Bromo- Tengger- Semeru National Park
An active volcano: sulfurous smoke bellowing out from the depths of the earth. The speaking earth grumbling and groaning with deep roars as it liberates the yellow fumes high into the sky. The grey, flat sand sea of ash and lava, expanding 10km across. The high green wall encircling the energetic volcano. A sense that this scene before me isn’t real, but rather a fake, superimposed illustration.
Mt Bromo is Java’s most active volcano, and in January this year there was an eruption; resulting in an ash- rain to fall on nearby villages.
To get to Cemoro Lawang (the mountain village lying directly opposite the park), we took a 1.5 hour bumpy, head- lolling minivan ride up the mountain. There must have been some serious bad weather recently- as most of the roads were damaged (deep ditches) and the surrounding landscape covered in mudslides. We climbed up continuously- passing hundreds and hundreds of vegetable patches flourishing in the volcanic minerals. Java has the most fertile land in the whole year, and some areas have 3 crops a year.
We arrived at Café Lava and checked in. It was raining, so we took the opportunity to eat! I had a scrumptious meal (“gada- gada”) of rice, boiled egg, fried tofu, vegetables and peanut sauce, washed down with a refreshing beer. Super! When the rain stopped we walked up to the edge of the wall and looked across to Bromo- the most spectacular sight I have ever seen! There are 2 volcanos- Mt Bromo (2329m) and Mt Batok lying in close proximity to each other. Far in the distant is Mt Semeru (3676m), another active volcano. The grey sea of sand is a little eerie (moon-like) and together with the surrounding lush green wall of trees, plants and flowers offers a tremendous contrast.
The “thing to do” is get up at 3:30am, and watch the sunrise from a viewpoint called Gunung Penanjakan (2770m). We were told (and read) that it was a 2 hour walk, and since we were planning on walking more afterward, we opted to take an ojek (motorbike taxi). It turns out it was a very short ride there and the easy walk would’ve taken only one hour! Oh well… It was still dark when we got dropped off, and we had to carry on up on foot. We had forgotten our headlamps, which resulted in a funny incidence- we were walking along when suddenly Honza dropped to half his size with his head almost to the ground! There was no time for me to laugh, as I then fell and had one leg in a hole and the other trying to hold myself up! In light of the situation, all I could was shout “Honza help me!” (which is now a running joke). We were both alright- although maybe just bruised egos...Luckily it was dark ;-)
We shared the viewpoint with about 70 people; so not a peaceful and quiet morning. And it was cloudy, so the sunrise wasn’t that spectacular, but the views down to Bromo and Batok and the immediate landscape were just remarkable!
The next part of the day was just fantastic! We wanted to climb Mt Semeru, but getting to the starting point (13km away) was a bit tricky. We arranged to get a ride on an ojek about half the way.
This was a hand-gripping, ass-shaking, eye-closing, please- God of a ride! The path crossed the grey ash desert, going around to the other side of the volcano. It was a rough, bumpy, but oh-so-fun of a ride! The scene around me was indescribable! I had an active, belching volcano on my right, the tall green wall on my left and rough terrain in front. It’s perfect four-wheel drive territory, so on a bike it’s even more exhilarating and fearful! (My brother and his bike would’ve found their home here!). After going around, we started to climb the green wall- the road (a mere collection of loose rocks and stones) went literally straight up! I was afraid the bike would tip backwards or we would hit a rock at the wrong angle… but the driver knows the terrain, so I trusted him. They dropped us off at this junction (for the amount we paid them, they wouldn’t go any further). So we took our backpacks and hit the road. Walking along the path was something out of Lord of the Rings- so lush, overgrown with vegetation and a feeling that the path would take us to some hidden land, concealed in time and place. I was secretly hoping a hobbit would pop out from the bushes!
For the next 1.5 hours we marched on until we did stumble upon a village- locked away in the hills, lost in time! It was dreamlike to come over the hill and gaze out into the distance- to this small Swiss-Austrian-like village- called Ranu Pani. We did know that this village existed, but I didn’t expect it to feel as if we had entered another time. Yes, they have cars, motorbikes etc, but the feeling in the air was something special, something beyond description. Here is this tiny village that is locked in the hills, isolated by 2 active volcanoes and where their daily lives consist of farming, harvesting, collection and planting. There’s only one main road, so we walked past the daily activities- school kids playing, women working in the fields, old, wrinkly men sitting in the shade. And of course we caused quite a stir- “Hello mister! Hello mister!” I never get tired of their hellos.
We were looking for a man called “Pak Taslip”, who apparently rents sleeping bags for the climb. It’s a small town, so anyone we asked pointed us in the right direction. We eventually found his home, and met his daughter (who spoke English well). She informed us that we couldn’t climb, since the volcanoes activity at the moment isn’t safe, also that the trail is closed until May. This news didn’t upset me, as I was already completely worn-out! So we walked back. And man, was the return journey draining! My legs felt like they were dragging lead in my shoes and it took all my energy to persist. We tried to take a shortcut- taking a path that runs along the ridge of the wall. It didn’t work out, but we did get to witness impressive views of the plateau below. Once we got down to the plateau, we had to trek across the sand sea, back around Bromo. Honza is like speedy Gonzales, so I was alone for most of the time…I felt like I was in another world, with another me. Time seemed to have stopped, and I felt like I would walk this walk for eternity- things in the distance never seemed to come any closer, no matter how much I walked. Perhaps fatigue made my mind a little crazy… To pass the time I belted out Beatles, Mariah Carey and Bob Marley. I even made up my own songs. Eventually I caught up with Honza and we sat on the grey sea of sand and gazed up at the mighty, roaring Bromo. We even got a tinsy winsy little bit singed by hot ash coming off the mountain. (I found black specks in my hair the next day).
Man, was I relieved to be back at Café Lava! We had a deservingly cold beer to celebrate our accomplishment. I had every reason to be dead tired- I had been awake for 14 hours and walked for 10 of them! My feet were sore, my thighs ached and I stank but I was too tired to shower (I have downgraded my level of acceptable hygiene to a very low point). A dreamless sleep came fast that night.