Saying goodbye to 2012 at the Pura Lempuyang Luhur
As the last day of 2012 approached, Lee and I made plans to spend it hiking to a temple high on the slopes of Gunung Lempuyang – a mountain in eastern Bali. The hike was said to be an exhausting one and not even permitted sometimes during the wet season. We had climbed to an Anasazi granary in the Grand Canyon and to the Sun Gate at Machu Picchu – so Lee and I believed we were up to the challenge. Our driver, Ady, picked us up around 8:30 AM. I was hoping that an early start would help us beat the heat. Unfortunately, the temperatures in Indonesia rose earlier than we did. While having breakfast, I noticed that I was already sweating while sitting at a shaded outside table. I began having a little trepidation about what lay ahead.
After about half an hour drive we arrived at the embarkation point for our ascent to the Pura Lempuyang. We were greeted by Wayan and Gede. Wayan told us what to expect and Gede (pronounced like Aussie “g’day”) would be our guide. What lay ahead was 30 minutes uphill to lower temple and then 1700 steps up through the forest, and another temple, to eventually reach the summit at Pura Lempuyang Luhur. We could expect to reach our destination in approximately 2 hours. We were at a holy site so we were dressed in appropriate attire, sarongs, for the hike. A couple weeks ago, Lee swore he wouldn’t wear a “dress” but after numerous temple visits – he understands the tradition and has acquiesced. He was pleased to be offered one in his favorite color – green.
To give you some perspective, climbing to the top of the Empire State Building (Floor 102) using the stairs entails about 1800 steps. We would be doing the equivalent, with uneven steps, through the jungle, in extreme heat. But we would have better views and maybe see monkeys along the way. In any event, I was glad that I brought 4 bottles of cold water – and hoped it would be enough.
It wasn’t long before I questioned whether the two of us would actually make it to the top. We hadn’t reached the first temple or the beginning of the 1700 steps and the steep uphill climb and oppressive heat already were strenuous. As I began to sweat in earnest, I knew that we had a real challenge before us.
Faking enthusiasm, I made conversation with Lee and Gede. Time passed pretty easily and we covered the climb through the first temple without much delay. We then arrived at the beginning of the steps. For the next hour and a half we climbed one staircase after another. We took a few water breaks and our conversation became less frequent. Because of the trees, the view was limited so we really had no visual barometer of how far we had come… or how far we had to go! It even occurred to me that they hid this staircase in the jungle because if people could see the real height of it – from the bottom – no one would ever try to ascend. We trudged along. Lee and I had just finished reading ‘The Hobbit’ together. We discussed the characters’ exhaustion from hiking over mountains and felt we understood it a little better.
Or guide, Gede was kind-hearted and amazingly fit. Only 20 years old, he sometimes made the ascent 2, or even 3, times in a day. He patiently offered to stop and rest as he watched our faces grow red and the sweat drip from our foreheads. He smiled most of the day and told us about the mountain and the temples as we passed through.
Then we arrived at the next temple and it contained a troop of macaque monkeys. We had a view over the valley, rice terraces, towns below, surrounding mountains and the sea. The distance we had covered became apparent and we rested and enjoyed watching the monkeys for a while. As we began to make the final ascent, Lee said, “I love monkeys. They always make you happy and give you energy when you need it.” Happy and with energy, we made our way to the next set of staircases.
Within a short time, we made it to the top. We were hot and sweaty but filled with a sense of accomplishment. Not bad for a couple guys wearing sarongs. Clouds had moved in and the view from the top was not vast or commanding as we had hoped. It didn’t matter. Some locals had made their way to the top and were making offerings and praying. We walked quietly around the temple and then found a quiet place to catch our breath and drink some water. Our guide gave us an explanation of the methods of prayer used by the Hindus when visiting a temple. It was surprisingly similar to the Prayers for the People we undertake at the Church of the Good Shepherd back home in Lexington.
Lee and I talked for a few minutes about the end of 2012 and the beginning of the New Year. His resolutions for 2013 were minor, simple, and straightforward – (work harder on my math homework) – as they should be for a 10 year old boy. It was at that point that I realized the day’s hike and our current position was a good analogy for the end of the year and start of the new one. We had covered much ground, we had pushed ourselves, faced adversity and struggled at times. We had found joy in unexpected places and made a friend along the way. Now we sat at a point where we could review what we had done and prepare for what lay ahead. As we began the descent, like the beginning of the New Year, we could carry with us the struggles and adversity of the past or forget them and start anew. So as we walked back down the mountainside, I forgot the difficulty of the past ascent. I enjoyed the view, held hands with Lee, and simply basked in the moment. The clouds moved away and gave us some great views. The monkeys chattered as we walked by. Before we knew it we were back to the starting point. Our trek was over. Lee said it was harder than hiking in the Grand Canyon or at Machu Picchu. I had to agree. I don’t know if it was the holiness of the site, the fact that it was the last day of the year or just my state of mind after 5 months on the road and 2 weeks in Bali – but this hike was especially meaningful to me. It was a poignant and memorable end to 2012, and a great starting point for 2013.
Happy New Year. May 2013 be a refreshing downhill walk, with great views, for you with your loved ones.