11 November 2014

Bromo – an ocean of sand and smoke

Smoke rising from the crater of Bromo
Our Indonesian friends advertised Bromo with plenty of superlatives: spectacular, stunning, a lifetime experience. In consequence, our expectations were high when I set out with my friend Daria to explore the volcanoes of East Java.

A comfortable night bus (Rosalia Indah) brought us for 115'000 IDR (8 EUR) from Solo to Probolinggo. We arrived around 5am, a perfect time to head to the bus terminal to continue the journey. Quickly we found the minibuses to Cemoro Lawang, the village on the rim of the outer crater. Unfortunately, we were the first ones to arrive that morning. The price of 30'000 IDR (2 EUR) was not an issue. But the minibuses leave only once at least 16 passengers are crammed in. As the trickle of tourists wasn't that steady this morning, we finally left around 9am. During the first hour we crossed the usual cities, villages and rice fields. It was the second hour that got more interesting. The road climbed steeper and steeper, the lanes got more narrow with every meter, but the traffic didn't slow down. We arrived safely and happily in Cemoro Lawang at 11am.

Cemoro Lawang
We quickly checked out a couple of homestays, the whole village is full of them. The prices hover around 150'000 to 300'000 IDR (10-20 EUR), depending on if you want a private bathroom or not. Highly unusual for Indonesia, they all feature a hot water shower. You'll definitely be happy to have one as the temperatures here at over 2200m drop to five degrees Celsius at night. But during the day it's pleasantly warm thanks to the strong tropical sun. After dropping our luggage and a quick shower, we went to the rim – about two minutes up from our homestay – to enjoy the view. Impressive is an understatement.

Sunrise - Bromo on the left, Semeru in the back
Strengthened by some Nasi Pecel, we set out to walk into the huge crater, across the so called Ocean of Sand and up to the rim of sulfur-smoking Bromo. It's a dry and barren land where only few plants and even fewer animals survive. The ones that do have grown stings, claws, thorns and a thick skin in order do so. Thick hiking socks and long pants are therefore advisable. The path itself is easy to find. It's a short and steep way down into the crater, then a direct line across the plain to the foot of Bromo. The climb itself is easy, as the steepest part is eased by a concrete stair. The view into the crater once you get to the rim is literally breathtaking. Most days, only part of the steep drop into the mouth of the volcano is visible. The sulfuric clouds usually obscure the view. My headscarf proved very valuable in this moment.

Lisa and her assistants
Back in the village, we organized our jeep tour to see the sunrise above Bromo and Semeru (the highest peak of the mountain). The jeep tours (a jeep carries usually five to six passengers) themselves are not hugely expensive. We paid 150'000 IDR (10 EUR) each. But while exploring Bromo by foot is absolutely possible without paying the inflated visitor fee* (225'000 IDR – 18 EUR), the jeep have to pass the gate to the park. Avoiding the fee is impossible in that case. Even though the tour is highly touristy, it's well worth it.

View from Bromo towards the outer crater walls
We got picked up at 3am, then drove in a surreal caravan of far over 200 jeeps across the plain and up to a viewpoint where several thousand people where already waiting. We found a nice spot from where we could see well on both Semeru and Bromo as well as the sandy plain leading towards them. Around 4:30am, you can actually feel the tension of the crowd rising, as sunrise approaches. Between 4:45 and 6am, most people are constantly moving around in order to find the best spot for their photos and selfies. By 6:30am, the action is over. Most people are on their way back to Bromo. As we already saw the smoking crater before, we skipped the overcrowded stairs and went directly back to the village. After a warm and comforting morning shower, we packed our bags and headed off with the first minibus back to Probolinggo. One volcano down, one more to come.

Lisa on Bromo
Thanks to Lisa's work, we had the chance to visit Bromo together, only three weeks after my first visit. The trip proved to be quite different than the previous one. First, because ten members of the UNS joined us (Lisa's four assistants plus a group of teachers), second, because we chose a different route this time. We took a night train from Solo to Malang where we slept a little after our arrival. In the late morning, a huge jeep picked us up and drove us up the western slopes of the Bromo Tengger Massif. On the way, we made a couple of stops at a waterfall, in the Savannah and in the Ocean of Sand and arrived perfectly on time for the sunset on Bromo. We also spent the night in Cemoro Lawang, but thanks to our friend Boim we found a less crowded spot to enjoy the sunrise. Even though Lisa caught a cold due to the freezing early morning temperatures, we enjoyed the trip and the company immensely and would like to thank everyone for the great time. You rock!
Surviving the early morning cold

More pictures from our two trips to Bromo here and here


* You might ask yourself why I call the visitor fee inflated. Let me quickly explain. In May 2014, the Indonesian government, always short of money, raised the fees to access it's natural and cultural wonders. They didn't simply double their prices, but increased them eight-fold! Their justification for the now hefty fees? None. I personally don't mind to pay my share for the protection of natural wonders. But the Indonesian government so far failed to convince me that the money I paid in various sites actually contributes to their protection. Garbage is, as elsewhere in Indonesia, liberally dumped everywhere and I never saw a single ranger telling people off for actively destroying the fragile ecosystems. National parks are perceived by the Indonesian government, it seems to me, mainly as cash cows and not as natural wonders worth protecting both for their own sake and for future generations. There is a lot of room for improvement in my eyes until the current visitor fees are justified.

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