After a relaxing late night where I fell asleep watching Game of Thrones season 1 on my laptop, I wake feeling refreshed and happy. I sleep in, take a very long shower and update my blog before heading to the restaurant for breakfast. There’s a vacant table next to the windows so I take it and enjoy the view while eating a good feast. There is definitely a difference between the quality of restaurant food and warung food. So I take advantage of it and eat up well.
I use Google maps to select a route from the hotel to Mt Bromo. I have three options and take one that looks the least complex. It only contains three turns and lots of long straight roads. What Google maps doesn’t show is the type of roads I will be traveling on (remember this when you read further). The ride out of town takes me through this crazy pasar (market). It is squalid and hectic. Mostly I can see fruit and vegetables being sold. But let’s just say this is not the upmarket part of town so I keep going. Once out of the market I am quickly amongst the farms I like so much. The road is quiet but for local traffic. This is obviously not the most common route from Malang to Bromo so I can take my time.
I soon reach the main road to Bromo and follow it ever upwards. I cannot see the mountains for they are shrouded in clouds. I enter a small town where women sell apples from carts on the side of the road. I have heard that this region is famous for apples as one of the only places in Indonesia where they are grown. They are sold by the bag so now I have plenty of fruit to keep me going for the rest of my trip.
The farms here look rough and rugged. I can’t imagine how strong the locals’ legs must be from hiking up and down those steep terracces all day. I admire their perserverance and commitment to making a go of things. It can’t be easy and I wonder whether the terraces wash away in big rain storms because it does not look like there is anything to hold them in place. The houses in between the terraces are small and have water tanks outside. I wonder whether they even have electricity in there.
I climb higher beyond the farms. There are still some farms but mostly now it is jungle. I am definitely on the main tourist road to Bromo now. An ants trail of jeeps is coming down the mountain loaded high with camping gear and passengers hanging out the back. They must have gone up for the sunrise this morning. There must be at least a hundred jeeps coming down, each carrying six to ten people. I imagine it gets crowded on the mountain at dawn. A few jeeps come up the road behind me when I stop to take photos but mostly they are coming down. A stream of motocross riders fills the gaps between the jeeps and then a big motorcycle tour group with matching jackets head downhill also. It seems I am the only one too lazy to go up to see the dawn.
At the entrance gate I pay my 217,000rp ($21) fee plus the 5,000rp ($5) motorbike fee. I wouldn’t mind so much if they didn’t make such a big deal of shouting out to charge the tourist fee. Rub my nose in it why don’t you. But then I see the way the locals live and I remember that I am rich to them. And that of course the government here wants to scalp me for as much as it can. And so I don’t feel so bad anymore. Afterall, $26 won’t buy me much in Australia but here it has bought me access to one of the most famous volcanoes in the world. And yes, I know the money probably doesn’t go to the communities up here but perhaps by some miracle some will.
While I am here galavanting around the countryside without a care, women carry heavy bundles of branches down the steep mountain road as men trot their horses back to their homes. And this goes on every day.
I reach a point way up in the clouds where a cluster of people are standing around. A sign points left to Bromo and right to Semaru. The cars all turn right on the good road. The road to the left is worn and rough. I am not sure I want to go down there. But there is a local guy there who tells me I will be okay. He says that the bad road is only 4km and then there is a good road until Bromo, which is 10km away. I will discover that good and bad are relative terms … bad means bumpy and rough. Good means smooth … even though the road surface will be black volcanic sand. But I am on an adventure so I go down what I think will be a short section of bad road leading to a long section of good road. I do not want to hurt my cousin’s motorbike so am wary but once down I am committed. On entering the volcano’s heart I am in awe. It takes my breath away. I feel like I am in another world looking out on grassy plains. Amazing doesn’t even begin to describe the view before my eyes and photos will never do it justice.
I watch the odometer click over 4km and wonder where the good road will start. I am now on the black volcanic sand watching dirt bike riders hoon along at great speed. A couple of people on horseback trot along a trail nearby. It makes me think of stories I have heard of Mongolia where horse people ride across the stepes. That’s where my mind goes as I look at the landscape before me.
Before long the track disappears as a white out sets in. Drops of rain start to fall and I am experienced enough in the outdoors to know that I could be in a dangerous situation here. Google maps has shown that this is a road, which is why I am here. It did not show a minor road but, rather, a major secondary road like the magnificently sealed ones I have followed the past few days. But this is no time for blame. A dirt bike rider with his wife and child on board comes up behind me so I wave him down. Using a translation app on my phone I ask him the way to Probolinggo, the town on the coast that I head towards. He points directly ahead and tells me to just keep going until I reach a road. So I do. Following the tracks in the black volcanic sand. I feel bad for bringing my cousin’s bike down here but had no idea this would be where I’d end up. But I know that right now I need to focus on going straight ahead, staying upright and keeping my head. This is no time to panic.
Besides, it is so beautiful and I wonder how many foreigners have been here solo like this without a soul in sight in this black and white landscape where the only sound in the air is the rumbling of thunder and beating of my heart.
And then I see them. A line of four wheel drives clustered away on the edge of the blackness near a rim of green. The volcanic rim rises behind them and I know then that I am safe. I will make it before the heavens open and I did not get lost. A wave of relief washes over me. It’s not the biggest adventure but it was unplanned and it is these small mistakes that people make that can have bad results. Had I panicked and left the wheel tracks or followed a different set (there were other sets of tracks) then I might have got lost in the clouds or ridden in circles. For there was nothing from which to take a bearing … just a flat black and white world. I ride to the cars, take a breather, say a silent prayer at the shrine and climb out of the volcano’s body and back to the road.
I ride down the mountain to Lumajang where I have booked a night at the Homestay Rumah Kita. It’s still a long ride in the pouring rain. As I descend the mountain the road turns into a brown river of water and when I reach the Probolinggo to Lumajang road I join a row of trucks all the way. But it is worth it because I end my day sitting in a courtyard watching Indonesia go by typiinig my blog and eating pisang goreng that my host has organised after we were talking about food and I said that I like them. Tomorrow I will stay here. I will sit in this courtyard doing work and watching Indonesia pass me by.