|Elevation:||1,449 m (4,754 ft)||Prominence:||1,415 m|
|Ribu category:||Kurang Tinggi||Province:||Nusa Tenggara Timur|
|Google Earth:||kml||Other names:||Ile Ape|
|Eruptions:||1660, 1819, 1849, 1852, 1864, 1899, 1920, 1951|
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Gunung Lewotolo (AKA Ile Api) is by far the best-known peak on the island of Lembata. It sits on its own peninsula just northeast of the island’s main town and port of Lewoleba. Almost without fail, the active volcanic mound at the top emits large quantities of sulphurous gases on a near-permanent basis and therefore it is almost impossible to reach the true summit. However, the fascinating, wide crater can be reached, as can the slightly lower northern top, from where you can see the island volcano Batu Tara, as well as Ili Ujolewung further to the east. It is climbed a handful of times per year – usually by tourists who have read about it or, having admired it from Lewoleba town, simply cannot resist a day trip to the volcano.
The volcano is circumnavigated by roads, and there are at least three different routes up, perhaps the easiest of which is from Desa Lama (450 metres up the mountainside above Desa Jontana – on the southeastern side of the mountain). This village is now largely unoccupied but is maintained as the ancestral home of the villagers in the region, and contains their heirlooms such as elephant tusks (one was over two metres long), Moko drums, Portuguese (?) canon, and other artifacts of cultural/spiritual significance prior to the arrival of Christianity. Surrounding villagers perform ceremonies, known as the Bean Festival, in Desa Lama in October corresponding to the harvest of a local bean which traditionally provided protein in their diet. The maidens of the surrounding villages are attributed an important role in these ceremonies, suggesting that they continue to serve a central role in “match making”.
A visit to Desa Lama is highly recommended but only with the permission of and accompanied by village elders from Jontana. Jontana is less than an hour by car or motorbike from Lewoleba. To reach Desa Lama requires a sturdy truck or a ‘ojek’ willing to drive up an often bumpy, rocky track for a further 45 minutes or so. The alternative is to add an extra 90-120 minutes each way onto your hike by simply walking up on foot to Desa Lama.
From Desa Lama, a narrow trail leads up behind the buildings and through ‘kebun’ including coconut palm. At an elevation of about 800m, the plantation ends and the trails continues, faintly, up grassy hillside punctuated with beautiful eucalyptus trees. This ridge gets steeper and steeper, but the views both up to the smoking cone of Ile Api itself and back down to the coastline on either side of the narrow peninsula are stunning. You should be able to see the dormant peak of Ili Werung to the south. Further up, you will reach some rocks – a perfect place to stop for a rest and admire the view which now includes Ile Boleng on Adonara island to the west.
The next section is the steepest and trickiest on both ascent and descent as you simply have to scramble up steep, loose rock interspersed with low grasses before reaching the magnificent crater rim (elevation 1,375m) after about 3 hours from Desa Lama. All of a sudden, an amazing volcanic panorama opens up in front of you. The yellow and white cone smoking away, the white sand into which local hikers have written their name, the black rocks which form the crater rim and lead round to the northern top, and the views across the ocean.
The crater is very shallow – enough that you can clamber down onto the sand and write your name amongst all the others should you wish. Alternatively, to get a few different perspectives, follow the rim clockwise up to the slightly lower northern top (2,423m). It takes about 20 minutes to get there, via one slightly tricky section of steep, crumbling cliff, but the views to Batu Tara and Ili Ujoelwung make the effort thoroughly worthwhile. It is from here, perhaps, that the finest views to the smoking cone itself are to be had.
The true peak itself is seemingly always too active for it to be possible to ‘bag’ the highest point without seriously endangering yourself so you will have to be content with the beautiful views. Local people informed us that it last erupted in 1980 though we can find no news reports. There was a major eruption in 1951 and the mountain appears to be persistently active – small amounts of smoke were seen emitting from its crater, almost continuously, during our visit.
To return to Desa Lama takes about 2 and a half hours, but be sure you are on the correct ridge on the decent and take extra care on the steepest sections.
Bagging information by Nick Hughes, updated by Dan Quinn (August 2013).
Origins and Meaning
‘Ile/Ili Api/Ape’ means mountain of fire. Lewotolo is the name of a nearby village.