I have a newfound fascination with volcanoes, thanks to Mount Bromo on Java. She isn’t very beautiful by any stretch of the imagination. Her top is all blown off and disfigured from recent eruptions, but she’s a vivacious, vocal and volatile volcano (I did that on purpose). N and I had never been to an active volcano, so we figured we would visit Mount Bromo, known to be one of the most accessible volcanoes in Indonesia and didn’t require a challenging (multi-day) hike.
It was a real pain in the ass to get to there from Yogyakarta, but having read loads of blog posts about it, we were mentally prepared. A little discomfort wasn’t going to keep us from looking down into the depths of Mount Bromo’s soul. After braving a packed economy class-only train, and then an ancient minibus ride up the mountain in the dark which felt like some kind of nightmare rollercoaster experience, we arrived at the village of Cemero Lawang to find out that the overpriced hotel we had emailed to hold a double room for us hadn’t held onto that room. So we paid for an overpriced triple room, which was a dark, musty room with a hot water heater that barely worked. And we really needed that hot water. The nighttime temperature on the mountain at our elevation of 2,217 meters (7,218 feet) dropped to close to 5 degrees Celsius (about 40F), which isn’t that cold but it is for a couple of people who have acclimated to SEA nights, which are mostly sweat-inducing. The fleece jackets we rarely had any use for (except for on buses where they crank up the AC) came in handy, and carrying them all through sweltering SEA suddenly became totally worth it. Since we had an electric water heater that came with our fancy room, we added boiled water to the barely lukewarm water from the shower and bathed Indonesian-style (using a bucket and ladle) as fast as we possibly could. The next day erased all of our lingering annoyances about this town and the highway robbery of the minibus drivers and hotels in the area. While most visitors pile into jeeps at the buttcrack of dawn to drive up to a vantage point to see the sun rise before heading to the crater in droves, we opted instead to have breakfast before setting out on our hike to the volcano. This ended up being the best decision for us because we hate crowds and even in the midst of one of the most touristy attractions in Indonesia, we like to pretend like we’re the only people who discovered it.
The hike wasn’t really a hike. It was more of a walk. We passed jeeps coming back from the crater and unloading hungry tourists in front of their hotels. With the morning rush finished for the day, enterprising moped drivers and horseback guides called out to us. As in most developing countries, they seemed perplexed when we told them we wanted to walk. Why walk if you can afford a cheap ride all the way there? And because they never understand that we walk because we want to, they slowly followed us and whittled down their initial prices.
We started walking through the Sea of Sand, a flat expanse of sand leading up to the volcano. I finally called out to two approaching horse guides and asked them how much for a ride back. 100,000 rupiah (about $8) each there and back, they said. We insisted that we only wanted a ride back, and that we wanted to ride the horses ourselves. Totally unconcerned if we had any sort of riding experience, they agreed to 50,000, turned their horses around and followed us. Fine sand blew into our eyes and mouth, and we trudged on as the guides occasionally offered the horses to take us the rest of the way up “if we were tired”.
We were tired. The elevation was killing us, and this was on relatively flat land. In the not too distant distance, there was a photogenic little volcano next to a larger one that looked like it had its top blown off. The pretty one was Mount Batok, and her neighbor was Mount Bromo, one of the most active and volatile volcanoes in Java. According to volcano experts, she’s ready to erupt at any time. We walked on, huffing and puffing up the short but steep slopes leading up to the stairs to the crater. The horse guys just watched us in silence, most likely wondering why we were being so damn cheap and subjecting ourselves to this much physical discomfort.