Volcanoes at dawn

Trip Start Aug 22, 2005
Trip End Jul 17, 2006

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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

"Am I on a different planet?" I wondered as I looked out over the immense Tenggera caldera in Central Java, made up of Gunung Semeru, Gunung Tenggera and Gunung Bromo (still active). The otherworldly landscape before me resembled the surface of the moon, or perhaps a scene from the dawn of time. As Sarah remarked, a pterodactyl swooping across the horizon would not look out of place.

We spent the night in Cemoro Lawang, the closest village to the trio of volcanoes, perched precariously on a cliff at the edge of the expansive desert of volcanic sand formed by the last big eruption. The tiny town reminded me of a village in Tibet, with the locals riding horses and sporting woollen ponchos to protect their already weather-beaten skin from the cold. These were people used to living dangerously. In peak season the town would be full of tourists, but at this time of year the resorts were eerily quiet and we practically had the place to ourselves. After a hearty meal of pasta and apple and cinnamon pancakes finished off with a glass of mulled wine to numb us from the cold we retired to our shoebox bedroom for an early night to prepare for the 4am start. We took a jeep across the desert to the best point to view the sunrise, and arrived just in time to see the sun's first rays burst forth over the volcanic horizon. As the morning mist cleared the volcanoes became more clearly defined and we stayed for more than an hour to soak up the incredible view.

Keen to warm up, we climbed back into the jeep and drove across the desert to the foot of the still active Gunung Bromo to peer into its smoking crater. As we neared the Hindu temple at the foot of the volcano (at which the locals pray to appease the god who resides there), we were flanked by horsemen eager to hire out their steeds to take us to the stairs where we would make our final ascent. After informing them that we would be using Shank's pony thankyouverymuch, we reached the rim and were instantly hit by the acrid smell of sulphur emanating from the crater. The trail around the rim was tough, but well worth it for the breathtaking views of the crater and the surrounding landscape.

Back in Probolingo, the main city on the Yogyakarta-Surabaya tourist trail, I put Sarah on a bus heading to Bali and jumped on the next one going the other way. After killing some time in the cosmopolitan city of Surabaya and treating myself to a well-earned Big Mac and milkshake, I undertook the visa run which would enable me to stay in Indonesia for another 30 days. Less than 24 hours later I was met at the airport by Sarah, exhausted after flying Surabaya-Jakarta (where I slept the night on a bench)-Kuala Lumpur-Denpasar. On the drive back to Kuta beach from the airport I thought I had landed in Vegas, but more about that later.
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