Taking on the Kintamani Mafia & the 2.5 Million Hike: Bali, Indonesia 

I don’t know if you have ever tried to take on the mafia, but this morning we have plans to do just that! We plan to take on the Kintamani Mafia, a term that I have just affectionately come up with. This mafia patrols the trail up Mount Batur to the volcano crater, and strongarms tourists into paying mind numbing prices just to complete a 4 km hike. Well, we have different plans, and little or no intention of paying this “illegal” tourist company our hard-earned money!

We have hired a new driver today, and he is happy to see us at this 03:00 wee hour in the morning. He has a big beautiful bus waiting to take us up to northern Bali for what is sure to be an eventful expedition. Now that is some bus! I think I should quit calling him a driver, and change my terminology to chauffeur. Maybe I should call him Bascomb…..any comic book readers should know who that is….

It is awesome to be out on the road at this early hour. There is no traffic! The only thing we really need to worry about are all the half rabid dogs that are laying in the middle of the roads playing dead. We don’t hit any of them, at least as far as I can tell from my perch in the second row. Not like in Myanmar when the bus driver hit a dog and said “Dog soup” when we expressed our alarm. We are making great time down the narrow roadways that lead us up towards the town of Kintamani.

I do have two things pressing on my mind. First of all, I depleted all my Indonesian cash yesterday when I paid Made for dinner. We need to stop at a cash machine and withdraw a sizable chunk of cash. We are planning to do our hike on Mount Batur for free, but in the off chance that we are unable to pull it off I will need to have some cash on hand. The problem is that it is hard to find a cash machine around here that gives you a large enough sum of money. Most of the cash machines only give a maximum of $90 equivalent in rupiah.

We ask the driver (our chauffeur)  to stop at a cash machine. I run my card several times to get enough money to satisfy myself. When the money spits out in my hands I have a very thick wad of colorful bills, which I stuff into my secure bag.

The second thing that is pressing on my mind is this upcoming hike and how we are going to sneak past the Kintamani Mafia. As I mentioned earlier, I have read several blogs about hiking Mount Batur without a guide. It seems that the local people in Kintamani have established an agency that essentially polices the mountain. They charge outrageous prices per person to provide a guide for the hike. This is the hike, by the way, that Guy wanted $50 per person for, which translates to $650 for our group! That would be laughable if it weren’t so ludicrous!

Now you may remember that we have a secret language that we like to use in situations just like this. I speak Finnish fluently as do our older kids, and David knows enough to understand and contribute. We employ our secret language as we ride up to Mount Batur, because we prefer that our driver (chauffeur) does not understand us. We are discussing the prospects of hiking the mountain without a guide.

The conversation goes sort of like this. Since we are such a big group there is no way that they can stop us. We will just walk past them and pretend that we don’t understand them. We only speak Finnish. We will talk to them in Finnish, which they are sure not to understand. We can act like we are very uneducated Finnish travelers. They will get sick of trying to explain things to us and eventually will leave us alone. We can tell them that Tristan is our guide, since he does not look like an American tourist. Maybe they will think Tristan is from Bali.

As we are driving I read one blog that starts to make me nervous. The author relates of the “town run mafia” at Mount Batur. This particular blogger had tried to go past the guidepost and had become so afraid of the viciousness of the so-called guides that he ended up aborting his attempted hike.

I am reading about the hair-raising adventure. “We kept walking and then they started pushing us. Phones were out and they called for back-up. Next thing I know there are guys walking up from everywhere. They’ve all got these fake, bogus “company” certified tour guide cards and are physically putting their hands on us, pushing us. One dude kept yelling at me and slapping his dirty, crooked finger on the top of my nose…..You can imagine, every curse word was flying out of my mouth. I was cursing their lives, their town, the volcano, and then I apparently crossed the line when I started cursing “the company”. It was as if I insulted their dying mothers…..He was going to throw a punch back and we would die a death to 20 mafia men in some backwards mafia run town in Bali…”

Wow! Now I am all about adventure, but I don’t know if I am interested in endangering my life! I tell everyone in Finnish about the Kintamani Mafia story that I am reading. I think David does not understand what I am saying, though, because the terminology is not in our normal conversation range. I didn’t realize it at the time,  but this story put some serious fear into some of our group members.

The van rumbles along in the darkness, now and again dodging sleeping dogs in the roadway, intermittently slowing down and speeding up to maneuver around corners and turns, and to avoid oncoming vehicles. The vehicle strains as it climbs higher and higher.

I feel a lump in the pit of my stomach growing. This is stupid. I am going to fight with the mountain mafia in some god forsaken country in the middle of the Indian Ocean? I try to sleep a bit, but that is hopeless, so I keep searching the internet to find how to access the hiking trail.

I look up and notice a big sign that straddles the road welcoming us to Kintamani. I don’t see any mafia people. I see normal looking people setting up an early morning market on the street. I want to stop to grab some fruit for breakfast, but there seems to be nowhere to park so I don’t even suggest stopping.

The sky begins to lighten slightly and we can see a large mountain looming ahead of us. I can pick out a trail of lights going up the side of it. No sooner than I see this, we start a steep long descent down, down, down on a bumpy broken road to the base of Mount Batur.

The van finally comes to a stop at a booth, and I can see probably 8 Balinese men sitting inside. These are the Mafia Men, to be sure. We get out of the van into the cool mountain air when I realize that I am indeed quite foolish! We had forgotten to bring along any warm clothes for our hike, and of course the air is cooler up here! No worries. I brush the goosebumps off my arms vigorously, and head into the booth to discuss this hike.

The man in charge reminds me of a bulldog. He is stocky……..and cocky. We tell him that there is 13 of us. He picks up a calculator, punches in some numbers and thrusts the calculator towards us with the total displayed in big numbers. The numbers are bright in this dimly lit booth. The numbers are shocking. He wants 4.5 million rupiah for our hike!

I look at him dumbfounded. I counter him at 1,000,000 rupiah. I tell him we don’t have that much money along.

He acts like he is shocked at my offer. He explains that for our group we will need four guides. The best he can do is 3,000,000.

I stick to my guns. I repeat my offer of one million.

He tells me to leave and come back another day, but I stand my ground. I know the tactics. He might be a member of the Kintamani Mafia, but I am no chicken liver myself. I am tempted to tell him that we will go without guides, but the blog posting that I just read makes me sufficiently nervous to suppress this urge. Plus I really don’t know where the trail starts at.

I offer him two million. I tell him a little lie with a twinge of guilt…..that’s all I have on me. “I only have two million with me,” I say as I pat my travel bag.

I don’t think he buys the lie. Maybe he has heard enough of them in his lifetime. Maybe his mafia training has him well conditioned. The other men, who presumably are guides, are nonchalantly listening to our exchange. I sense that they are eager to make money this morning hour.

I hear a counter offer for 2.5 million. But I start to walk away. It’s too much, and I don’t have that much money on me. He tells me to leave and come back another day. Of course we would not be coming back another day, and of course we want to hike, and of course we don’t want to tackle the mafia.

I look at David and he looks at me. Our eyes say, “2.5 million?”. Our eyes answer, “Yes.” That’s the benefit of many long years of marriage. You can speak without speaking.

I do a quick math calculation in my brain. It works out to $14 per person, which is expensive for a third world country, but not expensive at home. At home we would easily pay $14 for some good entertainment, like visiting a waterpark or zoo or what have you. We will never be here again with the chance to hike up this live volcano at sunrise!

I look the Kintamani mafia man straight in the eyes. I repeat my offer of 2 million. He rejects it and again tells us to leave and come back tomorrow.

Fine then! I ceremoniously pull up the velcro flap on my bag, unlock the compartment where I store my money, and pull out a thick wad of bills (and I mean a thick wad of bills).  If he is surprised that I had lied about not having that much money he does not show it. I hand him 2.5 million rupiahs, and his face lights up and his mouth breaks into a smile, pleased that he won. But really, he did not win. We won, and I say that because we are in for an awesome guided trek, worry free – with no need to battle off crazy Kintamani mafia men.

I am so relieved that I can scarcely express it. I sense everyone elses’ relief, too. It isn’t until a little later that I realize how nervous everyone had gotten when I read them the blog story about the Kintamani Mafia.

Now the only problem we have to resolve is that it is chilly out and we are unprepared. The Mafia Men offer us rental jackets for $5 each. There is no way to see in the dim light if the jackets are clean or dirty, nor am I interested in paying that much. We have some beach towels in the back of the van, so we grab them to wrap around ourselves. We don our headlamps, and off we go into the darkness behind our guide carefully aiming our flashlights on the ground ahead of us.

The trail at first is sandy and dusty, and then becomes progressively rocky as we climb upwards. I realize now that there is no way that we would have found our way up here without a guide.

Our guide flashes a bright smile. We are actually a little late to catch the sunrise from the top, but the air is so misty that we don’t miss much.


The mist obscures our vision as we climb, and it is difficult to assess how much farther we must go. Surely we must be almost there.

Bjorn still has a little bit of fever, but he is strong and he is a trooper. He does not complain, but simply pushes onward and upward.

At last we arrive at a viewing platform with a small hut, which is where we stop. And there it is! The sun is breaking over the horizon!

There are monkeys here, and they are aggressive. A woman is standing next to me on the viewing deck with a sandwich in her hand while taking photos. This monkey attacks her and snatches the bread from her hand, which makes her scream and jump back. She practically knocks my camera out of my hands.

Many of the tour operators who bring hikers up here (and charge $50+) include breakfast in their tours. We find that we are very happy we didn’t pay for their breakfast because it ends up being plain white bread and a hardboiled egg with some tea. Most people we notice only take one sip of their tea, and throw the bread away to the monkeys who are feasting to their hearts content. We brought our own ham sandwiches and fruit snacks.

These monkeys will literally come up to you and grab things out of your hands, including water bottles. They have figured out how to drink from the bottles. 

The views are incredibly breathtaking. The lake flashes silver in the morning light. We can see terraced rice fields and mountains and volcanos and lava flows…….this volcano erupted in 1968 with a huge lava flow, and most recently has spewed ash in 2000. It is exciting to stand on an active volcano, to imagine the lava beneath swirling to and fro, to sit on the edge of creation…..

I am not going to tell you what these monkeys are doing…..but they did it…..in public, too! Guess that means more monkey babies around here. Okay, I know…..this is a family show…..

Steam is rising from the live volcano.

And then it is time to head down again. 

Next week Aundrea is going with Ashlee, Ville and Johann to Lombok where they are going to hike up Mount Rinjani to a crater lake. Today’s hike is good practice! I am so jealous because I really wanted to go the Mount Rinjani, but had to eliminate it from our plans. It would cost me $1200 for our crew. Oh well, I am happy we got to do this volcano hike on Mount Batur! 

Thar she blows……the volcano crater on Mount Batur, Bali, Indonesia…..can I even believe that I am here?

We all feel invigorated when we get back to our van. I ask everyone, “Did you enjoy your 2.5 million hike?” I get a resounding, “YES!” It was worth every single penny, even if it went to the Kintamani Mafia!

I can tell you, though, we are hungry!! And we need food fast!

We set off in search of a restaurant in Kintamani. We ask the driver for recommendations and he stops at two places. David and I jump out and go inspect before everyone else gets out of the van. They are not what we are looking for. Then we see the market that I had noticed in the wee hours of the morning when we drove into Kintamani. I tell the driver to park, and we all disembark in search of food.

The market has nothing to offer, but rather it appears as though it is closing down. The traffic on the street is at a standstill. Suddenly I see it! The Lakeview Restaurant, high on the hill overlooking the volcano, Mount Batur and the crater lake!

We walk in and ask for a menu. They only have a buffet breakfast, which they quote me 90,000 for each person. I tell them there is 13 of us, and we negotiate the price down to 80,000, and the kids for 1/2 price.

They have a big variety of delicious food, including a black rice porridge. We have scrambled eggs and pancakes and rice and noodles and toast and fruit and bacon and coffee and tea. In other words we stuff ourselves, and while we do that we revel in the beauty of the moment and the place that we find ourselves in. The weather is unbelievably perfect, the scenery is incredibly amazing, the view is stunning, the company is perfect and life is at its best!

When we look out we can see the 1968 lava flow. 
The happy honeymooners love this little restaurant perched on the edge of creation.

Once everyone is full and content, and has had enough time to soak in the beauty of the place and the moment, we head back to the van. We still have a long day ahead of us. We want to stop at a kopi luwak coffee plantation and then go snorkeling.

Okay, Bascomb……take us to our next adventure!

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