by Pavan Kapoor
4 am: We wake up to alarm clocks to be able to catch the 7 am flight to Surabaya. It feels strange to have packed my gym shoes, my warm and thick jacket, neck warmer, gloves and hat for a trip within Indonesia but the trip advisor reviews have my attention.
We land in Surabaya and our van to cart 12 people and 14 pieces of luggage is waiting for us. Thank god others travel with their homes in a bag like I do. A trip to MT Bromo includes a gas mask, a tool kit, a jacket and five sweaters of different ‘favorite’ colors for snow as well those ‘cant live without’ high heels for that dinner in town. Also is a range of my Haldiram Chidwa, Dates for energy and some Black Label to drown good sense in case one of us loses courage.
We start out for our hotel, which is about 4 hours away from the airport and lies at the base of the Bromo mountain range.
After several stops for pre lunch, lunch, coffee, soto and the famous Matahari bread shop of Surabaya we reached the Lapindo mud site. We would have passed the wall of rock that ran parallel to the railway tracks had our van driver not informed us that the wall of stone was infact a huge dam that held the mud which was still churning out of the earth. Our van attracted a few villagers who took their tour guide business seriously as this was their only income after the mud had swallowed their village 7 years ago. We paid them entrance fees and over the railway tracks and up the two storey high stairs made of makeshift rickety steps made of Bamboo and loose drift wood pieces.
The sight beyond was unimaginable. A sea of flat hard mud the size of scores of football stadiums – only this was the graveyard of 16 Desas (Villages) IN the distance white smoke came out of the hole that still spouted hot mud and gas.
The villagers provide motorcycle taxis for a decent fee to take you closer to the center where the smell of sulfur is strong enough to create a burning sensation in the eyes and melt the rubber of the motorcycle taxis themselves. There are dvd s being marketed of the whole tragic story and also an extra money making source for the poor villagers.
We then commence back on our scenic journey to the foothills of Mt Bromo.
5pm: We reach our hotel and the nip in the air is enough to make us city born and bred soul to instantly pull out hats and shawls and coats.
8 pm : Dinner in the restaurant is a surprisingly gastronomical treat. And its there we see the large number of foreign tourists that are attracted to this majestic volcano that is living and breathing even today.
Early good nights are in order as we prepare to awaken for our 3 am jeep ride the next morning.
3 a.m.: The road outside the hotel is suddenly swarming with four-wheel jeeps – in the dark it all feels mysterious and dangerous already. Bundled warmly, we drive higher before hitting the desert of lava sand. In pitch dark our driver effectively drives on sands of a roadless desert. From over surrounding mountains we see headlights of other jeeps meandering in the darkness. It feels we are on a secret mission and immigrating over borders. So much Drama!
Finally we reach another mountain and join the trail of hundreds of jeeps as we start climbing higher. Suddenly the slightly nauseating drive stops and we are asked to climb to the peak for the 5 am sunrise. Motorcycles taxis stop by. No thank you we say…..we have been gyming to prepare ourselves, we said smugly…. But ten steps up the steep mountainside I am surprised at my breathlessness and with a deadpan expression hop on to one that has been following me as if familiar with the scenario. We reach the steps and walk the rest. The observatory is teeming with about 500 people waiting to catch a peek of the sunrise. It’s cold, very cold and I am glad we trusted trip advisor.
After waiting for an hour a mesmerizing strip of orange glows over the horizon making he crowd gasp. Slowly the sky lightens and suddenly the most vivid orange I can remember appears in arc above the dark clouds. The long wait is over as the sun plops out of the clouds almost too bright to look directly at.
The anticipation the excitement and amazement will forever be etched in our memories.
On the way down small warungs give us a most welcome cup of tea coffee and fried tempe, tahu and other snacks. It feels like a hill station in India where we sat in dhabas and enjoyed a simple fare.
My motorcycle taxi man miraculously finds me in the crush of people, motorcycles and jeeps and souvenir vendors. We journey back to our jeeps where a breakfast box of sandwiches awaits us. Happily munching we commence to go towards the focal point of our trip – Mt Bromo.
The jeeps travel over the sandy desert once more and stop in the parking zone. From there on it’s a horse ride to base camp. My horse Rambolo as his owner informs is gentle and strong. Rambolo has the longest eyelashes I have ever seen. He gracefully trots over the desert and up the hillsides of Bromo where we alight and have to walk up the steep sides of the volcano. The sun establishes his mighty presence and hats and sweaters peel off in a hurry. It’s getting warm and though the steps are not steep, but we get of breath fast. Those who decide to count the number of steps have long given up and everyone focuses on just the climb. Stopping every few steps to regain our breath we finally reach the top. Euphoria and a sense of achievement fill our hearts. The crater is huge and a walled fence at the very edge enables us to peer into the smokey pit of the majestic Mt Bromo, which at his point seems to quietly smoking a cool Havana cigar. White smoke rises from yellow green sulphur crater walls.
Some daring tourists walk unbridled over the edge to the other end. The sulphur in the air makes the throat rather scratchy. After a few photos we start the climb down. Rambolo awaits and gets back to the jeep.
There are another couple of stops near the surrounding range of dormant volcanoes and we are off to our hotel.
9:30 am: Realization hits that it has been just 24 hours since we took off from home base in Jakarta. The sheer magnamity of the diverse terrains and modes of transport we have been bumped, dumped and jolted over in, quite amazes even the most adventurous traveler.
With rejuvenated hearts and a few protesting muscles we settle back in our van for the drive back to Surabaya.
All text and photographs by Pavan Kapoor