Volcanoes, volcanoes, volcanoes!!!
When we arrived in Malang we “interviewed” a number of tour operators in the lobby of our hotel. We chose Sunrise Tours who were represented by a very nice young lady. After explicitly stating what we wanted to do and where we would stay, we negotiated a price and made sure that all was written down so there could be no “misunderstandings” later. There would be a lot of “misunderstandings” over the next few days!
We opted to take the less travelled southern route to Bromo as we preferred to travel through the isolated highland Savannah rather than the busy main road through the large, less than desirable city of Probolingo. It cost a little extra and necessitated a change to a 4WD vehicle for part of the trip but hey, we are here to see the country!
We left at 8.00am to begin our drive. Albert, our guide explained that we would be stopping at Rainbow Falls along the way. We had to drive first to a guesthouse where we switched to the 4WD as our normal car would not cope with the route up across the Savannah. .
We jumped into the back of a Toyota jeep and bounced along the ever deteriorating roads for the next few hours. We ascended along a very narrow ridge with sheer drops of thousands of feet on either side (OK, maybe not thousands but I really don’t like heights!).
We pulled over to the side of the road and walked down for around 30 mins, crossed the bridge and there were the falls. Moderately impressive, but not a rainbow in sight. Was it worth the walk down? Maybe. The walk back up? Probably not.
The road deteriorated further until it was a road no more and we were finally into the Savannah. Lush and green in the wet season, it was now dry, grey and sandy. Very impressive, nonetheless. The area seemed to be very popular with locals who were traversing the vast space on Honda Dreams, either for pleasure or transporting various large cargoes to and from Mount Bromo.
We drive on through the “Sea of Sand” before arriving at our hotel for the night, The Lava View Lodge, right on the crater rim overlooking Bromo. We dump ourbags and set off to along the crater rim and into the village. In the late afternoon as the sun sank, the views of the crater were spectacular. The Lodge is clearly a cash cow for the owners who seem to have done little in terms of maintenance or upgrading etc. the restaurant serves barely adequate food and is rather soulless. We did pop into the sister hotel, The Lava View Cafe which was cheaper, didn’t have the views but had way more atmosphere. All this talk of lava is somewhat concerning as we are staying actually on an active volcano and in Indonesia they all do seem to be rather too active at the moment!
We originally agreed a 03.30 start with Albert the guide, he hummed and hahed and decided to change this to 03.00 and then 02.30. We rose At the appointed hour only to spend 15 mins searching for an elusive Albert – not the first time he has gone AWOL! We found him and asked where our jeep for the crater was? On its way, he says, another 10 mins, then another and we tell him to go and hire another jeep- NOW! It was your idea to start at this time Albert – sort it out man!
It is coming, it is coming he kept repeating. Eventually it did arrive. close to the original departure time. Oh well, at least we were on our way – in convoy with hundreds of identical vehicles.
We had agreed to view the sunrise from the “second most popular” viewpoint. We arrived early despite having been held up by a fallen tree blocking the road for ages. We then settled in for the two hour wait for the sunrise – what were you thinking Albert?
As we waited we took time to admire the night sky, it was a clear and exceptionally cold night. Being close to the equator and at a reasonably high altitude had some pretty good views of the Milky Way, the best we have seen since Bolivia, plus a few meteor showers, all of which served to pass the time in the freezing cold! Gradually the light increased and the crater of Bromo became just visible through the mists below. All a little other-worldly. It took us a few minutes to understand the eerie white glow we could see through the clouds bellows was in fact the headlights of the armada of jeeps still coming up the mountain to join us. Soon there would be us and hundreds others sharing the viewing platform. Glad we didn’t go to the most popular area!
Dawn eventually broke and to be frank, the sunrise wasn’t all that fantastic but the sight of the crater of Mount Bromo gradually revealing itself through the mists below really was impressive and most definitely worth the early start.
Having seen enough and after climbing up to a couple of other vantage points, we set off back down the mountain in thick fog. Alberts plan was for us to go directly to the sea of sand and thence to the crater rim itself but as we could barely see through the thick fog, there didn’t seem to be a lot of point. Speeding along in our jeep it was a miracle that we missed the hundreds of horseman riding around in the fog looking for tourists wanting rides!
We suggested to Albert that we go back to the lodge, get some breakfast and venture out later once the fog had cleared. He didn’t seem to happy about it but after some persuasion and a few words with the jeep driver he acceded to our requests.
After a surprisingly good breakfast of Mee Goreng and having thawed out from the sub zero temperatures at the crater we once again set off yet again in search of the elusive Albert. Where is this guy going to? Maybe he left without us? Eventually we find him, once again pointing out that we don’t appreciate being kept waiting especially when we are paying for his time and consider it very rude. Doesn’t really grasp the concept of punctuality and I am sure it all goes over his head, but off we set. One might get the idea that we are not too impressed with Albert and one would be right!
The weather is now clear and bright but quite hot as we climb the 276 steps to the crater rim. Again, not a great fan of heights, once we get to the rim to see, rickety railings, a crumbling path and a vertiginous drop into the steaming crater below. Once again I wonder why I am down this?
As volcano craters go, it is interesting enough, but not the mind blowing sight I was expecting. Keen to get back down and way from the precipice, I am accosted by a group of girls from the Philippines “can we have our photo taken with you” despite being ardently “anti selfie” it seems churlish to refuse, so twenty or so photos and a lot of English language practice later we finally head back down. The question buzzing around my brain is why would these kids want photos of us?
We drive back to the lodge, switch back to our normal car for the drive down to Ijen. Albert, a catholic (and so not fasting for Ramadan) sleeps for most of the six hour journey much to the chagrin of our driver, who is Moslem and is getting very tetchy and keeps poking him! Can’t say I blame him. After a while I decide to wait until I see his head loll to one side and only then ask him a pertinent question – VERY LOUDLY. I repeat this process all the way to Ijen..