- We paid 700,000IDR ($70) for a private mini bus to the last village and back (1.5 hours each way plus waiting time) In context the mini bus should have cost 35,000IDR ($AU3.50) per seat shared with other passengers. A metered taxi would have cost about 600,000IDR ($AU60) return. And a commercial tour would have cost upwards of 1,000,000IDR ($AU100) per person.
- We were forced to pay the bus driver 217,000IDR ($AU22) each national park entry fee, which he was not authorised to collect. Actual entry would have been 250,000IDR ($AU25) each if we had not been dropped off at a short cut that allows you to bypass the national park entry gate.
- In the scheme of things, with all this information, you can see that the scam was not extortionate. So, instead of being upset about it, I just accept that our day out to the amazing Mt Bromo cost us $60 each. Most of which we would have had to pay in some form anyway.
The walk from the last village (as Wijaya kept calling it) into the caldera is steep and dusty but not slippery. It’s an easy plod through the dust cloud our feet kick up. This is little more than a village trail that the men with the ponies use on their harsh commute to work. Gaps in the trees grant us glimpses of the wonder that will unfold during our adventure.
Once in the caldera the view is magnificent. The black sands stretch before is for miles and we are alone to feel the vastness for ourselves. Opting against the sunrise tour means that we will encounter relatively few tourists and almost everyone is a local.
Men with horses trot and canter through the sand as they see us emerge in the distance. They want us to use their services but for now we will walk. The sand is mostly quite firm from years of scooters riding across them. So the walking is easy and beautiful.
The smouldering live crater looms ahead. It is eerie with its bare sand walls and plume of smoke. I cannot imagine living and working here. It’s hot, dusty and smelly. The men with the ponies and warungs (small tented food and drink stalls) are tough and I feel a deep sense of respect for them. There is no guarantee of a sale yet still they try their luck with the tourist trade.
We rent two small ponies to take us the final stretch from the temple to the steps on the crater. It seems sensible for the long steep climb and I have been talking about riding a pony up Bromo for a while now. The ponies are tiny and the saddles small. We both feel awkward and unbalanced but it’s much better than hiking up the steep path.
And then we are there at the base of one of the most famous flights of steps in the world. It is a daunting sight indeed. I can see why there is a small shrine at the base.
We take our time climbing to the top; looking back often to take in the views. When I was here in December there was a total white out. Now the landscape is visible and wonderous.
At the top the volcano rumbles ominously. I can’t help but feel afraid that it might erupt at any moment. It’s an irrational fear but a fear all the same. There’s a plume of white smoke spewing from a deep gaping hole in the earth’s crust not unlike the most disgusting infected boil you’ve ever seen. It’s like one of those creepy Facebook hoax pictures of microorganisms burrowing in a person’s skin. And it promises the same devastating effects if something goes wrong. And, like the Facebook pictures, I am mesmerised despite my fear.
We return to the village the way we came, using our own foot power the whole way. The wind has picked up and is blowing sand across the Sea of Sands. I expect it to sting a bit but the sand is so fine it just settles all over our bodies and clothes. Paul’s white shirt is now grey and I will be wiping grains of muddy sand from my eyes all night. It’s a proper adventure now. We aim for the two towers that mark the top of the trail we came down. As this is a local’s trail there are no signs so you need to pay attention to your surrounds. But the two towers are distinctive so it is easy nav.
The final climb is steep and sharp but manageable if you take your time and work within your limits. We get a few final glimpses into the caldera and then we are back in the real world away from the volcano’s view. A quick descent in the waiting minibus takes us back to the bus station and a waiting bemo for the final short drive back to Probolinggo and our host’s house. It’s been absolutely grand!