Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Mount Bromo - my first volcano!

My first bit of tourism in Indonesia was visiting East Java's Mount Bromo. I'll let the photos - albeit bad photos - tell most of the story, but there's always a story! Since we don't work on Sundays, but we were in East Java, we drove six hours from Bojonegoro to Probolinggo, where most visitors start the assent to Mount Bromo. We left Bojonegoro on Saturday around 12:30, meaning we wouldn't arrive until after dark. If there's one thing I learned in Peace Corps that I will never forget, it's not to travel at night in developing countries. There are rarely street/road lights, you can't see anything, and many cars and motorcycles aren't in good working condition, i.e. front head lights. We arrived in Probolinggo right around sunset and started driving up the mountain. At first it wasn't so bad, but as the night set in - as it does early here in Indonesia - and the sky became pitch black, it became harder to see where we were going. Pitch black countryside, with the exception of our headlights and winding roads all the way up to 2,000 meters. It was the first night I've seen the stars in Indonesia, maybe one of the only places in the country where there's no light pollution (I'm exaggerating, but not much). As we were driving, and the endless road became steeper, I was comforted by the fact that it was dark and I couldn't see anything. I imagined that the drive down the next day would be lovely though. Though there are many hotels to choose from, we chose to stay at the hotel closest to the volcano, which would mean a shorter time in the morning to get to the top for sunrise. When we got out of the car it was cold, but it wasn't that cold. To see Indonesian's bundled up in parkas, scarves, hats and gloves was a sight. And the way they all huddled together to keep warm was funny. After we checked in we headed to the lodge, the restaurant and general hang out area. I felt like I was at a ski resort, except there was no snow and I was wearing sandals. Standing outside the entrance to the lodge were vendors of wool socks, scarves and hats. The guide books say that it can drop to between 3 and 20 degrees Celsius and it was recommended to me that I rent a coat to wear. I brought the only warm clothes that I brought to Indonesia: two long sleeve tshirts, long pants and sneakers. If it were for the fact that we were planning on going up the mountain at 4:00, I probably wouldn't have rented the jacket, but I didn't know how cold it might be that early. So I spent the $3 to ensure my warmth.

Sunday morning we woke up at 3:30 and hopped in an old school Land Cruiser to make our way up the mountain. Before we got in the car, there were again vendors selling their usual wares, but now selling those surgical-like masks that people wear when they're sick or have Bird Flu. All I thought was, "What? Really?" I would later regret my casual walk by the surgical masks en route to the car. Considering we were as far up as one could go without these 4X4's, the drive only took maybe 15 minutes. On the dusty road we passed people on foot and horses bringing people up. Once we arrived as far as we could go, we had to get out and walk the rest of the way. The walk up consisted of a windy, dusty path, full of people and horses carrying those up who couldn't/didn't want to walk. After you got to a certain point, the horses couldn't go any further and there were stairs to climb the rest of the way. It was a brutal climb because everyone and the horses were kicking up so much dust - I finally realized what the masks were for. I later realized that this dust was actually ash from Bromo. I immediately had dust in my nose and my mouth and I could feel it between my toes.

When we finally got to the top, it was maybe 4:00 AM and pitch black, with nothing to see or do but wait. Isti wasn't able to make it up, so I went with some random guy who happened to stop at the same time we stopped and she said she couldn't continue. As usual, big mistake. The only good/use that this guy was was telling me which direction the volcano was, otherwise, I would have been staring at the side of the mountain waiting for some excitement. The bad thing was that he thought I was his best friend and was clinging to me like a fly. At one point, these two women from Korea were trying to take self photos and I offered to take their photo in exchange for them taking mine. As I posed for the photo, this guy jumped into the photo, as you'll see below. I'm too nice and too worried about looking like an obnoxious American to have pushed him off the ledge, though the thought was there. Anyway...as the sun rose, I tried to take some photos of the gorgeous landscape, the mountain side below and some other mountains in the distance. The cool thing though was once the sun rose enough that we could see the volcano and the ash coming out of it, everyone was captivated. Over the next hour or so that I spent on this mountainside watching the volcano, it "erupted" 2 or 3 times, which was pretty cool. Each time the ash cloud formed a new shape before it dissipated. Another volcano, in the distance also emitted a small cloud of ash, as if to try and steal the show from Bromo.

After awhile I started my way down to meet Isti and continue back to the hotel. I was told that the price we paid included a trip to the Sea of Sand, that surrounded the base of the volcano, but that since the volcano was active that we couldn't walk up to the top. Whoa, who said anything about walking to the top? I had no idea that was even an option. The Sea of Sand didn't sound to thrilling, but we went anyway and started walking toward Bromo. Turns out that people were walking up to the lip of the volcano and once the guide and I started walking I was ready to go to the top! In the end, we wound up not walking all the way up and instead turned around to go back to the hotel.

Landscape at sunrise

First view of Bromo with a cloud looming overhead.

My faux best friend, me and Bromo. Can we photoshop him out?

A new burst of ash from Bromo

Long line of Land Cruisers who ushered their guests to the mountain. Luckily we got there early enough that ours was at the top of that long line.

Bromo's jealous cousin emitting his own ash

Third new puff of ashThird new puff of ash

The Sea of Sand - there's a Hindu temple down there at the base between both mountains, but you'll have to click on the photo to see.

View from midway up the volcano, over the sea of sand and to where we stood earlier for the sunrise.

People climbing to the rim of Bromo. I will say that about 30 minutes later, as I was sipping my hot tea in the lodge, Bromo erupted again. This also happened about 30 minutes after that. I'm sure everyone was fine, but with the amount of ash I already had in my nose, I was kind of happy we didn't go all the way up.

View of Bromo from the Sea of Sand

Our car, covered in ash from Bromo

The gorgeous view on the way down winding roads of the mountain

We left Bromo around 9:30 to head back to Bojonegoro. All in all, it was a pretty good trip, if not a quick one. I had ash in my mouth, nose and ears for a few days after and I still have ash in my sneakers that finds its way between my toes when I'm running. It was certainly exciting to see the volcano, but I missed having an adventurous friend there to climb to the top and to take ridiculous jumping photos.