After our disastrous journey to Surabaya and subsequent early morning train to Probolinggo we head to the tourist information centre to decide the most cost effective way to get to and from the volcano, Mount Bromo.
As it happened, another British couple who’d also arrived on the same train had had the same idea and were discussing options not only to Mount Bromo, but also to the Ijen Crater. Our guidebook covers the whole of SE Asia so the ‘Java’ section is not very comprehensive. The Ijen crater was something we hadn’t even considered as strangley enough it didn’t even get a mention in our book.
We listened in to the advice that they (Paul and Laura) were given, decided we would follow the same schedule and booked. The trip included all of our travel from here onwards to the Ferry terminal to take us to Bali (circa 400k) and one nights accommodation in the coffee plantations near the foot of the Ijen crater, all for the bargain price of £20 per adult. The only additional costs over the next 3 days were food, conservation fees, a 4×4 to the base of the volcano and £10 for the basic room in the Bromo region. Not a bad deal really.
Our journey to Camoro Lawang, a small village sits of the craters edge, took a few hours. The latter part of the journey took us higher and higher into the mountains and we could feel the drop in temperature. Being over 2,000 metres above sea level and a lot cooler than the plains below, the locals were dressed in shawls, hats and scarves. At this point we were still wearing shorts and thin tops. Although we knew we would feel the cold when the sun went down we didn’t feel it necessary to wear a woolly hat when it was still 20C!
The Bromo region is stunning with very different scenery to what we’d previously seen in Java. Huge picturesque mountains surround the crater, dotted with small wooden coloured houses. All appeared to have smallholdings or crops of some variety growing on their land. The village itself has the most spectacular panoramic view across the sea of sand to the smoking volcano, Gunung Bromo, a live volcano that last erupted on December 19th 2010. Consequently the area is covered in a thick layer of grey ash and when the wind picks up it gets everywhere.
The only downside of the two-day trip was the early mornings. Travelling with a baby we’re used to early mornings, but not this early – 3.30am! As we didn’t have any thermal pyjamas we went to bed fully clothed (woolly hats included), closed our eyes and 5 hours later it was time to get up.
Watching the sunrise across Gunung Bromo from Gunung Penanjakan is the main tourist attraction and at 4am a huge convey of 4x4s set off the mountain to where the road finishes and the climb begins. I’m not sure if it was through lack of energy or my terrible fitness level that led me to struggle on the way up, but when we arrived at the viewing point it was definitely worthwhile.
We looked out over the sea of sand towards Gunung Bromo and watched, cup of coffee in hand, as the sun rose over the mountains. It was a stunning view and well worth the early start. The sky was bright with hues of orange, red and yellow and then, as luck would have it, Semeru erupted leaving a thick plume of smoke in the shape of a number 7 floating in the morning sky. Awesome.
As day fully breaks we head back down the mountain, jump in the 4×4 and drive across the sea of sand, close to the base of Bromo for the trek up to the crater. It’s my turn to carry ‘the boy’ and the extra 11kg of weight makes trudging through the deep ash even harder. Luckily for me the last part of the ascent, over 200 steps, was so busy with tourists that we moved very slowly in single file up to the craters edge, giving me time to rest my legs.
Finally we’re at the top and then we realise the reason for the slow progress up the steps. The craters edge is right in front of us, with no fence around it to protect you from the smoking pit below. The vast number of tourists shuffle around the edge, moving away from the steps to allow others up to peer inside the crater.
I (with ‘the boy’ on my back) stayed long enough to make an offering to Bromo in the form of a dried flower arrangement and then decided to head back down. It was all too easy to see how one wrong footing by you or someone close by could easily see you fall to your death below. Not a nice way to go.
On the way back down, Laura, Paul and I favoured horseback for the mountain descent over walking. After 3 attempts to get on the horse (I’m not a natural!) and giving strict instructions for the trainer to ‘take it slowly’ we make it back to the vehicles.
Although the action was all over by 9am it’s certianly one of my favourite days of our trip to date.
Top tip of the day:
Small packs of sweet rice wrapped in banana leaves are readily available across Indonesia. We’ve found that they make perfect baby snacks for when you’re on the go/on an early morning trek.