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The Bromo Effect

Mount Bromo

It was meant to be an impromptu road trip across the island of Java all the way till Bali for a fortnight. We barely made any preparations and all that was confirmed was our flight from Kuala Lumpur to Yogyakarta. A sketchy itinerary was drafted a few weeks prior and most of the places of interests were mapped out in order to fit into an 7 day schedule around central and east Java.

One common thread that is distinguishable in most of the popular tourist spots in Central and East Java was the innumerable volcanoes strewn across like popping daffodils, so it was no wonder that we picked 2 very discernible volcanoes with opposing level of difficulty to explore.

Mount Bromo stands at 2329 meters above sea level and is located in close proximity to the populous town called Malang in East Java. Our journey which began in Jogjakarta took us nearly 10 hours by car as traffic during the Christmas and New Year's week began aggregating onto the small, narrow and meandering roads that summed up the road networks of the island.

Our mode of transport was an Avanza which we had rented from Jogjakarta and it was large enough to accommodate a group of 4 individuals. Drentcarjogja is a car rental company in Central Java which we opted for its cheap car rental services; driver, car, and gas is priced at 450,000 Indonesian Rupiah. We then customized our travel by adding a drop off point at Malang, a bustling town which was once the former capital of Singhasari before being subjugated by the Dutch.

The distance from Jogjakarta to Malang is a mere 329km and what may seemed like a 4 hours travel time is in actuality almost 10 hours due to the aforementioned road conditions. The cost for that drop off is 2,200,000 Indonesian Rupiah which excludes only the driver's meals.

Once at Malang we only had a few hours of shut eye before beginning our journey to Mount Bromo. Since it was an impromptu trip, we managed to find a hostel for 400,000 Indonesian Rupiah per night (RM 113) online at the 11th hour. Palmyra hostel, located at the heart of Malang and close to cheap eateries and convenience stores, is a relatively new hostel ideal for a one night stay as the rooms were surprisingly clean and services were prompt with friendly staffs.

Palmyra hostel; a budget hotel in the heart of Malang

Figure 1. Palmyra hostel; a budget stay in the heart of Malang town

Now there are plenty of travel agencies offering services to Bromo but we were extremely fortunate to have found Malang travel guide tour and organizer to aid us in our travels from Bromo as well as Ijen which most agencies would not have included, all for just 1.2 million Indonesian Rupiah per person. The tour experience became more personal as we got well acquainted with our guides who went out of their way to ensure our comfort, safety and experience was always at its optimum.

We were awoken by the blaring phone alarms and within minutes we were all geared for our adventure. At the stroke of midnight, our most trusted guide, Rudy greeted us at the doorstep of the hostel and attended to our luggage before setting off into the darkness towards Cemero Lawang, a hamlet 2217 meters above sea level north-east of Mount Bromo.

The cold and crisp air wounded alongside our vehicle as we spiralled upwards into the darkness of the night towards the mountain village. We couldn't see much of the horizon through the dense fog but the quaint family run chalets perched along the edge of the mountain provided some warmth and rest before the much awaited sunrise. The weather was easily below 15 degrees but we were kept warm by the jackets, mittens and caps provided by the chalet which were already included in the cost.

It was already 4am, and one of the ways of accessing Mount Bromo is via an organised jeep tour from Cemero Lawang since cars are not allowed. The other alternative is by walking which takes around 1 hour. At 4.15am we were in a predicament as we had grossly underestimated the number of visitors at Bromo; there was a 1km jeep trail queue before us due to the large number of local tourist during the festive seasons. In order to avoid missing the sunrise over Bromo, everyone made their way by foot to Mount Penanjakan viewpoint where we sat patiently in the cold waiting for that picture perfect shot of Bromo during sunrise.

Figure 2. A welcome signage to Bromo Tengger Semeru national park with the backdrop of Mount Bromo

However, we were greatly disappointed by the thick fog that blanketed much of our surroundings which never really fully lifted. We did manage to get a peek of Mount Bromo in the plain known as 'Sea of Sand'.

Figure 3. Thick fog seen enveloping Mount Penanjakan viewpoint.

On a good day, a vantage point from Mount Penanjakan will reveal Mount Bromo, Mount Batok and the great Mount Semeru all in one frame.

Figure 4. Mount Bromo's white sulfurous smoke can be seen just right behind Mount Batok.

Mount Bromo has a rather distinct crater shape as it appears to have been blown off and its crater is almost always belching white sulfurous smoke. It forms part of the massif with Semeru being its highest peak as well as earning the reputation as one the most active volcanoes, erupting periodically.

Figure 5. At the foot of Mount Bromo

Mount Batok , often times mistaken for Mount Bromo, is enveloped by greenery and sits adjacent to its famous counterpart.

Figure 6. Mount Batok seen from the foot of Mount Bromo.

From Penanjakan, the jeep will then ascent into the sea of sand, a plain made up of gravel stones, sand and dust which also goes by the name "Whispering Sand" for the sound produced when the wind billows against the surface of the plain.

Figure 7. The expansive plain known as the sea of sand with jeeps parked arbitrarily.

Figure 8. Approching the Savannah, a verdure adjacent to the sea of sand.

The Savannah, located just a stone's throw away from Mount Bromo's crater, appears to be the stuff of what dreams are made of, a lush oasis amidst a grey plain where greeneries thrive, much like the Scottish highlands during summer. The hot, molten lava that once flew from its crater created a fertile state where plants and animals can coexist alongside an active volcano; a paradoxical symbiosis that has allowed life to thrive in the most hostile environment.

Figure 9. An oasis in a seemingly barren land

Figure 10. One of the many wild flowers seen in the Savannah

On the sand plain, the Pura Luhur Poten sits just adjacent to Mount Bromo like a gatekeeper is made from the natural black stones of the volcano and the annual Yadnya Kasada ceremony,a main festival for the Hindu Tenggerese people in Probolinggo, devotees will mount to the edge of the crater and offerings are thrown into the crater.

It was 9 am and the crowd was growing denser as the human trail towards the crater can be seen from a distance. There 2 most popular ways to get right up to the crater is by renting a horse or hiking up the well laid out trail. The cost for renting a horse is around 10,000 Rupiah and the horse guides are pretty easy to spot at the foothill of Mount Bromo, however the horses can only go up to a certain point, after which tourists will have to climb up a steep staircase of around 240 steps to reach the crater.

Figure 11. The human trail can be seen ascending to the crater of Mount Bromo

Bromo is named after Lord Brahma, the Hindu creator God and much of its influence is drawn from Hindu civilization and culture, hence it was of no surprise that we stumbled on an aptly placed lone-altar of Ganesha at the rim of the volcano. Bromo last erupted in 2015, spewing ashes into the air with many intermittent eruptions in the past decade.

Figure 12. The altar of Ganesha sits at crater's rim, 2329 meters above sea level.

The 45 minutes hike to the top was relatively easy and doesn't demand any prior physical training but that is not to say it won't leave you heaving and panting. On our way up and down, we had to maneuver traffic incurred by horses and hikers along a trail composed of mud and rocks. At the end of our adventure, we headed back to our jeep, setting off towards Cemero Lawang for lunch before our next destination; Ijen.

As we laid our heads to rest in the galloping jeep, the awe-inspiring scene of the Tengger massif began to ebb away like a dream. In a way, it is a stark reminder of the raw beauty that inhabits our Earth and though its historical significance may pale in comparison to another volcano in this region, it is nevertheless a humbling experience to stand before a mountain that has as much influence on the cultural beliefs of the Tenggerese people as any other religion. It is through this seemingly animistic beliefs that the beauty and value of these natural heritage are preserved and cherished across time.

Figure 13. The view of the plains from Mount Bromo's crater.

----Next up Ijen from #runawayblackman's point of view---