4 days, 1 volcano, 4 islands, 1 helluva trip

Trip Start Sep 18, 2010
Trip End Jul 27, 2011

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Where I stayed
Cemara Indah Hotel Probolinggo
Read my review - 3/5 stars
Raja's Bungalow
Forget Hotel Name, left of Niki Rusdi Hotel
What I did
Bromo volcano

Flag of Indonesia  , Java,
Saturday, April 23, 2011

Decisions, decisions, decisions. Java is famous for its volcanoes, so Manu and I want to get our crater fix. Vera came for some hard earned beach time. We are in the middle of Java and the options to move forward from here are many, confusing and of a wide range of travel cost and difficulty. Eventually, Vera books her flights to get herself to Lombok from where she wants to spend some time in the beach town Senggigi before hitting Gili Islands. Manu and I book a 2 day trip with an overnight stop at Mount Bromo and ending in Denpasar, Bali. From there we will find our way to reconnect with Vera. We think it'll take us 2 and a half day to do this.

Right from the get go, we realize, that this won’t be a comfortable trip. We get to Probolinggo at the foot of Bromo Volcano after 9pm in over 12 hours and on two buses. Wake up call at 3.30am to depart at 4.00am to a viewpoint for sunrise. While we get ready, still half asleep, every 5 minutes someone knocks on our door, trying to sell us hats and sweaters, because apparently it is really cold up there. We don’t believe it. And besides, we have our own gear. Enough to lend some to some co-travelers even. A Jeep takes us to the foot of the viewpoint, where following other peoples’ flash lights, we climb for another hour or so in the dark to get to the top. Even if we weren’t sweating from the effort, it is nowhere close to as cold as the touts said. From the main observation point, we try to get up a little higher to be above the crowds. We manage, albeit with muddy bottoms and smeared legs and arms from a few slide accidents on the wet and slippery-steep mountain side. With not quite an hour to go until sunrise, the light starts to filter through the clouds and we get a first glimpse of Mount Bromo, fuming close by, above the clouds. It is a magnificent sight and the first sunrise I do not regret getting up for. A little later, we get dropped off a good walk away from the foot of the volcano itself. It is surrounded by black sand, heavy with moisture, like dark, wet dunes, a smoking hole on top, a small Hindu temple at its side. Jeeps drop you far enough away that the ponies on offer to take you up and down seem tempting. I am not interested in avoiding the exercise, but splurge on a pony anyways in hopes of a little gallop. Unfortunately, my pony is not into running anywhere near as fast as the Arabian horses we rode in Jordan. So I merely end up with a horse-back delivery instead of a hike to the last stretch that is too steep for the ponies. When Manu and the rest of our crew caught up on foot, we climb to the very top of the crater. Looking over the edge into the depths of grumbling, smoking Mount Bromo is simply awe-inspiring. Every few minutes a deep sound of crumbling walls make the thick smoke rise in ever twirling shapes. It reminds you that you are staring right into a pulsing artery of the earth. Wow! Wow! Wow! Incredible.

Another few glimpses of the lunar scenery over breakfast at our simple hotel and we are on our way to catch up with Vera. I expect to arrive on Gili Islands the morning of the next day. We don’t get there until the afternoon another two days later.

Here is the breakdown of that crazy journey:

1.       Yogyakarta/Central Java to Probolinggo/East Java: Over 12 hours, 2 mini buses. Undoubtedly worth the long trip – see above.

2.       Probbolinggo/Java to Denpasar/Bali: Over 12 hours, a mini bus, then a larger bus that broke down, so we change into another local bus, then another, then a ferry and on with the last bus. Phew. The hotels behind the bus station are all booked out. The one we find is nice and cheap. But it has no shower. Excuse me? That is not an option, not after this last trek. We desperately need a shower. An hour of searching later, we realize it is the only option. And so we experience our first real Indonesian mandi: A large bucket of (naturally) cold water, a plastic scooper. Turns out it makes for not too bad a cleansing experience. Another level on our 'rough scale’ ticked off.

3.       Denpasar/Bali to Singgigi/Lombok: Over 6 hours, one mini bus, one ferry, one taxi, one missed connection that only leaves in the morning. Another night waiting to resume our journey. On that ferry I was looking for a sink where I could wash my hands without needing to touch any doorknobs or mandi. I only ran into even more gross options. So I walked into the tiny ferry kitchen asking, or rather pointing, if I can use the sink there. Phew, good to feel clean hands again. I step over a cooking pot and a roach on my way out and settle down at a picnic table on the middle deck where Manu already types away furiously, trying to work ahead for the night. Our plan is to cross over to Gili Islands today. But if we are to believe the touts, we already missed the last ferry that goes at 4pm. We are hoping they lied, but at least we got our WIFI fix in Denpasar before leaving. You can’t have it all. As I was making these notes, we are thoroughly enjoying the sound of the wind, engine hum and incredible lack of loud, obnoxious music or cigarette smoke being blown at us. Now that we’d care for some fruit or coffee, the annoying vendors that swarmed us when we boarded the ferry have disappeared as well. We think they stayed on land. But maybe for once, we successfully turned them off and away with our bitchy reactions to their offerings. And…..less than a minute after writing this, the loud TV is back on again.

So far, I would not recommend Indonesia as a budget destination unless you have a slightly masochistic trait (which we seem to). If traveling as cheap as possible is not your agenda however, it is a stunning, incredibly beautiful and rewarding country that can be enjoyed at very affordable mid range prices* (*must-add-note as I am typing this up several weeks later: As long as you stay ON the beaten track). Pick your route along air hubs and arrange transportation with as premium-sounding agencies as you can find. Otherwise, get over yourself, enjoy the rough life (and if you can, skip the bitching, which we can’t seem to stop ourselves).

I am just telling Manu that traveling on open waters makes me slightly uneasy (not because I get seasick, but because I have huge respect for the open sea) when I catch a dolphin jumping, maybe 50 meters from the ferry. And those are the moments that make all the rough stuff so very worth it.

4.       Singgigi/Lombok to Gili Trawangan: 4 hours including waiting between one mini bus and one boat, finally wading on shore from the boat through the white powdery sand. Vera meets us and takes us to our bungalow with open air bathroom. Ahhhhh……This trip physically broke me (or rather my back) and mentally took a lot out of me. I am so ready to just crash on the beach.
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Pablo... on

Thank´s for the story, made me travel with U for a while, such a good sensation!

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