Danger on popular hiking routes

With more than a hundred smoldering volcanoes, some of which are islands unto themselves, Indonesia has always lured hikers seeking a climb from sea to clouds. Recently, however, travelers have had reason to avoid two of the archipelago's most popular trails. Bali's Mount Batur, a 5,632-foot-high bald cone of sulfur-streaked rock that sits beside a stunningly blue lake, normally takes only a few hours to scale. But that's if hikers are able to circumvent a group of locals who have proclaimed themselves the custodians of Batur and now control almost every approach up the mountain. Those arriving alone are told they cannot continue without one of the group's guides, who charge outrageous prices ($50 to $100) for the service.

On the nearby island of Lombok, the problem is more serious. Innkeepers continue to warn hikers away from spectacular, 12,224-foot Mount Rinjani following a series of attacks on tourists by a band of machete-wielding thieves. The thieves have based themselves at a crater lake near the top of the mountain, where forest rangers have had difficulty rooting them out. Last year, two Australians were hacked nearly to death by the gang. At press time, the Australian embassy in Jakarta was still advising its citizens not to travel to the Mount Rinjani area. While Indonesian authorities insist Rinjani is now safe, a more accurate reading of the situation might be taken from police in the tourist town of Senggigi: they recommend hiring one of their own to come along if you decide to make the trek.