After a bowl of steamed bakso to toast up our heat deprived cockles, it was onwards and upwards to our journey’s star attraction, Mount Bromo. Back in our pillar-box red Land Cruiser, we sped and swerved along the curved roads cut high in the mountains, surrounded by fir trees. It seemed more like an alpine scene out of The Sound of Music than a site of Javanese volcanic activity.
Descending slowly, we found ourselves at the bottom of the mountain range in the middle of what seemed to be a barren, earthy desert – another change of scene. Other intrepid Land Cruisers and motorbikes passed us, carefully navigating through the bumpy and sometimes stubborn terrain, a few sometimes literally becoming stuck in the mud.
We stopped for a few moments to take in the view; the sky was now lit up and a crisp, bright blue. The mossy green and rusty coloured mountain range arched the desert. We stood in the middle, like tiny Lilliputians who had just stumbled upon the world of giants. The white sun glared behind the volcano peak we had previously been looking down upon at daybreak. It was on the same level as us now, standing robust and proud as if it were a guard, stalwartly judging and deciding who was worthy enough to pass on through to see its mighty leader.
Back in the Land Cruiser, we traversed the desert around to the other side of the ‘guardian’ volcano. As we drove closer, a small enigmatic shrine came into view. At the foot of the mountain range, the intricate little temple (which I have since learnt is a Hindu Temple) sat full of mystery, as if it were a monk in deep meditation. We parked up not far from it and upon stepping out of the car, I noticed the earth beneath my feet had transformed into an ashy, grey powder – almost like black sand. In front of us, we could see the brightly coloured specks of hundreds of people and motorcycles, presumably here with the same intention as us; to visit the volcanic wonder standing majestically in the distance.
It was time to walk. The sun hung high in the sky now, emitting rays of heat that penetrated my three layers of clothing. Men on small horses trotted by, all of them stopping and asking if we would like a ride part way up the volcano, but despite being completely unfit and half tempted to do so, pride overcame and we politely refused.
Closer to the volcano now, the stark number of people became pretty overwhelming. Jack’s brief trip to the bathroom left myself looking very much a bule (foreigner) and it offered the chance for a number of school kids participating in a school assignment to come and interview the token native English speaker. Sweet as they were, it gathered a load of attention from the passers- and an onslaught of ‘photo with a bule’ pictures ensued. It has happened to me so much during my stay in Indonesia, that I now have the humble peace sign down to a sophisticated art.
Jack returned and we continued with our plod to the volcano. For any normal person, the trek is not difficult. For someone (i.e me) who had avoided going to the gym for the past few months, frequent stops to catch a breath were needed. The distance itself is not far, but the heat and the ashy ground can take its toll on your muscle energy. We were now up the curving path, at the bottom of the mighty volcano. A set of 250 concrete steps lead your way up the caldera, which when doing with hundreds of other people, is a slow, step by step process, dotted with a few dishevelled looking men and women clandestinely selling bunches of white edelweiss. It can however result in a few charming conversations with your fellow travellers; a tall Australian man in front of us upon hearing me speak, could tell straight away that I was from the midlands of England. It must be the accent.
As we lumbered up the steps, the earth around us became increasingly steep and sooty. The ridges and curves cast dark shadows in the sunlight – and a few brave individuals attempted the ascent without the aid of the steps. Some young lads ran as fast they could trailing the dusty surface of the volcano and almost making it to the top before their feet surrendered and sank into the soft ash.
The air was pungent with sulphur. We were getting closer.
After 250 steps, we set foot upon the top of the volcano. Shards of jagged rock protruded high and delved hundreds of metres down to an ominous, smoke filled crater. Fumes of grey and white vapour eerily exhaled from the abyss, as if Hades himself were down there, taking a
disdainful drag on a sulphuric cigarette, contemplating whether he was angry enough to combust or not.
Jack and I peered over the fence that separated us from the dark chasm below, trying to figure out how deep it really was. At that same moment, someone dropped their bottle of water over the fence. Panic stricken and out of control, it tumbled and bounced off the shards of rocks. It stopped at ridge and teetered on the edge, wobbling with fear – but alas, gravity won, and pulled the poor unfortunate water bottle down to the misty depths of the crater.
Jack continued to lean over the fence, ‘Whoa.’
‘It’s a looong way down,’ I said. Deliberately making my weight light against the fence, I joined Jack again. I peered over and laughed a little, ‘We’re standing on a flippin volcano. A full on, active volcano.’
Go Go Go!
How – We rented a Land Cruiser car to take us to the base of Bromo – through our accommodation (Yoschi’s Hostel) it cost us 600,000 RP (approx. £30). Other friends have made the entire trek on foot – if you wish to do this, the distance is far and steep, so bring appropriate walking shoes and lots of warm clothing, as temperature can drop to below freezing. I have been told that in the early hours it can become very misty and foggy, making actually seeing your way extremely difficult. Guides can be hired to help.