strength and agility puts even the fittest of us hik­ers to shame. Yet with all their bur­dens, they smile and greet ev­ery hiker they meet and strive to pro­vide five-star ser­vice for their cus­tomers.

An hon­est liv­ing on their sec­ond home

With its sum­mit tow­er­ing 3,726m above sea level, Gu­nung Rin­jani is the pride of the lo­cals and a sec­ond home to the many guides and porters who earn a liv­ing help­ing trekkers tackle the moun­tain.

Farm­ing is the main eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity for most lo­cals, but in­come is de­pen­dent on the wet and dry sea­sons.

“Farm­ing alone is not enough to sup­port my fam­ily,” said hik­ing guide Jack, who stopped school­ing af­ter com­plet­ing high school. “On the other hand, it is also very dif­fi­cult to get other jobs in Lom­bok as a cer­tain ed­u­ca­tion level is re­quired. So I be­came a hik­ing guide be­cause I wanted to do some­thing other than farm­ing, and also to prac­tise my English skills.”

Af­ter three months of in­ten­sive train­ing, Jack of­fi­cially took on the role as a guide with his com­pany, the Rin­jani Trekking Club in Seng­gigi.

Farm­ing com­ple­ments trekking in the yearly cal­en­dar, as the peak tourist sea­son from May to Septem­ber is the dry sea­son, while the wet sea­son (for farm­ing) runs from Novem­ber to March (though the weather on Lom­bok is not as wet as in Bali).

Dur­ing peak sea­son, guides and porters can climb Rin­jani up to twice a week, and with each trek tak­ing three or four days, they end up spend­ing al­most ev­ery day on the moun­tain, which they fondly call their sec­ond home.

“Some­times I stay on the moun­tain even longer than in my own house,” re­flects Mu Lan, who climbs Rin­jani more than 50 times in a year as a porter. “It feels awk­ward if I were to be away and not see my moun­tain home for a long time.”

Guests are king

With huge cal­luses on their shoul­ders ac­cu­mu­lated from years of car­ry­ing heavy loads, this proud group of Lom­bok men en­dure pain and strain with ev­ery step they take. How­ever, their love for the moun­tain and pas­sion for their job drive them to go be­yond phys­i­cal bound­aries in their daily rou­tine.

The In­done­sian cul­ture of “Tamu adalah raja (Guests are king)” fur­ther adds to their hos­pi­tal­ity to­wards hik­ers un­der their care.

From cook­ing nour­ish­ing meals to set­ting up spe­cial tents for the toi­lets, our porters de­liver im­pec­ca­ble ser­vice, even be­com­ing a source of mo­ti­va­tion through­out our four-day hike.

De­spite car­ry­ing loads of over 40kg each, they are al­ways far ahead of us. This is not be­cause of their im­pa­tience in wait­ing for their slow-mov­ing cus­tomers, but to en­sure that the mo­ment we reach a des­ig­nated rest stop, pip­ing hot meals can be read­ily served.

First to wake up, last to sleep, guides and porters are al­ways alert to our needs and re­quests. With­out fail, the ques­tion, “Ex­cuse me, cof­fee or tea?” greet us ev­ery morn­ing af­ter we awake from our slum­ber.

The porters don’t speak much English but their calm de­meanour and warm smiles ex­ude a sense of warmth and se­cu­rity. Their funny an­tics and jokes help lift our morale, es­pe­cially when the climb gets tough.

As quiet as they may seem, when we sit down and chat with are gen­er­ous in shar­ing in­valu­able in­sights and sto­ries about their job and beloved moun­tain.

Ded­i­ca­tion and pas­sion

With only thin jack­ets or sarongs wrapped over their shoul­ders, th­ese strong men are a closely knit group, all with the same pas­sion to show­case the breath­tak­ing beauty of Rin­jani to tourists.

Porters and guides are trained in cook­ing, moun­tain search-and-res­cue, en­vi­ron­men­tal aware­ness and cus­tomer ser­vice. A few months be­fore our trek, our guide Jack was the hero in sin­gle-hand­edly res­cu­ing a hiker who ac­ci­den­tally slid down the side of moun­tain. Such is his ded­i­ca­tion to the job that he is will­ing to risk his life save another.

Our porters hail from all over Lom­bok is­land and they work for a num­ber of trekking op­er­a­tors. The youngest porter in our group is 21 group years old while the old­est is 38. They gen­er­ally do not stop hik­ing un­til their bod­ies can no longer take the toil of reg­u­lar hikes up and down the moun­tain.

How­ever, the money they earn is com­par­a­tively bet­ter than for other odd jobs in the re­gion. A porter earns be­tween 100,000 ru­piah (RM27) and

150,000 ru­piah (RM40) per hik­ing day, ex­clud­ing tips from hik­ers.

The great­est job sat­is­fac­tion th­ese hard­work­ing guardian an­gels get is when hik­ers are full of praise for their beloved Rin­jani and are ap­pre­cia­tive of their ef­forts through­out the jour­ney.

As the trip came to an end, our guide and porters formed a line and gave each of us a farewell and ap­pre­cia­tive hand­shake be­fore head­ing home to spend pre­cious time with their fam­i­lies. Very soon, they would wel­come a new group of hik­ers and do the trek all over again.

We may just be a few or­di­nary cus­tomers of the thou­sands they have led through­out the years, but to us, Jack and his six porters will al­ways be re­mem­bered as the ones who made our first Rin­jani ex­pe­ri­ence much more colour­ful and mem­o­rable.

This story is writ­ten as a trib­ute to all the guides and porters of Gu­nung Rin­jani, who carry out their unique job with pure ded­i­ca­tion and sin­cere con­cern to­wards hik­ers.

Men of the moun­tain: the porters have to carry all the food, wa­ter, fire­wood,

wa­ter, fire­wood, camp­ing gear and other stuff for the en­tire group us­ing only bas­kets at­tached to bam­boo poles.

Guides with heavy loads and mere flip-flops help­ing hik­ers in hi-tech shoes down a tricky path at rin­jani.

de­spite car­ry­ing loads of over 40 ki­los each, the su­per-fit porters of­ten race ahead so that hot meals are pre­pared when hik­ers ar­rive at camp sites.

Guides and porters on rin­jani are trained not only for moun­tain res­cue but for camp cook­ing too.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.