Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Trip to East Java: Part VI - Bromo

The day after the wedding, Herul and I headed South to Gunung Bromo. We brought a tent and some big backpacks. We left the guest house in Surabaya about midmorning, saying goodbye to Nina as we crossed the street and hopped in an angkot. We grabbed an early lunch (Herul payed without giving me the chance, as I learned is his habit) at the bus station before taking the 2-hour ride to Probolinggo. The bus was in surprisingly good condition, with AC and comfortable seating. We stopped at a town just before Probolinggo. Herul was starving (he worked up an appetite sleeping on the bus?) so we ate again at a warung (little food stall). And we had coffee again. After eating I noticed a man gathering his trash together and burning it across the street - the way almost all Indonesians deal with their waste. He's even got a rake for the task. The smell, I assure you, is lovely:

We continued on to Probolinggo and began a long wait. Drivers here want to fill up their vehicles before they leave to maximize profits, so we had to sit until there were enough people to fill up the large van. I killed time by playing guitar and singing, while Herul smoked and drank more coffee. I even found some manggis, a spherical purple fruit (the flesh on the inside is white) that is spectacularly delicious. We probably waited for three hours.

Fortunately, one of the other passengers we befriended was a nice guy named Memet, and he works at a hotel in the little town next to Bromo. He gave us the inside tip on a campsite as well as good company and great warmth in conversation.

I also saw some Indonesians doing something I thought might be a gang ritual. One guy had his shirt off and the other was rubbing oil into his skin with a coin, making bold red streaks in the skin:

Herul told me that this is actually a common practice among Indonesians, especially the villagers. They believe that rubbing the oil in will cure them of muscle and joint pain, headaches, and even colds. I asked my students about this last night, and many of them nodded their heads, assuring me that it works. I think there are alot of reasons to be skeptical, but hey, when in Rome, right?

At last, enough passengers arrived for the driver's satisfaction, and we rolled out as darkness fell. Gradually, the van emptied and the air got cooler. By the time we reached the top of the mountains, it was cool enough to be like New York in the last week of September or first week of October. I put on my rainjacket and it was just enough to keep me comfortable. The Indonesians were bundled up like we were at a ski resort. Here's a group of them in the restaurant where we had dinner:

You can see the winter hats and multi-layered clothes under jackets. For Indonesians, this is about as cold as cold can be. Memet went off to attend to a couple of things while Herul and I had a glorious goat sate. It was the best sate I've had in Indonesia. This time I thumped some bills onto the table before Herul had the chance. He gave a tight nod. I was relieved to at last pay for something.

We met up with Memet and made for the campsite. It was a somewhat cloudy moonlit night. But as we progressed away from the town, Memet indicated Bromo off to our right and I could hardly believe the sight of it. There visible in the moonlight was the smoking behemoth, with Gunung Batok its silent companion. The moonlight reflected off the billowing smoke as it was carried off into the night. It was an otherworldly, confusing, and breathtaking sight.

Unfortunatey, all my camera could see was this:

We located a campsite and took our sweet time setting up the tent, by which I mean we tried, were stymied, succumbed and read the directions, tried again, failed, then Herul smoked another cigarette and suddenly it all made sense. By the time we finished setting it up the clouds had all but disappeared, revealing a panorama of stars. A bright soft white light blanketed the landscape around us. A layer of clouds rose and fell from the valley floor below the mountain peaks, at times making them look like islands in a white cloud ocean. The view was so alien and wonderful as to confound description. By the time we laid down to 'sleep,' it was around midnight. Sleep was a cold, wretched, endless affair. Between the cold, the loud chatter of Indonesians nearby, the uneven ground, and the cold, it was hard to do anything but lay there. At least I had a sleeping bag - Herul didn't sleep at all.

We got up when at last enough time had gone by for it to be 4:30AM. Sunrise was on its way, and it was glorious. Here's the first shot of the day, before the sun peeked its head up over the horizon. You can see the cloud layer covering the valley:

This is the view in the opposite direction, a distant mountain poking up out of the clouds:

Turning to the right from last frame, right into the sun as it came up:

As the sun came up, the ruddy mountains came into view. This is in the opposite direction of the last shot, looking toward the town:
Herul and I were trying to figure out which peaks were which in the mountain-laden landscape:

We set up the camera with Herul's tripod, so I got in some of the pictures too!

Brothers Bromo and Batok:

You could see the sunlight filtered through the air because the view was so vast:

As the sun came up, the mountains took on more definition and the cloud layer began to relent:

You can see in these next shots just how great our campsite was. It was literally tent, then mountain sloping down to the valley below:

I took about as many pictures as I could stand to take:

Herul rocking the guitar:

We walked down into town for a quick shower, breakfast, and some coffee. The bathroom was at a homestay and the mountain water was COLD:

This is the front of the homestay, where we laid out the towels to dry and enjoyed the coffee:

We stored the bags and walked out to the valley of ash. Bromo erupted sometime in the last few centuries, leveling a gray desert between the crowd of mountains:

Some trees have even managed to take root:

It took an hour or so to cross the valley and get up to the crater:

Thankfully, there were some villagers selling water and Biskuats (a play on biscuit and kuat, which means "power"). We took several breaks on the way to the top, but when we arrived it was pretty epic:

The crater:

That's the smoking crater off to my right. I love this path along the crater's edge - it's very lord of the rings:

Some of the smoke cleared enough for a nice view of the belly of the beast:

What can I say, I feel tremendously lucky. It was an unbelievable trip.


  1. wonderful pictures looks like you are having quite an adventure-- nice bit of writing there too


  2. Thanks, Peter, you have a great way with words - maybe this will be a book when you get back? I also love the way you make the challenges amusing and wonderful.