If you want to wrap your eyeballs around Gunung Bromo you’ll need to get to Cemoro Lawang which is easy as far as Probolinggo. Getting there is a piece of piss. It’s once you’re there when things start going tits up on account of the fact everyone is there to rip you off, I’d read loads of accounts online of all the scams going on and I found it hard to reconcile this in my head with all the wonderful Indonesians we’d met so far. Basically everyone wants to get you to a private shop to sell you a tour to Bromo and they will happily lie to your face to get you there. As our bus from Malang rolled into Probolinggo it pulled in a couple of kilometres from the terminal and a bloke got on to tell us we needed to get off here to get to Cemoro Lawang. They’re pretty convincing, it was like being back in Rajasthan. If it weren’t for being forewarned by blogs and the fact we had Maps.ME on our phones we might have believed him when he tried to insist we were at the terminal.
We refused to get off and insisted they continued to the terminal until he turned to the conductor, literally apologised to him whilst shrugging and telling him, “Terminal.” Nope, no kick back for you this time, buddy. Not that it’s much fucking easier once you’re there. Here’s the thing; There’s no such thing as a public bus from Probolinggo to Cemoro Lawang no matter what you’ve been told. There are 15 seater minivans worth Rp525,000, and if you fill it it’ll be Rp35,000 each. They’re outside the terminal though, I don’t think they’re allowed inside, and we were hooked up with five other tourists where we waited for an age for other tourists before finally agreeing to pay Rp75,000 each to just get up the bastard hill already.
The seven of us decided to head to the crater of Gunung Bromo itself that afternoon when it’d be quieter, most tour groups head there right after sunrise, and we’d read about the free way there where you avoid the ticket booth and thus the entrance fee for foreigners which is well over Rp200,000. They’d blocked it off, the sneaky little scamps. They were wise to our game. There was a fence barring the way and a sign basically saying go and buy a ticket you tight bastard, not in so many words buuuut that’s probably what they meant. No no no, Bromo. Don’t underestimate the will of backpackers, especially when they’ve just paid Rp75,000 for a ride up a fucking hill. If you find the old way just turn right and walk about a kilometre, turn left down a track and keep left when you come to a fork. It’ll zig-zag down the hill until you get to the famous Sand Sea.
Yeah you can see why they call it that, it’s literally a huge expanse of sand which you now have to get across to the crater. Take water. Shit loads of water. You’ll be offered rides on horses by the local Tengger people, it’s up to you if you take them up on it, I’ve no idea how much it’d cost but they’re not big horses and I was worried I’d break it’s poor back if I tried to haul my fat arse onto it. Oh, and don’t try and jump the fence to get down the old free track, they’ve built fences and dug ditches all the way down to deter freeloaders. We know this because we walked back that way. I had to be helped over trenches like an elderly lady getting off a train with a particularly large gap to the platform. It was like the fucking Krypton Factor.
Bromo isn’t the prettiest, bless it. It blew its own top off god knows when. Its neighbour, Mt Batok, is way more attractive, but Bromo is fucking badass. You can hear this grumble as you slog your way across the Sand Sea similar to the noise my stomach makes when its been deprived of food for more than 40 minutes. We walked past shops set up in tents selling drinks and snacks, politely declined offers from men to take us on horseback, strolled past a Hindu temple, and were met with 250 steps which we made our way up. They damn near finished me off I can tell you, I hauled my way up behind everyone else, the stench of sulphur getting stronger and stronger making it difficult to gulp in the oxygen my lungs demanded if they weren’t to go on strike. But once you get to the top it’s all worth it. The grumble becomes a tremendous roar. If the wind blows your way the clouds of sulphur choke you and sting your eyes. The crater constantly chuffs clouds and you can see the yellow sulphur staining the bottom. Bromo is active. Very fucking active.
I’ve never stood on the edge of an active volcano before. The power is incredible, you can hear it, you can feel it in your chest. The barriers are low down and the path is very narrow, there’s not much room, there’s very little to stop you from stacking it into the gaping hole in front of you as you shuffle forwards as far as you dare to take several hundred photos of the same bastard thing. You can buy flowers on the way up to throw in as an offering but I don’t think a whole fucking rose garden would appease this beast once it got going. Volcanoes really are the stinking gateways to the belching guts of the earth, and I mean that in the nicest possible way and please don’t kill me with your ash and lava.
This sunrise thing then, the big draw-card of the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park. You’re actually climbing up Gunung Pananjakan to feast your eyes on this. You could get a jeep up if you wanted but I think that involves paying the entry fee and we’d gone to such great lengths to avoid it the previous day. Lengths which my lower body still hadn’t forgiven me for. This is a bitch of a hill. Me and Tarrant left half an hour before the others at 3am on account of my tendencies to stop a lot when faced with inclines to give me time to cry a bit and question all of my life choices. We huffed our way up as we were overtaken by jeeps and humans and snails. Most jeeps head aaaaall the way around to sunrise point one but it seemed than some people paid for jeeps to the bottom of a hill which lead to the less hectic sunrise point two, the place we were heading.
Vehicles were forced to a stop when the road finished, we passed them as we shuffled uphill, trying not to breath in exhaust fumes which was fucking impossible when we were taking on gulps of air that’d sustain a blue whale for a day. Then shit got real. This fucking hill. It was about as steep as you could get before you needed ropes and a mate to belay you. I think my heart nearly cracked a fucking rib it was beating so hard. We were offered horse rides on steeds not much bigger than me which, of course, we politely declined only to be told, “Very long way.” Yes mate. Yes, we know. Apparently we wished to suffer. By the time we got to sunrise point two at 4am it was already mad busy so we climbed up some rocks and chilled there to wait for the fiery sky ball to rise whilst trying not to move too much because, y’know, perched on rocks on the edge of a cliff and all that.
Obviously you can see fuck all at first. It’s dark. Unless you have infra red vision built into your retinas because your a cyborg from the future or something you just have to make educated guesses as to where to point your camera then, off to the left, the sky starts to glow. As it gets lighter and the landscape starts to reveal itself you find yourself gawping at three volcanoes and possibly drooling a little bit. Batok and Bromo we were already more familiar with than most people would like to be with an active volcano and its neighbour, then off in the distance towering above them all was Gunung Semeru, Indonesia’s most active volcano which apparently erupts every 20 minutes. It’s all manner of gorgeous.
We sat there for way longer than our arses liked being seated on uneven rocks just to drink in the view as a light mist curled across the Sand Sea and sort of flowed into the valley to the left. People started to disperse not long after the sun was up and I’m gonna throw out a bit of a controversial point of view here; I don’t really think you need to be here for sunrise. The sun comes up way over to the left, at this time of year anyway, it doesn’t rise over Bromo itself and it’s completely incidental to the view of the volcanoes. I think I gave it a cursory glance when it was all pretty and orange then kind of just ignored it because the mountains were better. If I were to do this again I’d aim to be getting to the sunrise point just as the sun was up whilst it was still cool enough to get up a fucking hill without totally dehydrating and becoming a withered shell of your former self, just as the crowds started to leave.
Getting back down to Probolinggo is as much of a bitch as it is getting up. There was a van leaving that morning and we stood by it patiently waiting to put our bags on the roof when a French couple barged past an took our place. You are shitting me. There was no talking to the driver, he gave no shits, he had a full van, and we ended up hanging around for the best part of an hour whilst we collected foreigners to make our ride back down that little bit cheaper. Honestly, I couldn’t fucking wait to be out of this area. It’s not the Indonesia we were getting to know and were becoming really quite fond of. Unfortunately it’s probably more like the Indonesia of the future as more and more people arrive to enjoy the attractions and locals realise they can make a shit tonne of extra money by scamming the walking wallets.
Oh, and a word of advice, have a tactical wee before you get in the bus. It’s about 60 to 90 minutes down that hill and if you’ve just drank your body weight in tea in an effort to jump start your brain properly you’ll know about it before you’re even halfway down. I had to request a piss stop and he obliged so I hopped out of the van and just squatted down beside it. It was a populated area, I didn’t want to wander off into fields to water people’s crops and too far either side I’d be creating small rivers in their gardens. In situations like this I tend to work on the theory that no one wants to watch me piss so beside the van seemed ideal. Turned out an elderly Indonesia man on a motorbike very much wanted to watch me piss. He very deliberately pulled in and stared at me, it’s a bloody good job I have no shame, probably because I left it in a gutter somewhere after consuming too many Jägerbombs and trying to pick a fight with a post box so I just looked right at him and asked, “Seriously???” He rode off after that but nearly veered off the road as he kept turning round for another gawp.
In other news, my Bahasa Indonesia isn’t getting much better and not for lack of trying but my accent must be fucking awful. I’ll try and order drinks and they’ll just kind of stare at me until I repeat it in English. We’ve learnt how to say “thank you” though, terima kasih, so we just keep overusing that because it’s the only thing we can say which gets understood. We tried to learn some numbers to help us with buying stuff and paying bus fare but the currency is fucking ridiculous. All those zeros. I can’t deal with the zeros. To be honest I struggle with that many zeros in English, never mind in a completely alien language I’ve never so much as glanced at before. To put it in perspective, Rp1000 is about 6 British pence. But if Tarrant owes me that Rp1000, damn it I’m gonna want it.
Cemoro Lawang, Java, Indonesia
Stayed at: Yog Homestay