Published/Last edited or updated: 24th July, 2017
Officially called Gunung Lewotolo, despite being only the third tallest peak on the island, impressive Ile Api (mountain of fire) dominates the landscape and geography of Lembata.
With an elevation of 1,449 metres, Ile Api sits to the northeast of Lewoleba and its classic volcanic slopes can be seen from much of the north coast of Lembata—indeed if you’re approaching by ferry from Alor or Pantar you’ll see Ile Api long before you can make anything else out on the area. Despite not having had a major eruption since the 1950s, this is a very active volcano and not one you'll be able to properly summit thanks to the sulphurous gases emanating from the peak. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth climbing—the peak and crater make for a very interesting time. Kampung Lama, an ancient village on the slope of the volcano, is yet another reason for visiting.
While there are a number of access points for the climb, Desa Jontona on the southeast slope of the volcano is the most popular starting point. From Jontona climbers start at 02:00 if they want to see sunrise from the summit and enjoy the moonscape crater under the stars. We saw photos of this and it looked awesome. Or they can start at 06:00, which is what we did. The climb took us 4.5 hours on the way up and 3.5 hours on the way back down.
The climb is (not surprisingly) steadily uphill the entire way and while we found it quite physically demanding, we’re not the fittest traveller on the block. Take your time, pace yourself, rest a lot, do stretches, take some energy snacks and plenty of water—we took two litres and that was about right. We also wore trekking boots—you could certainly do the climb in running shoes but flip flops or sandals would be very unwise—though that said, our guide’s son did half the climb barefoot.
Also wear a hat, load on the sunscreen and bring repellant as in the banana grove section of the climb there are tonnes of mosquitoes. A walking stick of some description will make the climb easier on the knees (especially on the way down). Do remember to cut your toenails before starting out.
The trek takes you out of the village and more or less due north as you slowly work your way up the slope. After around an hour you’ll reach Kampung Lama (Old village), a traditional village whose inhabitants were moved down to lower altitudes during Suharto’s rule. While the villagers are gone, an annual festival takes place around October at the village when the houses are spruced up. More interesting are the heirlooms which are kept in the village, including elephant tusks, Moko drums, Ming dynasty plates, and, in one hut, a Portuguese cannon which is strapped to a bench leg.
The goods were traded regionally for hundreds of years and the Moko drums (bronze kettle drums) in particular are believed to date back to the Dong Son period which centred on the Red River Valley in northern Vietnam from around 1000 BC. Today elephant tusks and Moko drums are used as a part of wedding dowries, though the ones in Kampung Lama are not used in that way.
Pushing on from the village, you climb through lush forest interspersed with small banana plantations—the mosquitoes can be very bad in this part of the climb. Then as the slope starts to increase in steepness the forest thins out a little to mostly eucalyptus. The birdlife in this part of the climb (which goes for 45 minutes to an hour) is notable—do bring binoculars if you are a bird watcher.
Eventually you leave the trees behind with just knee-high grass to keep you company as the slope gets steeper still. The tall grass makes it quite difficult to see the trail in places, so do watch your step. The last 45 minutes of the ascent is basically clamouring over rubble and following a vague and patchy trail. The rubble is very brittle and often crumbles underfoot, so be careful!
Suddenly you will curl around a slight rise and the crater and true peak reveal themselves. While you'll probably be short of breath anyway, they will take your breath away!
The peak has a deep, bright green crevice running down its centre and is near continually spewing sulphurous gas. Streams of steam pour out from other small vents and to your right (to the north) you'll see a broad sandy pan that fills the crater. Unfortunately littered with rubble graffiti (climbers collect the black rubble and write their names in the white sands of the crater) it still makes for a spectacular sight.
From the access point, you can walk west then north around the crater rim, then down into the crater and across it to the far east. Here the crater dips and you can enjoy tremendous views out to the east—our guide pointed out what he said was Timor, but after looking at a map, we think we were actually looking at Pantar. Either way, you can see a long distance.
It is also possible to climb the northern rim of the crater, from where you should be able to see Pulau Komba, home to Gunung Batu Tara, which erupts every 20 minutes. We didn't climb this section to see it, but the trail is clearly visible.
Once you've finished on this part of the crater, it is really just a case of returning back across the crater, back up to the access point and then starting the long (but thankfully downhill) climb home. More trip reports (including ours!) of climbing Ile Api can be read at Gunung Bagging.
We were recommended Elias Lusu (T: (0822) 3793 5386) as a guide and while he ended up being unavailable, we chatted to him both on the slope (we crossed paths) and back at his homestay. He speaks good English and is very knowledgable about both the climb and Kampung Lama. He charges 300,000 rupiah for the climb and another 50,000 rupiah to visit the village. If you want to stay in Jontona rather than Lewoleba, he rents a room on a homestay basis for 50,000 rupiah per person.
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.