“So, are you going with us to Mount Gede?” asked a new online friend whom I had never met in person.
Yes, why not? I said without thinking twice, though the idea of travelling with strangers did feel, well, strange.
It all started when a friend introduced me to a group of young Catholics who love to explore nature. I joined their online chat group called Selembar Kertas Nasi (One Rice Paper Wrap) or SKN. The peculiar name comes from the fact that the members always eat rice meal from the same paper wrap together when they go on an excursion.
At first I was hesitant. Mount climbing is a tough activity not suitable for everyone. It requires us to carry up to 30-kilogram load while we make our way to the peak. And then there’s the absence of a toilet, the cold weather, and uncomfortable sleep. When faced with this kind of limitation and discomfort, people tend to show their true colors.
But I decided to go. My biggest fear was actually being left behind or troubling other people because I wasn’t as strong as them, as I had only climbed once or twice before. Luckily, I had been exercising a lot since New Year, so I thought I was in a pretty good shape. I just hoped that everyone was cool and fun to travel with, because even friends can argue, let alone strangers who have never met before.
I love traveling and exploring nature, not just climbing mountains but anything to do with traveling and trying new activities. But over time my traveling companions were gradually missing, because they got married, moved overseas or just went M.I.A. Some of us have also drifted apart because we found that we had different orientation and goals in life.
I tried to reconnect with my old friends to ask them to go on a trip with me, but they were hardly enthusiastic. Some thought traveling was a waste of money, others just didn’t like it; and one friend once cancelled at the last minute. So, I decided to take a chance and travel with new people.
On the D-day, we met at Kampung Rambutan bus station in East Jakarta. The group consisted of people from different backgrounds, and, to my relief, there were fellow first-time climbers. Mount Gede is actually not a very tough terrain, and is reputedly suitable for novices like me.
We started climbing at night, which, fortunately, I had done before in previous climbing experience. Deprived of proper rest, however, many of us felt weak and, to my surprise, we stopped a lot. I had thought that the group would make its way quickly to the top, but instead, we stopped often to wait for other members of the group.
As we were getting sleepy, we set a place to rest until 6 in the morning. A wonderful guy named Thomas boiled some water for us to make coffee and instant noodle.
After waking up the next morning, we continued the climb until we reached the Suryakencana base camp to set up a camp and spend the night there. As expected, SKN people were very well prepared in terms of providing tents and food. I had mentally prepared to eat instant noodle at best, but they brought a full meal consisting of vegetable dishes, rendang (beef simmered in coconut milk), eggs, jelly pudding, and so on.
The next day after packing the tents and all our stuff, we managed to summit. My fear that everybody would race to the top without leaving others not as strong as them were unwarranted. Not only did we all reach the peak, but I also found new friends.
Since then, I have climbed a few more mountains with different groups of people, and all of them I found enjoyable.
So these are the three things I learned that might be useful if you consider traveling with a group of strangers:
1. Be fit. Activities like mountain climbing with strangers require extra physical and mental strength – you don’t want to be a burden to people you just met a few hours ago.
2. Be open-minded and leave your judgment at home. Do not immediately sell short people who don’t sound cool online. Keep communicating with them before the actual day of travel to get a sense of what they’re like and to build a good rapport. If you find that you still don’t feel comfortable with them during the trip, then you can always skip the next one.
3. Think positive and don’t worry too much. If you’re physically and mentally prepared, then you’re more than halfway ready.
Maybe it won’t always be a success, but meeting people outside our circles and traveling with strangers might be worth a try. I now have a group of fun friends to travel to places. Don’t be afraid to try. Spread your wings, be friendly and be yourself.
Remember this adage by poet and songwriter, Rod McKuen: “Strangers are just friends waiting to happen”.
About Stu Astuti
Stu Astuti is a graphic designer and avid traveler and aspired diver who likes to climb mountain. Most of her savings are spent on her adventures. She dreams of having a small house with a vast garden in a small city, free from traffic jam. She is currently looking for a travel companion for life.