…On a budget.
Having made two new German friends in Laura and Valentina, we left Yogyakarta at 7.15am, bound for Probolinggo on a twelve hour train journey across the volcano fields of East Java. The budget carriage at 100,000Rhp was everything you would expect from cheap transport in a borderline third world country, tough fake leather seats facing one another in extremely close proximity, leaking air conditioning units, shoeless old Indonesians, and all that other fun stuff.
Anyway, we arrived at 16.30 and managed to share a bus with four more Germans that were on a pre-paid tour of Bromo, for 75,000 we rode the ninety minutes in the dark to Bromo’s constituent town, Cemoro Lewang. Arriving late at night we were struck by much of nothing, a few small homestays punctuated the darkness through heavy rainfall. From the drop off point we walked a little in the now subsided rain, found a sweet looking little homestay for 150,000 per room, ate vegetables and rice at what I think was the only restaurant and headed to bed in anticipation of the 3am wake up call that night.
High up in the mountains of East Java, the morning was a menacing shade of black, following a path north past a smattering of dimly lit homestays and the occasional passing 4×4 we began to climb steadily, only as the dark was absorbed by the encroaching mountains did the incline in the path multiply. For the next thirty minutes we battled up steep concrete and stairs, set to the soundtrack of an unseen dog circling us, we hit the summit at around 4.15 and waited. The moon lit the canvas in front of us like a lighter in a closet, the mist crawled over the basin of the crater that Mt. Bromo sits in awaiting the birth of day. As our planet turned to face its star, the valley turned to rust, chalk white clouds caressed its body forever and up towards Bromo, the primary colours of morning lit the trail of mist like stardust around the forest floor.
At 5.30 the panorama before us was fully illuminated, Bromo rising from a sea of white that filled the giant crater, I sat for a while camera-less, it was one of those rare moments only achieved out and above the clouds, where nothing else matters, receiving only what nature gives; no wi-fi signals, no expensive shiny things, no money management, no troubles. A moment in time, like a day without a yesterday.
As the guided tours departed in their jeeps, we headed for a back path across the crater to avoid paying the entrance fee of $20, dropping back to the bottom of the mountain we skirted around a field of farmers picking lettuce and climbed down a narrow path steep on the side of the crater. At the bottom, with Bromo sitting some two kilometers from us, we passed through waist high foliage draped with hundreds of glistening spiders webs like some macabre christmas decoration. Soon the life fell out of the landscape and all that separated us now was dirt, Bromo grew and our now weary legs pushed on. Passing through the mess of ferried tourists, horse riders and flower sellers we moved up a steep staircase and to the lip of the volcano.
The time it had taken us to trek across had allowed the tours to gather and leave, we were all but alone at the top. Carefully navigating the meter wide rim, on one side the volcano fell out into the land and across to the lush green of the hills we had only a few hours before been marvelling in, to the other side was headlong into the abyss. Giant clouds bellowed out from the deep puncture wound in the world, up and out of the unimaginably large crater that we sat atop. Earths beating heart groaned and exhaled just as it has done for a millennia before us, and will do long after we are gone, a truly fitting conclusion to a day of such grandeur.
We made our way back through the flatlands, steam from this boiling planet at our feet, another path up the side of the crater allowed us to avoid the ticket office once more. And just like that, we were back eating breakfast at 9.30am, was it all just a dream?