Friday, 20 July 2012

Apocalyptic Gunung Bromo, Indonesia

Accommodation: Well, we first stayed in the centre of town, in which they organised a one night stay and transport to and from Mount Bromo. Okay, I can't be completely sure, but we definitely stayed on a main road, so I think it was Hotel Bromo Permai. It was clean and my partner was over the moon when he found out he could watch the Arsenal match on TV.

Once we were on the actual mountain itself, we stayed in basic lodges, which was adequate for one night. I remember distinctly that it was part-owned by German people, hence sausages were on the menu, so I think it was Yoschi's Guest House (145,000- 180,000 for two and season dependent).

Unfortunately, since Bromo had just erupted 2 weeks before we arrived, they had struggled to clean the ash-sodden lodges. It was a good 5km hike from Mount Bromo, but worth the walk and smiles along the way. But watch out for the steep hills, and potentially toxic air. If you have breathing difficulties- wait until Bromo has been given the all-clear or otherwise bring a face mask! 

Places to See: Well, apart from Gunung Bromo, - I was excited to find out that it was named after the Hindu god Brahma - Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park contains the highest mountain in Java, Mount Semeru (3,676 m), as well as four lakes and 50 rivers. The nearby mountain village Cemoro Lawang is also worth the walk around. The town of Probolinggo itself is just a stop-off point for Mount Bromo.

Getting to and from Probolinggo-Mount Bromo: Bus from Yogyakarta to Probolinggo takes about 10 hours, not the most comfortable, but you get your money's worth (120,000Rp) and its direct. Then the local hotel can arrange minibus transport to Cemoro Lawang (nearest town to Mount Bromo) as well as accommodation. You can also book your bus back from them as well - we bought tickets to Surabaya airport. An express Patas air-conditioned bus from Probolinggo to Surabaya takes about 2/3 hours (about Rp 25,000).

Transport: Both towns are walkable, and transport to Cemoro Lawang/ Mount Bromo can be arranged in advance.

Right, being stubborn as a mule stuck in concrete, I made a rather dramatic scene when my compadres became reluctant to go to an erupting volcano. Two weeks prior to our arrival, Mount Bromo had given way, and it wasn't a common occurrence. The site had to be evacuated and was still in the danger zone.

Granted, it wasn't my best idea, but as things had already gone awry on this trip- including sinking boats, indecisive decision-making and general nuisances when you travel in a quintet-I was determined to, even if I had to go it alone.

After throwing a big enough tizzy (not my best moment I must admit) we decided to take a bus to the drop-off point, a town named Probolinggo.

The journey seemed endless, and it was dark before we hit the Indonesian town. After phoning a Lonely Planet hotel frantically before our arrival, we were thankfully greeted by local staff at 11 o'clock at night. I honestly didn't think it would happen, as my guide book is about 4 years old and starting to brown.

The hotel were friendly, but everyone was rather cranky (I take full responsibility). And it was then that we decided to book our trip to Mount Doom. It would be the next morning, so after a wee nap, wash and quick shop for all the essentials downtown, we jumped on our ride towards there.

We did have a bit of a queasy feeling as the rickety minibus slowly climbed higher. Especially the sheer impact of the eruption started to dawn on us.

It was a scene from The Road, or something rather more apocalyptic. Everything the eye could behold was covered in a powdery ash substance, it was like all the colours had been drained from a landscape photograph.

Upon arrival, we were welcomed by an air of tension as loud moans could be heard from Bromo's stomach. Every 5-10mins, he made his presence known, although he was a good 5km away from the area. And a beautiful moth, victim to nature's calamity, lay silently at the entrance to the wooden lodge.

The lodge itself had sadly taken a massive hit as well. It was literally covered by a layer from Bromo's breath, and we started to realise that it wasn't over. Our eyes started to sting, and soot started to crawl down our throat and nostrils. It was everywhere you went and everything you could see.

Inside our rooms however, I wasn't sure if the volcano had hit it or if it was naturally topsy-turvy, but there were beds overturned. It look like whoever resided there previously had left in a hurry. Was it a precursor to what could happen in an eruption? I hoped not.

After 'settling in', a stroll seemed in order, especially since I had just eaten my much needed English breakfast. It was an odd moment. Watching perfectly blissful, content people in front of an end-of-the-world backdrop. As if they had resigned to inevitability. The children played in a black field, using ash rocks as footballs, without worrying about the sulphuric residue left on their bodies.

It was like following a trail of breadcrumbs to the volcano, except it was miles of black stormy clouds shrouding the sky leading to Mount Doom. The people happily waved as we made our way through the hilly mountain pass. And the closer we got to it, the harder it became to breathe.

At one point it seemed endlessly distant, so close and yet invisible. And then it appeared in all of its glory. A barren wasteland, dry desert-like plains with large, black, cratered peaks- booming and spewing molten lava like it had a bad cold and was seriously pissed off.

We had been hearing Bromo grumbling since our arrival, and he sure as hell wasn't happy to see more tourists. But we gasped at its almighty splendour, savouring the moment with a much needed coffee. It was worth every moan and disaster on that trip hands down.

On the way back, we managed to catch a glimpse of the sun setting behind layers and wafts of smoke. Like the light at the end of a long tunnel.

Only when we returned did we realise we were literally caked in ash, and a shower was in order. We then traipsed through the lodges attempting to find warmish water. And I washed I did, with a spider as my companion.

Sleeping was terrifying, hearing the rumbles every few minutes. And waking up at twilight to catch the sunrise was a surreal experience. It felt like we were being kidnapped, we were hustled by what seemed to be hundreds of locals pushing us into a darkened minivan. But everything feels creepy when you are awoken abruptly.

Next thing we know, we're being ushered on donkeys up a hill. Climbing in the dark is a whole other kettle of fish. But watching the sun rise was even more climactic then it seeing it set. Bromo was beautiful.

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