Missioning Mt Bromo
Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
235Trip End Nov 30, 2009
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Together they mean patience and hard work will eventually pay dividends. When you think about it, that applies equally to the student who finally gains their qualification, the lottery player who wins big after years of chancing the same numbers, or the intrepid traveller with a volcanomania that is finally sated. That traveller is me, and I am now satisfied.
After weeks drifting though volcano-riddled Nusa Tenggara, tantalisingly close to dozens of conical islands and tectonically troubled mountains that would gratify my growing obsession (if only I could get off the boat and climb them), I have made it to Java and have finally reached one of my goals. I sit apeak a volcano as I write this sentence. This is my view...
In my three days here I have climbed it on foot and on horseback, have circumnavigated the crater and have dared a venture inside, quite close to the vent. I've photographed it from every angle up close, and the whole cluster of surrounding volcanoes from afar. I've inhaled enough sulfur to open a rotten egg factory and have washed enough ash, sand and grit off myself to mortar a small house.
But I'm not really over it yet. Mt Bromo is a stark, compelling and beautiful place with craters in every direction and the blistering sand sea of the 10km wide Tengger caldera that surrounds it all. A curiously congruous Hindu temple also features prominently. Scene enough for any self respecting sci-fi, fantasy or epic production but unfortunately most visitors somehow breeze through here in less than a day. Few Aussies ever visit.
Kamikaziing across the Javanese countryside for this stage of the journey has not been easy, but this has made the destination all the more rewarding. The adventure started early Monday morning with a bus ride across to Gilimanuk on the western tip of Bali. Only 120 kilometres but a solid 4 hour ride due to the slow truck and bus traffic. I no longer marvel at most of the zany driving you witness on Indonesian roads, so this section was pretty uneventful and I even managed a snooze before being dropped off. The ferry across to Ketapang on the eastern tip of Java was where the difficulty of solo travelling started to sink in. This could get complicated - yikes!
It happened when it looked as though we were going straight on by Ketapang for ports further south. There wasn't a westerner around and absolutely no-one spoke English, so after becoming anxious about our delayed departure (was hoping to connect with a train at 1.15pm), I had no luck asking why we were gliding by the port. Just sit it out and hope for the best Rosco, there's nothing else you can do.
Which I did and which actually worked. For some reason we stopped, sat in the channel for half an hour, then reversed back to the port and eventually parked to disembark. I don't know what the driver was smoking but I'm glad it wore off. I was now Java man. The rest of the day worked a treat too. Pedicab to the train station - no problem. Ticket for economy train, ditto. Delayed departure but a fun ride to Probolinggo, in which I met about a hundred very friendly Javanese people and saw some beautiful rural and agricultural areas of the island. Finally, a pedicab direct to the requested hotel and a huge, well earned sleep. All for a grand total of $US14.80. Bargain.
The next day was little different. Remote transport plays it by ear, so motion usually happens when they have enough passengers in the bus to make the journey economically viable. If that means ten people wait for three hours for another couple to board, even though they get off at the next stop, then so be it. Oh well. After a morning's wait and some mango shopping (Probolinggo = Mango city) compliments of Abdul the fruit hustler, we got moving and started the charge up the mountainous countryside. With one hand on the horn and the other fluctuating between cigarette and steering wheel, the driver and his captive audience flew past many disconcertingly vague exclamation mark warning signs. Whether they signified 'steep incline', 'dodge oncoming groups of slow-moving pedestrians' or 'your vehicle is about to plunge into a ravine' I still do not know...
Still, after making a friend of Houdini the travel agent from Ende in Flores (handy indeed) and an entertaining ride, we arrived in Ceromo Lawang at the edge of the surrounding caldera by mid-afternoon. I hadn't seen another western face or communicated with more than phrasebook Indonesian/English for two full days but I'd made it in one piece. As you can see above, the view from the lodge was very rewarding.
Not long later I found myself on horseback for a sunset canter and my first close-up peek at Bromo. This was the easy way to do it. Straight down the sharp incline of the caldera, across the sand sea and through the lava ripples to the base of the stairs. All you have to do is dodge the vendors trying to flog bunches of dried flowers (of dubious spiritual purpose), climb the stairway to sulfuric heaven and peer in. Often the last few steps of the journey are the hardest, but not so here.
Early next morning entailed a jeep ride up the more extensive face of the caldera's western side, to a vantage point that takes in the whole area for the sunrise. Stunning picture postcard money shots, much ooohing and aaahing from the assembled spectators. The pictures below say it all and the changes in colour remind me very much of the sunset at Uluru from a previous entry.
The whole scene was fantastic, from the sunrise itself over Mt Ijen (80km east) to the fine mist and ash blanket over the sand sea that gave an artificial floor to it all. From the serrated slopes of the volcano cluster (including the constantly smoking Bromo) in the foreground, to mighty Mt Semaru (burping clouds of smoke like clockwork every twenty five minutes) in the background. Ever changing, ever threatening. Awesome.
After an equally rapid descent through the ash layer we headed on to the temple complex. Wheeling and galloping horsemen abounded in its vicinity and in the smoky haze they made a quite menacing sight, evoking memories of scenes from Lawrence's Seven Pillars but fortunately without the eventual bloodshed or destruction of rail property. They were only trying to sell a ride to Bromo but we gave them a wide birth. Seems they might have to refine their marketing strategy...
The temple itself wasn't open but Houdini suggested I scale the fence and take a couple of snaps whilst giving thanks at the altar. I hear the Hindu religion is particularly benevolent so I trust their various gods didn't mind. After all that I thought it wise to retreat to the comfort of a hot shower, a hearty breakfast and a midday snooze. Ceromo Lawang can be particularly relaxing when you give it a chance.
My last mission of the stay was the early morning pilgrimage and circumnavigation of Bromo's crater. It was the same 6km route taken as on the pony but jalang-jalanged (walked) instead - including an additional two hour trek around the crater rim itself. At the first peak I met, chatted and exchanged emails with two excellent guys trekking independently (Manuel from France and Mike from Switzerland - there are a lot of Europeans travelling around Java), before exploring the inside and opposing side of the rim. By lunchtime I made it back - sweaty, covered in dust and in need of a thorough lavation (thoroughly appropriate word - look it up ;-).
Basically it was the perfect way to end this adventure and give closure to the whole volcanic fixation. Thank goodness I hear you all say - get back to the beach, huh?
Before I close this out I should thank the three beauties and the one beast at the Lava View Lodge for their exemplary service and attention. Cheers Hevi, Yaiyu, Titin and Houdini for making this an extremely pleasant stay - I'll send some photos soon.
Next entry -> Big heads and bells at Borobudur
Words from the Wise #33
"Fear is life's only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life."
Yann Martel - Life of Pi
Where I stayed
Lava View Lodge