Having spent five days in Indonesia’s capital Jakarta, it was time to get out of the comfort zone of my couchsurfer’s friendly welcome. I was set to explore two of Java’s volcanoes: Mt. Bromo and Ijen Crater, both located in East Java.
I flew to the capital of East Java Surabaya and I needed to somehow get to the local bus station avoiding expensive airport taxis. An option to do so was to start walking from the airport and then see what happens. But it turned way easier: I asked for the way and was offered a lift:)
Foreigners in Indonesia are called ‘bules’ (pronounced: boo-lehs). Local people are very curious about bules, treating them sometimes almost like celebrities. I must be like on hundreds random people’s pictures by now! So perhaps if is this curiosity that urges them to help you. I guess being a solo female traveler also plays a role. People often ask me if I am not afraid to travel like this alone and that in their culture girls don’t do this, it is very dangerous. Seems like they are trying to help to protect from this danger:)
But of course being a ‘bule’ has another side of it: almost everywhere people will try to charge you more. I guess a golden rule for every backpacker is to either go with a local or haggle haggle haggle!
So from Surabaya my airport ride new friend helped me get a local price for the bus ticket to the town of Bromolingo ($1,7). From Bromolingo the fun starts. One driver convinced me that he’d take 35,000 INR (less than $3) to go to Cemoro Lawang (a place by Mt.Bromo) by bus and he already had three passengers waiting. The trick is, the price is indeed 35,000 but only if the bus fills up with 15 people.
Anyway, I follow this guy with ‘three passengers’ only to see one guy Mitch, who had been waiting there for an hour already. Mitch is a 21-year old traveler from England, also going to hike Bromo and Ijen volcanoes. Seeing that the bus is not going anywhere any time soon, we decided just to walk straight, sort of to investigate the ‘getting there’ situation. We end up hitching a nice ride to half way (or even more:) Then we negotiated two motorbikes to bring us to Cemoro Lawang for 30,000 INR each ($2,5). And what a ride that was! You go up the mountain and the fog accumulates, at some point it starts drizzling and its very cloudy and mysterious.
We found a nice homestay (Budi Jaya, $6) on the very top of Cemoro Lawang for immediate access to start trekking to Mt. Bromo. The best perk: its right next to the hole in the fence to get to Mt. Bromo for free :) (Usually the entrance is something like $20).
For some unclear to me reason, most tourists go to Bromo with guided trips: early in the morning you are driven in a jeep downhill, then you walk up a long set of stairs, where you watch the sunrise over Bromo from behind a railing in a big crowd, take pictures and right after you leave. And yeah, it’s expensive. There’s so much more that this place really has to offer: lots of adventure and stunning views and long beautiful hiking hours. We were lucky to have met another hiker Harry who told us all about it.
So the next day I set the alarm for 2.55am! Get up, coffee, stretch and we were on our way at around 3.40. Of course it’s pitch dark and man, I probably need new batteries for my headlamp :)
First you go down a steep hill, then cross a field of ashes. The tourist jeeps’ sounds and lights were serving as an unmistakable orienteer where to go. Then there’ s a long set of stairs. You climb up – and there it is, Gunung (volcano) Bromo. Its still very dark, but you see the majesty of it, steep grey edges dropping down to a smoky center. But there’s a railing at that part so it’s all safe and cushy. Most people stop here.
That day we didn’t expect any helluva sunrise, as it’d been foggy and thunderstorming non-stop the night before (I actually had never experienced such continuous thunderbolts before). To avoid crowds and see what else is there, we started going left around the volcano. The railing ends and the fun begins.
Picture this: it’s still very dark (it’s 4.30am!), and we are veery carefully walking on the ridge of the volcano. The ridge path is very narrow (well, the hardest part is that you don’t really see anything, during the light hours it was way easier), on the right is the drop to the crater and to the left is a steep drop to…well you don’t see where. But the soil if smooth and if you fall, there will be nothing to grab onto.
On top of that a strongish sulphur wind with drizzle blows from the volcano. I was wearing a buff but the wind still stung my eyes. And didn’t help with balancing either:) In some places the path got so narrow or inclined that I had to actually hold on to the ground to pass. Suddenly Mitch’s water bottle drops to the left and falls and falls… We stopped and just stood there, listening. It was falling for a while. ‘Oh shit!’ moment:)
Then it slowly starts to get lighter, as we go up and down from hill to hill around Bromo, then stop for some snacks on the top point. There’s another volcano Mt. Semeru in the distance. It’s very far away but we decided to hike along the ridges to get a closer view of it. When else will you get a chance to hike among volcanos?
In total we hiked for 9+ hours that day. Up and down the hills, some landscapes were rocky, some bushy. Sometimes you have to make your way thru thick tall grass. And it’s empty, you really meet NOone! As we were on another high point, we saw tourist jeeps far down in the savannah. ‘Heeey! – I yelled. – Ni hao ma?’ Noone replied.
That day all my clothes were covered with charcoal from burnt trees and grass, shoes black from ash soil and face and skin covered in orange, from climbing a rock with some orange mineral on it. I call it a good day of hiking and exploring what Mt. Bromo really is:)
Bromotion doesn’t end here though. I also heard that it’s better to observe the sunrise over Bromo from another, higher, point – Mt. Penanjakan. Again, you can get a jeep or a motorbike, but instead I set my alarm for 1.55am:)
Leaving at about 2.40am, it took us about 2 hours to go all the way up. During the hike up we met two other small groups with guides making it on foot, but they stayed at lower viewpoints. Probably for a reason – the highest point turned out to be swamped with tourists on jeeps. Regardless, the view was worthy! Again, no beautiful sunrise for us, but the thick milky fog enveloping some parts of the vista and opening up other parts made a spectacular morning!
After we wanted to hike for a few more hours, going along and down the Penanjakan ridge and then climb the iconic Mt. Batoc. We called it Upside Down Jelly for its resemblance.
We tried a few what seemed to be paths for hiking the ridge, but with no luck. Then we saw a local old man with a sickle and pointed him to the path in the distance where we wanted to be. He did show us the way (drop down thru untamed grass). But I’ll make it short – we totally pointed at the wrong path. So be careful what you ask a man with a sickle for:)
So for couple of hours we were going down and down a wrong path, being sure that as soon as the view opens up, we will see the familiar savannah with Bromo and the Jelly mountain to the left. Instead, when the view did open up, we were like ‘Where the fu*k are we?!’ There was no savannah, no volcanos, just endless hills with cabbage fields on the slopes. There were some sheds scattered around in the distance, but no presence of people. Still being sure that at least the direction was right, we went on.
Finally we saw two local men working the field. They stared at us as if we were aliens. I don’t blame them, I doubt any white man ever set foot in that place:) When we asked ‘Bromo?’ I gasped as they pointed to the opposite direction, basically where we came from (yes, all the way back uphill!)
We were on the wrong side of the wrong ridge, we went really inland, BUT we got to see some real rural beauty and explore some authentic local sights. Instead of 4-5 planned hours of hiking we did another 8+hrs.
The highlights of my Bromo? The bottle drop in the dark and the stare of the local men when we showed up. I am still amazed how the most random and small things become most memorable adventures.