Permanent Vacasian

The traveller sees what he sees; the tripper sees what he has come to see. – G. K. Chesterton

On Top of Old Smokey

Gunung Bromo, Java, Indonesia – To get to the village of Cemoro Lawang from Gili Air we took a horse cart, a boat, a car, an airplane, two buses, and a minibus (a 14 passenger van which at one point was crammed full of 30 people – and that’s not counting the guy who was hanging off the side).

Everyone visits Cemoro Lawang, to see the sun rise over the active volcano, Gunung Bromo and to hike its peak.  Most people it turns out, do this via a Jeep tour, departing their hotel rooms at 4.00am and driving to the viewpoint for the 5.30am sunrise and then continuing on to the base of Bromo to climb the 300 steps to its creator.

We, of course, are not most people.  Why would we take some cushy jeep tour when we could hike up to the viewpoint?  Jeeps are for sissies.  So we got up at 2.45am and set out on the two and a half hour hike to the top of Gunung Penanjakan in the pitch dark.  The first 45 minutes were easy as we just had to follow a road, but then we turned off on to the forest trail and it got a bit more challenging.

The trail was overgrown, and in some spots really difficult to find, but Stuart the Eagle
Scout did a great job leading the way and making sure I didn’t injure myself; alerting me to tree roots that might trip me up or branches that might hit me in the head. Stuart has impeccable navigation skills, and he led us easily along the tricky trail.

If I may just go off on a tangent here for a moment – I’d like to take this opportunity to give a ‘shout out’ to Stuart who is amazing at navigating not only trails, but also around cities, malls, train stations, markets, you name it.   I don’t know what I would have done without him.  Probably still be wandering the streets of St. Petersburg trying to find something to eat.

We felt like real adventures when we realized that there was only one other tourist hiking the trail that morning, and he had hired a guide to take him up.  We gave ourselves big props for that.  Heck, not only where we doing it alone, but I’m night blind. Go team us!

About two hours into the hike we finally started to see the sky light up. We rounded a corner and caught our first glimpse of the Tengger Crater below with the smoking Gunung Bromo jutting out above the sea of fog – the sight really did take our breath away – which wasn’t too difficult because after two hours of hiking up hill I was pretty winded anyway.

We then hiked to a road that took us 500k up to the viewpoint on the top of Gunung Penanjakan, arriving just after sun rise.  I was a little disappointed that we missed the actual sunrise – all that hiking in the dark, and we missed it.  But, we arrived just after and heard from some people that took a jeep up that it wasn’t that great because it was coudy.

The view was still spectacular with the peaks of Bromo and Gunung Batok surrounded in thick fog and the mighty Gunung Semeru, Java’s most active volcano, that we actually felt shake the ground on the way up,  just visible in the distance.  We had the viewpoint to ourselves once the hundreds of people on jeep tours cleared out.

After we had our fill of taking photos and enjoying the view, we hiked back down the mountain and got to see what we had passed on the way up. If I had known there were so many cliffs off the sides of the trail I would have been terrified going up.

After a two hour hike down the mountain we had breakfast and took a 15 minute rest before setting out on our second hike across the ‘Sea of Sand’ in the Tengger Crater and up the 300 steps to the peak of Bromo.

I know we frequently use the word ‘awesome’ to describe things we see, but I’m not sure what else to call Bromo.  The first thing you notice on the way up is the smell of sulfur, then when you reach the top, you’re on the rim of this huge, smoking creator.  I mean, that is just awesome.

Stuart tired to walk around the rim of the crater after we saw another guy attempt to do it.  I was a little nervous because I couldn’t see the other side through all the smoke and I noticed that on the other side of the rim, there was just jagged rock, no trail.  It seemed to be quite dangerous to me. And then it started to rain, and that other guy never came back after leaving almost 45 minutes ago…

Luckily Stuart turned back after about 10 minutes because the smoke was so bad.  The other guy returned shortly after and I was relived to see that he did not tumble into the smoky pit.  We ended up befriending him and we all hiked back into town and had lunch together.  Yes we did all that and it was only noon.

After all that work, and all before lunch we thought we deserved the rest of the day off so we spent the rest of the day, after taking much deserved hot showers, watching Lost and Heroes on the Laptop.