Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Mount Bromo, Java

The night before we had checked with the bus station to see what time buses left to Mount Bromo and they told us they leave every hour on the hour.  So the next morning at 8:30am we went to the bus station only to be told there are no public buses that run to Mount Bromo and that we had to take a minibus.  Those are usually more expensive but we had no options.  We walked over to the minibus station (next door) and negotiated the price to a reasonable sum.  We were told by the 2 people already on the bus we would have to wait until it was full.  They needed 10 people and so far (with us) it was 5, as there was another guy as well.  We waited and waited but we were frustrated as no other people were coming.  The minibus drivers refuse to leave until the bus is full as otherwise it’s not worth it for them.  One of the guys, Hesh, was trying to negotiate with them that if we leave now, we pay the agreed upon price, and if not, we would pay 5,000 rupiah less (around $0.50) since we know the prices are inflated.  He would not agree and the discussion got a little heated.  Andrew and I decided to see if we could take a motorbike there.  The prices for the motorbikes were double but they could leave right away so we were debating that when Hesh got us and told us he had negotiated that if we pay 10,000 Rupiah more each, we could leave right away.  That was still a better deal than the bikes so we agreed and we were able to leave.  Apparently Hesh had been waiting for over 2 hours for the bus to leave, while we only had waited 30 minutes.

Mount Bromo is an active volcano, but most of the time it’s not erupting but letting off steam.  There’s a village all around it and the attraction is to climb to the top of the surrounding mountains first thing in the morning to watch the sun rise over Mount Bromo.

We arrived at Mount Bromo within an hour and found accommodation in a guest house.  On the way up we chatted with Hesh (Australian) and Jenny and Mischa (Swiss) who were also planning on seeing the sunrise the following day.  We all ended up staying at the same guest house, and since the climb is done at 4am, we all agreed to test the climb that day so when we had to do it in the dark the following day, we would know where we’re going.  After lunch, Jenny and Mischa were napping and told the 3 of us to go ahead without them.  We told them they could come with us the following day since we would know the route, if they wanted to.

Andrew, Hesh, and I set off on the hike around 1pm.  It’s not a very difficult climb and we stopped quite frequently to take photos, it took us just over 2 hours to get to the top.  About 1 km from the top there were guys sitting on motorbikes offering us rides to the top for $1 each.  We thanked them but told them we would walk.  At the entrance to the viewpoint on the top, we had to stop as there were approximately 100 Indonesian guys that were taking a group photo.  We waited for them to finish and when they did, they swarmed us like bees.  One of the guys told us they were missionaries and were visiting Mount Bromo.  Every single one of them shook our hand and introduced himself to us.  We stood there for 10 minutes shaking hands and saying our name over and over again.  The funny thing was, when they introduced themselves, every single one had a name like Steve, Robert, Tom, John etc.  So we naturally assumed they spoke English but as soon as we tried to have a conversation with them, they would start walking and walk away.  They were very friendly and it made my day.  It was such a great yet weird experience to shake hands with that many people, like we were celebrities.

When we finally made it to the top the view was stunning.  The scenery surrounding Mount Bromo looks like the surface of the moon.  There are two peaks sticking out, one constantly blowing steam, and the huge, massive crater surrounding it is covered with ash from previous eruptions, with the village sitting around it.  In the ash covered plain, there is an abandoned temple, and it sits right at the base of the volcano.  We could see a few people walking around there as well as some cars driving around.  We found out there is a paved road you can take to the bottom and after we had something to eat at a food stall, we decided to take the paved road back.  The road back was a bit longer than the original route we had taken, but on the way back we would walk through the ash covered crater, next to the temple and the base of the volcano.  It was after 4pm at this point and we knew it would be getting dark soon.  The original plan was to climb Mount Bromo that day as well but since it was late by the time we started heading back, we knew that was probably out of the question.  The paved road down took a little longer than anticipated and we finally reached the bottom around 6pm, and it was already dark.  We knew we had another 8km to go before we would get back to the village.

Walking in the ash was surreal.  It was pitch black except for the moon which was shining the way for us.  We could just see the outlines of the two volcano peaks and the surrounding mountains.  The ash is like very fine sand and it’s just as deep.  Walking on it was like walking on soft sand on the beach.  It was hard going but we were having a blast.  There was no one else around and it was definitely a unique experience.  We weren’t really worried about which direction to go because we could see the lights of the village ahead.  When we stopped walking and talking, the silence was amazing.  We were ankle deep in ash but we didn’t care.  We had this place absolutely to ourselves.  Our only concern was that Jenny and Mischa might start getting worried about where we were.  We were due back hours before.  We walked and chatted until we arrived at the temple. That was the only time I had a very eerie feeling.  The temple is abandoned and absolutely covered in ash so it has a very spooky feeling around it.  We could see the steam coming from the top of Mount Bromo.  After taking a lot of photos we started heading back to the guest house.  Before we could get there we had to cross some large cracks, which I’m assuming were made by an earthquake a long time ago.  We arrived back at the guest house just after 8pm.  Our 5km hike had turned into 25km, but it was absolutely worth it.  The experience we had was amazing and it was the most fun I had had in weeks.  The only downfall was that we still had to get up at 3am to hike to the top of the mountain again for the sun rise.

When we got back to the guesthouse we found out Mischa was not feeling well and was running a fever.  Jenny thought it might be food poisoning.  They weren’t sure if they would go on the hike the next morning.  I don’t know if it was the anticipation of having to get up at 3am, but even though we were exhausted from our hike, we couldn’t sleep.  I think I finally fell asleep around 1:30am.  I had no desire to get out of bed at 3am but knew if I didn’t I would regret it.  Mischa and Jenny joined us and we kept a pretty brisk pace.  By 4am all the jeeps that were taking the tourists to the top of the mountain formed an illuminated line in the valley below.  We were trying to get to the top before all the crowds got there.  On our way up it was still pitch black, but in the distance you could see a sliver of glowing red.  It was definitely not the sun as it was to come up on the other side.  We realized it was lava flowing down from one of the volcanoes!  You could clearly see it flowing down even though it was quite far away.  Because it was dark it was hard to judge just how far away.  I must admit I got a little bit nervous.  Not because of the lava but because I was afraid the volcano would erupt and we wouldn’t be able to get away from the hot ash cloud.  Luckily it did not erupt and Andrew made me feel better by saying it’s better if the volcano is dribbling a little bit of lava as it’s releasing pressure, and that way it’s less likely to “blow”.  Even though I was a little afraid, it was still an amazing sight.

I don’t know if it was the lack of sleep or the hike the day before (possibly a combination of both) but my legs just weren’t cooperating with me and I didn’t think I would make it to the top.  Mischa and Jenny gave up half way up, even though they hike 3 times a week in Switzerland, as Mischa had to run to the bushes to relive himself (although Andrew and I came across him because he didn’t realize he was still on the path.  I felt really bad for him.  Food poisoning is not easy to deal with and I’m sure it was an embarrassing experience for him).  About ¾ of the way up I was ready to give up and call it quits.   I had tears in my eyes and my legs were not cooperating.  And then I saw the most amazing sight, a guy on a motorcycle.  I told Andrew, I don’t care how much he wants, we are paying him to take us to the top.  And we did.  And he was honest because he didn’t charge us more than what he had wanted the day before.  He took both Andrew and I on one bike.  We waved and laughed as we passed Hesh, still trekking to the top.  Once he got there he called us cheaters but I don’t agree.  I did not feel bad at all for taking the motorcycle up, as we had completed that hike, and more, the day before. 

We made it in time for sunrise and the view was stunning.  There was no haze and we could see more mountains and volcanoes in the distance.  There were a lot of people at the top, since they were all brought up there by jeep.  I would guess around 300 people, and they were all fighting for the spot at the front to take the perfect picture.  I was standing beside Andrew and Hesh asked me to take a picture of him.  As soon as I turned around someone had pushed their way beside Andrew and now I was forced to stay in the back.  Also at the top there were some vendors selling hats and different souvenirs.  Andrew had bought a hat the day before as it was surprisingly cold, and he paid around $10,000 Rupiah, which is roughly $1.  That morning, an Italian guy was trying to negotiate the price of a hat for himself from a vendor, except it wasn’t really much of a negotiation and more of demand.  The vendor was giving him a price of 40,000 Rupiah and the Italian guy just kept yelling “20,000!!”  And the vendor would come back with the price of 40,000 thousand, and the man just kept yelling “20,000!!”  I don’t know how much he eventually bought the hat for but I felt really bad for the vendor as the Italian man was almost verbally abusing him.

We started making our way back down to the bottom, but first we stopped for coffee and some breakfast in one of the stalls.  Almost all of the people in the jeeps had gone and we were pretty much the only tourists left, when the park ranger approached us and asked if we wanted a ride down in his pick up.  We knew we had at least a 2 hour walk back down so we negotiated a pretty good price and got into the back of the pickup.   We took the same road down that we had walked the night before, but because we were in a car now it was kicking up a lot of dust so we had to wear our bandanas around our mouths to be able to breathe.  It wasn’t the most comfortable ride with all the potholes but we got down much quicker than we would have walking.  He dropped us off in front of the temple, where all the other jeeps had stopped.  From here we would have to walk to climb the top of Mount Bromo.  I didn’t feel like doing the hike but I knew later I would regret having missed the opportunity to climb to the top of an active volcano.

Mount Bromo is an active volcano and steam is constantly rising from the top.  The hike to the top is tiring because even though there’s a set of stairs, they are completely covered in a thick layer of ash.  It’s like walking in very fine sand, and as everyone knows, walking in sand provides a lot more resistance so the walking is a lot tougher.  This hike, however, is not as long because that mountain is not that high.  It took us around 20 minutes to reach the top and we were able to see inside the volcano.  We couldn’t see any lava as apparently this volcano is very deep, but the steam kept rising and you could hear the gurgling coming from below.  We stayed at the top for a few minutes, but there wasn’t too much to see.  Instead of walking down the stairs we decided to act like little kids and run down the ash mountain.  It was really fun but since the ash is more than ankle deep, our shoes were filled with ash afterwards.  We said goodbye to Hesh and started making our way back to the hotel, with stops for pictures.  When we retried to the hotel Jenny was frantically looking for Hesh because he had her backpack in his room and the bus was waiting to leave.  We didn’t know where Hesh was but we quickly packed our bags so we could catch the bus too.  There aren’t many public buses you can take from Mount Bromo, and if you miss the public one, you have to hire a private one which costs a lot more.  At the last minute Hesh showed up and we were able to leave to Probolingo.

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