Getting anywhere quickly is impossible in Indonesia. Even in Java, where our transport options were better than most islands, we still ended up dedicating a full three days to seeing the sunrise at Mount Bromo. Having been proven right at Borobudur, James has since capitalised on his win and dragged Caro out of bed at horrendous times of the morning far too often.
From Yogyakarta we took a morning train to Probolingo. It was an 8 hour-journey and the scenery was pretty but overall it was an unremarkable but comfortable trip. The train was older than the one we had taken from Bandung, so was a bit rough around the edges, but had the delightful additional feature that all of the seats swivelled around so that you were always facing the direction of travel; at the end of the line a train employee came along the train turning the seats. Simple pleasures.
Probolinggo is the main launching point for trips to Bromo and everything we had read was that it was an overpriced hell hole and to spend as little time there as possible. We had little choice but to stay there overnight. You can’t get a Grab from outside the station so we carried our bags a few 100m and lingered on a street corner before our driver found us and took us to our hotel, home for all of 12 hours.
First thing the next morning we escaped from Probolinggo and got a ride to our homestay on the edge of Sapikerep, a tiny village a few kilometres from Bromo; we had decided to stay out of the main town at the park gates to avoid the tourist traps. Our homestay was set in the hills overlooking the surrounding countryside. It consisted of three bedrooms and an outdoor kitchenette and we had the place to ourselves, ideal for an afternoon of relaxing.
We had managed, once again, to fail to figure out that we were arriving somewhere on a local holiday and that as a result everything would be closed. In our defence, this particular holiday applied only to a small community, we just happened to be staying slap bang in the middle of it, more on that in a minute though. Aziz, who had driven us up from Probolinggo and was a really lovely chap, also acted as a sort of keyholder for the homestay and kindly offered to run us to the nearest shop so that we could buy some packet noodles. Aziz also insisted on coming back in the evening to take us on a tour of his village and arrived at the door a couple of hours later to escort us.
Mr Aziz told us that we were very lucky to be there just at the right time for a local festival which happens twice a year. Today was an event where all of the local Hindu families invite their Muslim neighbours to visit them for drinks and food. This hospitality is returned by the Muslim families at the end of Ramadan each year. The festival is called Caro (spelling uncertain) and everyone we visited was delighted that Caro had the same name. The route there took us through the local farmland and Aziz was insistent that he and Caro have a photo on his bamboo bridge. And yes Caro is wearing a coat, it was cold and we loved the break from the heat.
We were shown around the village and introduced to many lovely locals who invited us in to their homes.
The main employment locally is farming and we told our host about our farming roots as we wandered from house to house with dogs and poultry dotting the path.
Aziz could not believe the size of farms back home and told every other person we met about herds of hundreds of cattle and sheep. This prompted much disbelief and extensive questioning about how on earth you milk one hundred cows. English was limited and even with Aziz as a translator we don’t think that we made anything clearer to anyone.
A large part of the celebration is offering food and drink and every single family had provided enough food to feed the 35 or so Muslim families which they expected to stop by. This included full cooked meals and a selection of snacks and drinks. We were urged to eat wherever we went; Aziz had told us that we shouldn’t offer any money but it was difficult not to when we were plied with so much food by people whose means must only just stretch to cover it. Instead we paid them back by happily posing for photos left right and centre. In this picture we are smiling with the village shaman.
We entered a house belonging to the oldest couple on the planet who quickly shuffled around and insisted that Caro sit by the fire to warm up.
She looks super comfortable with this set up. There was so much smiling and hugging and shaking of hands. The unity, happy cooperation and friendship between the two different religious groups of the village was such a wonderful thing to see.
Now on to the main reason we were there, to see sunrise and Mount Bromo. The alarm went off at 2.30am and we scrambled in to the back of jeep wrapped in all of the warm clothes we owned. Lovely Aziz had gotten up to make sure that we got away ok.
We wound our way up the mountain and up to the viewpoints. We decided to stop at Kingkong Hill because we had read it is quieter than the main viewpoint further up the hill. It was still busy, but based on the crowds that we saw descending later it was the right choice. The main reason that you set out three hours before the sunrise is so that the jeeps can park and avoid the traffic jam. It’s a valid reason but doesn’t change the fact that Caro was awake 5 hours before her ideal waking up time. It was also bloody freezing and we now had a lot of time to kill. Fortunately, entrepreneurial locals have set up tea stands at the viewpoints so we could huddle around a fire with a cup of tea to keep warm… for two hours.
We had heard plenty of hype over the sunrise at Bromo, but our sunrise wasn’t that great because of the clouds in the valley. Also, the reality of this situation and many others like it, is that, despite what you might see on Instragram, you are usually behind a line of people with their phones in the air. This is what we saw for the most part.
With much josttling, you can get the money shot.
That being said, we had positioned ourselves so we could see the light creeping over the horizon to our left, but more importantly so that we could see the moonscape of valley, mountains and craters to our right, all coming to life in the dawn light. It was absolutely stunning.
Once the sun had risen we decided to make a quick exit to beat the rush of jeeps down the hill and to be amongst the first to climb to the Bromo crater. This was exactly the right call and fortunately our driver had put a helpful sign on our jeep so that we could recognise it amongst the hundred others. We clambered back in to our jeep and headed down to the Sea of Sands.
Leaving early meant that we had the stroll across the Sea of Sands to ourselves and shared the steps up to the crater with just a few others.
When you arrive at the Sea of Sands you are instantly badgered by men trying to offer a ride up to the base of the crater on a pony. The ponies didn’t look in great condition and were certainly not big enough to be carrying some of the larger people who paid for the ride. They go up and down the hill in a continuous loop and never once seemed to get any water. It isn’t that tough a walk and even if you ride the pony you still have to climb the steps to the top so it really isn’t worth it. Please avoid the animal cruelty and walk.
The steps are a bit of a bastard though.
We didn’t know what to expect from the crater, we hadn’t seen one before. It is a long dusty walk through the lava flows until you reach the base of the steep steps up to the crater. The crater is not beautiful, but it is certainly impressive. We’re still not sure how to categorise the experience, but it’s not a must as far as we are concerned.
The walk back down was a much less enjoyable experience as now the masses has descended from the sunrise viewpoints and were climbing/riding towards the crater. This meant a lot of dust and a very unpleasant walk. Our one trip hurt our throats, imagine how the horses feel doing everyday with no obvious access to water.
We had breakfast and Aziz drove us back down to Probolinggo and we caught a train to Surabaya where we stayed for one night before our flight to Flores. Surabaya was a thoroughly uneventful stop with the only highlight being our hilarious guesthouse room which was only large enough for a bed surrounded by three walls and they had made the inspired decision to save space by removing the bathroom door. This was a little odd in itself, but they had also delightfully positioned a mirror so you could see the toilet from everywhere else in the room, it was like the eyes on a portrait following you around.