SYNOPSIS:  About a sunrise (or the lack thereof), a new group of fellow travelers, and about a hike up smoking Mount Bromo.

I am treating myself to a nature break.  Mount Bromo, a steadily-sweltering, semi-active volcano is part of a spectacular volcanic landscape best and more fully appreciated with a bit more sun. But, getting up at 3:00 AM to board a jeep to head off to the sunrise viewing point was still worth it, even though there was not much of a sunrise at all. 

I was the last to board the jeep — a French couple, a Dutch couple and a young German guy were already on board.  We all looked rather sleepy.  Within a few minutes we had reached the gate of the Bromo National Park.  Time to pay up the rather steep entrance fee of $30 ($10 more than usual, because it was the weekend). 

I dug up my package receipt, the Dutch had something like that too, the German guy paid up and the French couple started a discussion.  Jeep after jeep passed us and the French were discussing something.  Finally, we cut in:  What’s the matter?! 

To make a long story short, they thought that by walking some “secret path” they would be able to avoid the park entrance fee.  Well, that was not how it worked.  It took quite a bit of explaining on my part that the world over you have to pay an entrance fee to National Parks no matter if you are walking, biking, or in a car.   Finally Andre, the Dutch guy blew up at them with something like:  “Shit, or get off the pot.  We want to move on” — that finally got them to pay their fee. 

About 5 minutes later, they insisted on getting out of the car.  This time, no amount of talk could convince them that they were making a big mistake.  They had paid for the jeep, we would be driven from one important point to the next and back, distances were further than expected, roads were treacherous, it was pitch dark outside, and there was plenty of time to walk around all day if that’s what they wanted.  Not the place or the time now, to start walking on their own, if they were as clueless as they seemed to be; but they left! 

About five other jeeps and a few motorbikes reached Gunung Penanjakan, another mountain peak near the sunset spot.  A 15-minute hike got us to the top and now it was time to wait.  Two entrepreneurial women from Cemoro Lawang, the nearby village had set up a stall with hot noodle soup, hot coffee and snacks.  Who could resist in the dark and at single digit temperatures (that is Celsius).  Thankfully, I had rented a wind jacket from the hotel.  It came in handy.

Dawn revealed two cones in front of us and not quite as many to the right as a picture-perfect postcards would show.  Still, the perfectly shaped Batok ahead of us, and the more irregularly shaped and slightly shorter, fuming Bromo, were a sight to behold.  We found ourselves both above and below the clouds.  The valley to the left and right of the volcanoes was filled with streaks of white mist.  Above us the clouds prevented the sun from breaking through.  Yet, we had a clear view of the cones.  How bizarre!

Our jeep took us back to the entrance of the valley leading to the volcanoes.  And guess who had just made it up to that point by now — missing the viewpoint and all — the French!  We greeted them briefly, but they looked too mad, to hook up with them again.   By now, their mistake must have been glaringly obvious to them.

Both Batok and Bromo sit in a 10-km expanse of black volcanic ashes formed by an eruption of the ancient and now extinct Tengger.  We would first have to climb into that crater — a steep 15-minute descent down a narrow path and then cross the 4 km to the base of Bromo. For the lazy ones, there is a myriad of eager moped drivers and horse tenders who will take you across this area.  First for $10, then for $5 and finally for $2.50.  But it was not the amount of money that made us four decide to walk.  It was the beauty of the experience.  How often in your life will you find yourself walking on the ashes of an active volcano, and at the same time, inside an extinct volcano!  The walk was pleasant and easy.  Now we benefited from the cloudy day.  The air was cool and breezy. 

Batok is covered with greenery. Bromo is covered with black ashes so thick that it forms tentacles in all directions.  At the bottom of Mount Bromo is a small Hindu temple.  It was open today as this is the second to last day of a holy month for the Tengger People. They are Hindus to this day, once escaping into this remote area when Islam was entering their area in the 16th century.  Before we were caught and ushered out, we managed to walk into the temple and take a few pictures.  There is nothing special there in terms of architecture of sculpture, but it was a pleasant surprise to find a Ganesh sculpture in front of a side altar.

Once a year, during an auspicious month, Hindus come here to bring offerings to appease the mountain.  In 2009 was its last major eruption; in 2015 just a small one.  This is an active volcano.  These fumes are no joke.

You can throw anything into the crater — money, food stuffs, other items.  On some of the peak offering days, crazy locals will climb into the crater trying to catch these offerings.  Not all of them will make it back out…  I had hoped to catch perhaps a bit of such a spectacle, but my online calendar must have been off on that one.   Some vendors on the way to the final steep ascent sold small bunches of flowers as offerings.  I got one and made a wish throwing it in.  We shall see.

Once you have made it up the 253 steps a bigger challenge than you might think — you actually can look down into the eye of this crater and hear the gurgling sounds, the hissing, and see and feel the spewing.  Already at the bottom of the crater as you begin your ascent, the ashes are beginning to fall on you.  At first you think it is raining.  But it’s not wet rain drops that are piling up on you, it’s the dry droplets of ashes.  Soon, you will be covered in it!  Some people wear umbrellas, others rain capes.  A cotton shirt as I was wearing is just about the worst idea as the dust settles into your fabric and turns your garment into a dusty mess; god forbid it now really rains.  Then you are covered in black mud.  For a brief moment we did have actual rain…  The resulting paste of dirt in our necks was disgusting.  Mercifully, this did not last.  All that was missing was a huge old long-nosed witch bent over this cauldron stirring it.  It was eerie.

Once we passed all the horses and motorbikes, we trekked back the same way we came, across the Tengger crater. Deep channels resembling the patterns of the Grand Canyon speak of rivers that must gush through here during rainy season.   

It was only 11 AM when I reached my hotel again.  Time for some rest and relaxation.

If the weather had cleared, I would have rented a guy and a bike to see the sunset.  Instead, a full-fledged rainstorm was developing that made that trip obsolete.  Time to write and work instead.

Three fellow travelers arrived shortly after, who had specifically come for the sunset experience.  But nature wins.  They were disappointed, but we gathered at a large and comfortable table in the restaurant and had a great afternoon together. 

And since they had to prepare for a 3 AM sunrise trip, I called it an early night as well.

After all, I got up at 3 AM this morning. 

Good night. 

4 comments so far

Add Your Comment
  1. I hope the ash has some wholesome qualities!
    This is my kind of experience. Need to put it on my list.
    Thank you for another amazing blog entry.
    Oh … those Frenchies.

    • Definitely a bucket list item. And – actually, there are several more volcano experiences – one has a mystic, blue lake – that should not be missed, but… where is the time to do it all?! So glad to know I am at your coffee table in the morning. ET

  2. Wish that we could have joined your and remember the craters we saw in Costa Rica. Our grandson hiked the trails around the volcanos in Iceland and found the adventure absolutely thrilling.

  3. What an interesting and beautiful place…but the French!!!!!!