Mount Bromo and Ijen

17 Jan

The minibus that was to take us on the ten hour journey to Mount Bromo showed up at our hostel at 8:15 AM, with two Thai girls already in the bus, leaving the four of us from Bhumi hostel (Angela, Matt, Katrin and myself) with the worst of the seats to choose from. Matt, who is quite tall and was squished into the rear seat asked if he could perhaps sit up front. He was met with an aggressive no from the girl sitting up front, which quite quickly set the tone for our trip. We started the drive in the excruciatingly hot minivan, whose air-con didn’t seem to be working particularly well. One of the Thai girls complained to the guy, who called his manager, and before we knew it we were outside the tour office and waiting for a new van. The head honcho of the company flowered us with free waters and “cheese” Roti sandwiches (a pre-packaged white bread pocket filled with some sort of dire cheese/sweet cream mixture) to make amends. He promised us they were bringing in their better, bigger bus with great AC. A much bigger minivan did show up, however the seats were covered in dirt so much so that I had to use a wipe to clean them down before sitting. It was clearly a cargo van that they had to clear out for us to sit in. Katrin ended up in the middle row seat that flips up to let the people in the back seat out, but the seat didn’t actually secure into the ground. It was simply on the surface of the van floor so each time we went over a bump she flew into the air.

We stopped a few times and had our stretches and snack breaks, along with a crappy lunch stop. It only took a few hours in that van for my butt to become numb and everyone was constantly moving around to try and get comfortable. While we were supposed to arrive at 6:00 PM, traffic just a few miles from Probolinggo, the jumping off point for Mount Bromo, due to flooding from rain backed us up another few hours. We arrived in Probolinggo at about 10:00 PM, 14 hours later. We thought we had made it there until we were told that it was simply our stop to pay our park entrance fees. We again had to switch vans and get driven another 45 minutes to our guesthouse. While we were under the impression that we were all staying in the same guesthouse, the driver pulled over and told two of us to get out, but we didn’t know which two were supposed to and he didn’t speak English, nor did the guesthouse workers. After a few phone calls he pointed at Matt and Katrin to get out of the car. We drove along further and pulled up in front of a dark building, and the driver told Angela and me to get out. A mere few seconds after we got out of the vehicle he drove away and left us in his dust. We approached the building finding no reception office anywhere. I walked around the building to try and find someone and no one was there. It eventually turned into us screaming for someone, nearly crying from the exhausting ride we had and the fact that we had to be up three hours later. Angela went banging on a door that was different form the others and a confused woman opened it. I handed her the receipt and she didn’t seem to expect us there. She made a call and still didn’t know what to do with us. Eventually another guy showed up saying he worked there and when we told him we were with the tour and supposed to sleep here he was confused and kept asking stupid questions that he couldn’t even understand the answers to. Luckily, he had shown up with his friend who could speak English, who called the number on the receipt and confirmed that we were supposed to be there. Somehow that made everything clear and the guy let us into a ratchet room in the place. Unluckily, this friend was there to pump sewage, so we had to listen to that for the next hour, attempting to decrease our blood pressure and get our full three hours of available sleeping time.

We were picked up at 3:30 AM in a jeep and drove to the viewpoint for the Mount Bromo sunrise. While it wasn’t raining initially, it started to drizzle just as we were driving up to the viewpoint. Covered in ponchos we made the brief walk the rest of the way up and stared into the foggy abyss for an hour waiting for a sunrise that we knew wouldn’t come. And, in a similar fashion to Angkor Wat sunrise day, the sky slowly got less and less black, with no true rays shining through and certainly no views of he volcano itself. Eventually, a single cloud cleared to let through a bit of pink sky which got everyone riled up and shouting in excitement but that was about it.

Disappointed we headed back down to the jeep, which drove us over to the crater. After some fun off-roading, we embarked across the volcanic ash and the grooves from pervious lava flows up the side of the volcano to see the crater. However, the morning remained foggy and by the time we were near the top, the overwhelming sulfur smoke was choking us, leaving us coughing and gasping for breath with no view of the crater. The gurgling sounds from behind the smoke were the only indication that a crater was maybe there. We hiked back down the mountain, ravenous for breakfast given that we’d been awake for hours and hadn’t had dinner the night before. We arrived back at the guesthouse and were given our “breakfast” of a box containing two slices of stale bread, a Kraft single still in its luxurious plastic wrapper, a cup of water and a banana. Not ideal. After a hot shower and a quick 30 minute nap, we were off again at 10:30 AM to the office back in Probolinggo, where we switched into yet another van to embark on the 6 hour journey to Ijen. Within an hour of the journey my ass was numb, still not fully recovered from the previous day’s endless hours of sitting.

Luckily, this time we arrived in a timely manner compared to the previous day and pulled into the Arabica Homestay a bit after 5:00 PM. While certainly not glorious, the place was much better than our three hour middle of the night home. We took advantage of the wifi they had and stayed awake for a few more hours before crawling into bed to prepare for our midnight wake up call. However, the place set up a keyboard and a microphone, allowing every terrible Asian singer a chance to do karaoke over dinner (which we weren’t eating). I attempted to sleep over the bass vibrating the room and the horrendous renditions of American classics to no avail. Finally, with some sleep playlist in my ears I fell asleep for a few hours before the alarms went off and the tour guides came knocking at the doors. We were handed a brown bag of breakfast before piling into the vans for the half hour drive to Ijen’s base. What was breakfast you may be asking? Two slices of green bread, a pat of butter wrapped in plastic, a hard boiled egg and a packet of…drum roll please…chocolate sprinkles. Why sprinkles? I have no explanation.

We ate our breakfast in the car during the 45 minute drive to the base of the volcano. We arrived in the pitch black of course and were handed gas masks to battle against the sulfur fumes once we were up by the crater. The walk was to be three kilometers, but turned out to be even longer. It started to drizzle and we were walking up without any vision except the light of the guide’s head torch. The walk for the most part was at an uncomfortably steep angle and we trudged along as a hoard of people in what felt like a pilgrimage. The rain got harder, requiring the poncho to come out. After about an hour to an hour and a half we arrived at the top of the volcano, without having seen much of anything except a bit of fog clearing by a nearby mountain, which gave us a small sense of the beautiful scenery we would hopefully see on the way down. While we thought the top of the volcano was our ending point, we were very wrong. We then had to climb down the rocky edges to get on the level of the crater to see the blue flames and the sulfur mining. I had no idea what to expect but it certainly wasn’t what I saw. Pipes installed in the sides of the volcano spewed out yellow sulfur and endless smoke. The sulfur would solidify and the miners would strike it with an iron pole to break it into pieces to then transfer it to their baskets which they hoisted on their shoulders and brought back to the top of the volcano. I’ve never seen such hardworking people. Knowing how overworked and underpaid they are, yet happy to say hello to us, smile, ask where we’re from and hand us small pieces of sulfur made my heart ache. While its normal to get caught up with our own problems it’s sobering times like this that remind me that I truly have nothing to complain about. We did that hike that morning feeling exhausted and joking about how we regretted the decision to do so on the way up, yet these men make this hike each morning at this ungodly hour and make multiple trips in and out of the crater with the weight of the sulfur bearing down on their shoulders. It was an amazing thing to see. Behind the fumes of the sulfur we got a glimpse of the blue flames, which come naturally as the hot magma from the volcano ignites the sulfuric soil.

After hanging down by the crater for a while we started the hike back up the rocks to the top of the volcano for a view of the crater lake, which we didn’t even know existed due to the sheer darkness when we had descended into the crater. The scenery was absolutely magnificent and we were lucky we got there when we did because about 15 minutes later, the smoke from the sulfur mining shrouded the whole scene and those that arrived after us missed the glory.

We hiked back down, unable to even recognize the way we came up. The pathway was stunning with views of the mountainous region all around us. We made it back down the mountain at about 7:00 AM and got back in the car for just under two hours to get to the port where we would take the ferry to Bali.

While the trip was exactly the opposite of luxurious, filled with sleepless hours and numb butt cheeks from more hours of sitting in a vehicle than anything else, it turned out surprisingly well. You could say Mount Bromo was a bit of a bust due to the weather, but with good company, a few laughs, the magnificent Ijen and the beautiful driving scenery it was all completely worth it. We headed off to Bali on zero sleep, eager to arrive to a hostel bed to get some much earned sleep.


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