I was blasting myself along the Indonesian tourist trail. Finished in Yogyakarta I was heading east through Java (the most populated island in the world) towards the magical island of Bali. Most people arriving in Jakarta break up their arduous bus travel by stopping in Yogyakarta and Bromo before taking their last painful trip to Bali by bus and ferry. I spent several hours (to many to count) taking a mini bus from Yogyakarta to the small mountain village of Bromo. My driver had one or two teeth tops, spoke not a word of English but grinned and gave the thumbs up sign with great zeal whenever anyone on the bus looked worried.
Gunung Bromo is a huge tourist trap worth visiting. Just be aware that as you arrive at the base of the mountain (just after you head off the main highway) you will have people selling you accommodation and tours for the following morning left, right and center. I was a master at detecting these shady practices so told all of my fellow tourists to wait until we reached what resembled a town before getting out and agreeing to stay in any road side hotel. Whats funny is that these two rather impulsive Brits insisted that they get off and stay in the first hotel. After dropping them off we didn’t arrive into town for another hour so I felt mighty bad for them. In the morning they would realize they were no where near the areas main attraction. Once we finally unloaded our things off the bus we were motioned to a hotel (which our bus company was in cahoots with). I made friends with a guy from Lyon France and decided to barter a good price for a room he and I would share together. It was pitch black and around midnight once we settled on a room and sat in the hotels restaurant eating the only thing left on their menu. It was freezing that night. I dressed in about five layers and passed out as quickly as possible. We would be waking up at 4:30am the next morning to catch the sun rise.
Gunung Bromo’s extraordinary volcanic landscape is East Java’s biggest attraction, and the perfect escape from all the island’s teeming cities. The smoking cone of Bromo is just one of three peaks to emerge from a vast caldera, the Tengger Massif (which stretches 10 km across), its steep walls plunging down to a vast, flat sea of lava and sand. This desolate landscape has a distinctly end-of-the-world feeling, particularly at sunrise. An even larger cone – Java’s largest mountain, the fume-belching Gunung Semeru – oversees Bromo’s supernatural beauty, and the entire volcanic wonderland forms the Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park.
I will never forget waking up in the freezing cold, jumping out of bed and running out into the pitch black to find transport. We were getting a bit scared as the streets of this small village were teaming with tourists hopping into 4X4’s and motorbikes…we couldn’t seem to find anyone that was willing to take us. In just a few moments the town had roared its way up to the main peak to watch the sunset. I started to have a bit of a panic attack realizing I maybe should have organized transportation to pick me up in the morning. Thanks be to God we were able to find two guys willing to drive us on the back of their motorcycles. Not the ideal as far as my safety and sanity but defiantly made the day memorable. I hopped on the back of the drivers motorbike and grabbed his skinny torso tight and told him not to kill me.
We zoomed in the most ridiculously reckless way down the little hill our village had been settled. In the pitch black of “early morning” we bolted like rockets across a vast volcanic desert. I could only barely make out the silhouette of the volcano that I would soon stare in awe in broad day light. Across the desert we then sped up the adjacent mountain taking precarious roadside zig-zags to the top. At one point the road was so steep I had to get off the bike and meet my driver over the next hill.
Once we arrived at the entrance of the famous lookout I hopped off the bike and tried to weave myself through the hundreds of cars and motorbikes packed along this rural road. We arrived at the lookout just moments before the intense red light from the sun blast itself across the landscape. I was shivering from the cold, still in a bit of a head rush from the daring adventure ordeal I had just endured to get here in one piece…but alas I was smiling, taking in one of the most beautiful sights in the world. The crowd was packed full of tourists mostly of which were local Indonesian’s. It seems as though Bromo is Java’s Niagara Falls…everyone comes here at some point to marvel in their home grown beauty. As the sun continued to stretch across the horizon the locals would scream “make it more beautiful, sun be more bright!” It really was comical, they all wanted to see the most beautiful sunset imaginable. The light cast itself across the valley and I could just barely make out the small town I had slept for the evening. I could also now see the grumbling volcano which I had sped past just an hour before and the vast desert I have crossed on a busted up motorcycle.
I wanted to beat the crowds back down the mountain so rushed with my Frenchy friend to find our drivers and sped down the steep mountain road holding on tight as humanly possible. I recall flying into the air a few times over little bumps in the road, swerving on wet pavement and nearly flying into a patch of bushes. I really was crazy but when everyone else is doing it..the recklessness takes on odd sense of normalcy. We flew across the desert and stopped at the base of the volcano. Locals stand with beaten up horses offering pony rides to the top. I decided to hike up the many thousand steps to the top of the volcanic crater. Sulfurous steam greeted me and forced me to pinch my nose and breathe through my gaping mouth. The view was magnificent. I sat down beside a local indigenous man selling flower arrangements (tradition has it that if you throw flowers into the volcano you garner some much needed luck). I remember smiling at him and then just gaping at the scenery around me. It was at this very moment that I realized in the last 24 hours I had traveled several hundred kilometers, barely slept in a frozen run down hotel, and haphazardly and recklessly spent all morning prancing across a volcano. I felt amazingly productive, and it was only 9am! I sort of groaned for a moment, dusted myself off and motioned to Frenchy that we better head back into town. We had to grab a bite to eat and check out of our hotel as we had one last excessively painful bus trip. As I hopped back onto my motorcycle for one last wild ride I told myself, “Andrew when you arrive in Bali tonight you have to find the nicest most relaxing hotel you can find and just treat yourself to a proper vacation!” And that’s exactly what I did.
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