As we began readying ourselves to leave Yogyakarta it became clear that getting to Bali was going to be a headache. We could take a train, which would undoubtedly be the most comfortable and scenic. The problem was the length, requisite overnight stops meant hotel rooms and the hypothetical bill was adding up quickly. The bus would be worse, either requiring the endurance of a camel to make one big push (24 hrs), or breaking it up into smaller bits. The latter would mean a daunting amount of connections and a renewal of the hotel problem.
The best option seemed to be to visit an attraction halfway, adding some spice to the stopover. Mt. Bromo fit the bill. It is Java’s second biggest tourist draw, which means there must be something to it. Navigating the route on our own seemed masochistic, so we gritted our teeth, swallowed our pride, and started talking to the many travel agents hawking Jogja/Bromo/Bali packages. It felt strange, travel agents? Packages? Not exactly our style. We struck a compromise and simply booked transport to Mt. Bromo – freeing us from the headache of the maze and keeping us off of someone else’s schedule.
As it played out the “seven hour A/C minubus” journey wasn’t quite as convenient or cushy as we’d hoped. Though the mini-bus was indeed air conditioned, the sad output served only to keep the driver cool enough to prevent him from deliberately driving us off a bridge. The rest of us sweat for 7 hours, then 9, then 12, and still we were hopelessly far from our destination. After we’d finally come to agreement on how to divvy the rations if it came down to cannibalism we came to a screeching halt. A mirage? No, it was our hotel, and we were 15 hours older.
To be fair, there was a noteworthy highlight just 20 minutes from the finish. Still eyeing each other as potential food, we entered Yoschi’s restaurant. Our table was a confusion of nationalities from Swedish to Australian, but we united under the unanimously declaration that we deserved a reward. Val and I shared steak with garlic butter, garlic pasta, and vegetable soup. An appetizer was unecessary, as the emotional lump in our throats was a sufficient start. Halfway through our meal we realized it was Thanksgiving night.
Mt. Bromo is actually a small dilapidated volcanic crater adjacent to a beautiful, young, perfectly conical volcano covered in lush greenery. These two lie inside an ancient and massive crater that is 10km across. Behind it all rises the majestic 12,000ft Mt. Semeru. For simplicity’s sake the whole complex is referred to as “Mt. Bromo”. The sight is pretty overwhelming, like a tropical version of Crater Lake, but filled with sand instead of water. It’s best viewed at sunrise, and had we wanted to see this our first day we might as well have just started walking from the minibus – but instead we decadently slept until 1 in the afternoon.
Later we mustered the courage to go for the sunset view. This required climbing a volcano on the rim of the large crater called Mt. Penanjakan. After a thousand feet of climbing rain turned us back. Upon returning to our hotel the skies cleared and an amazing sunset ensued, like climatic poetry with a sense of humor. Feeling our defeat we decided to give in and book a jeep to take us up the next morning.
At 4:30am we stumbled through the darkness into our jeep and hunkered down for the bumpy ride. Arriving at the top was a bit of a shock as the viewpoint was already occupied by nearly 1,000 people and a train of jeeps. Mt. Bromo is nothing if not big business. The view however, ended our complaints very quickly, and I even managed to muscle my way into a few good photography positions.
After the sunrise we drove down into the crater to climb Mt. Bromo itself. The volcano audibly churned beneath us and the stream of sulfurous gas was constant. Peering down into the hole gave us the feeling that it was probably best to run for our lives, but only after I’d captured the perfect photo of course. Val was a bit squeamish about circumnavigating the rim, which has been known to collapse randomly, so she hugged the railing and let me test my luck.
The overall experience wasn’t particularly serene, and didn’t make us feel connected on a deep level to this natural wonder. Perhaps it was the throngs of people or the shouts of “taxi! taxi!”, but the photos are pretty incredible. Despite the difficulties and distractions though, there was something magical about the experience. It was one of the most beautiful vistas either of us had ever seen. Once is enough, but we’re glad we came.