22 Jun Mount Bromo – A Midnight Tour and a Lesson in Trust
We were moving fast through Java, an island half the size as the UK but infinitely more challenging to get around. Our second sweltering train journey took us six hours from Yogyakarta to Surabaya, a city almost as huge, ugly and difficult to negotiate as Jakarta. Visits to Mount Bromo are popular with tourists since it’s the most well-known active volcano on the island, but in typical Java-fashion, it still took us hours to find and book a tour.
A car collected us that very night for our midnight tour; we drove the first few hours in comfort before switching to a jeep for the last part of the journey up to a viewpoint on Mount Penanjakan – now the adventure was really set to begin.
Travel and Trust
It occurred to me then, at three o’clock in the morning, as we bounced at an alarming speed along the windy roads in almost total darkness, just how easily and casually we’d handed our lives over to the total stranger driving our jeep. The only light source for miles came from the car’s yellow headlights bobbing erratically along the path ahead; as I peered out the side window I could just make out the road dropping off sharply next to us into who-knows-what. One small mistake could see us plunging off into that unknown blackness, never to be seen again. As if that wasn’t perilous enough, our driver was screeching around corners, accelerating fiercely and bumping us so hard over the rocky road that we were flung up and down in our seats, clutching at the sides of the car for lack of seatbelts.
All I could do was trust that our driver wouldn’t crash.
As is often the case with travel, you end up with no choice but to put your trust in unfamiliar places and faces; you have to trust that the taxi driver isn’t going to drive you around the edges of town to run up the meter, you trust that the guy giving you directions knows what he’s talking about, that the train tickets you’re buying are real or that the hostel receptionist looking after your bags while you walk around town waiting for check-in won’t rifle through all your worldly possessions.
Whereas back home we were slow to trust, travel is forcing us to do so more freely. We might get ripped off occasionally, but usually we reap the rewards of our trust; most people do want to help you – that’s the truth we’ve discovered so far in our trip.
The Sunrise over Mount Bromo
Deliriously exhausted, relieved and sore, we finally exited the jeep into the coolness and made our way on foot the rest of the way up the mountain. Now the darkness was pitted with torch beams from the small army of people flowing slowly upwards; their voices a low murmur of excitement. Jeeps were parked on either side of the dirt track and locals wandered around with blankets and torches to rent. We passed a few small wooden shops selling water and snacks on our way upwards, finally congregating with the other tourists on a viewing platform at the top to await the sunrise, which, we had been promised, would be spectacular.
This is what we got.
As we’ve learned is typical in Indonesia, the sky was too cloudy to see more than a hint of the sunrise; the sky was so choked with cloud that we couldn’t even make out where Mount Bromo actually was. All wasn’t completely lost though as our driver took us to another spot ten minutes down the road where we finally caught a glimpse of the incredible hulking statues we’d travelled all this way to see.
Twisting down those mountain roads was a much more pleasant experience now the sun was finally up and we could see the gorgeous views spread before us as we journeyed down to the base of the volcano itself.
Staring into the Mouth of the Volcano
We got out of the jeep once more as our driver indicated that we should hike up the volcano – it would take around an hour he told us. I stared up at the path ahead with mounting terror.
Now, I’ve done some pretty long hikes on our trip so far; we trekked in the pouring rain up Castle Rock in Australia, scaled the chilly heights of Ben Lomand and sweated our way up another volcano, Mount Rangitoto in New Zealand. None of these beat our epic seven hour trek on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing though – if I could make that, surely I could get up Mount Bromo?
The difference now, however, was that I was absolutely bone tired. We’d been up more than 23 hours and were emotionally and physically exhausted from our week-long journey across Java. We hadn’t been eating and were struggling with the humidity; as we started the long trudge up to the volcano I felt certain I’d never make it. Many tourists, feeling the same way, opted to ride one of the horses up to the top but neither of us could bear the thought of doing that; we felt too sorry for the poor animals to inflict our weight on them. Instead, this spurred me to trudge upwards, Andrew practically dragging me by the hand until eventually we made it.
The air at the top of the volcano was smoky and stung our throats and eyes. There was a strong smell of rotten eggs from the sulphur in the bubbling volcano below; the smell reminded me of Rotorua, New Zealand’s thermal heart. We peered over the edge into the dark, steaming crater beneath and I remembered what a guide had told us the night before about hiking up here when the volcano was closed by the government; the ground had been shaking violently and ash swam through the air. Mount Bromo last erupted in 2011 and could do so again at any time, I wondered again, as I had in New Zealand, how the local people coped with this constant threat.
Our climb over, we collapsed into the Jeep for the ride back to Surabaya – next stop, the airport and a much-needed escape to Bali.
* Our trip to Mount Bromo cost £100 through Getaway Tours, who gave us a ten percent discount.