We left you in Yogyakarta, when we jump on the bus for our 3 day trek on the Bromo and Kawa Ijen volcanoes. We embark on three days of adventure, between contemplation, wonder and disenchantment …
Sunrise on the Bromo
Our first day is spent mainly in the mini bus, with our German, French, American and English travel companions. We arrive at nightfall in a village next to the Bromo volcano. We don’t see much because it’s dark, but we can’t wait to see what it will look like tomorrow. We all take possession of our rooms, rustic but ok for one night, and go quickly to bed because the alarm clock will be harsh tomorrow. The driver of our Jeep picks us up at 3 am to reach the foot of the viewpoint for the sunrise. The Rendezvous is taken!
The alarm clock rings at 2.45 am. The outside cold reminds us quickly that we are in the mountain and that we must equip ourselves if we do not want to look like Eskimos when the sun will rise. Thermals, trousers, gloves, beanies and scarves. We’re ready.
Panorama on the volcano from Mount Penanjakan
We take the road with a couple of Germans to the exit of the village, where there is a huge traffic jam. We are not alone to go up there. There is a kind of “toll” that we have to pay and that allows you to enter the volcano Park. Basically, it’s either you have paid your entry into the park and you can pass, either you have to pay it now, which therefore takes time.
After more than 1/2 hour waiting, we finally pass the barrier and take the road to the base of the viewpoint. Our driver leaves us halfway on Mount Penanjakan and we climb the rest to find the best spot for the sunrise. It’s 5:00. The sun’s not going to show up for a good half hour. So we wait by hopping to not be cold. We are not alone up there … Tourists, coffee, tea or gloves sellers, there are a few people!
Towards 5.30, the sun begins to rise and the volcano appears down in the valley. Surrounded by mist, the atmosphere is magical! The show begins … We’re enjoying the sunrise. When it finally passes over the mountains, we immediately feel a wave of warmth on our clothes, which is more than pleasant. The mist dissipates gradually in the valley and the white smoke escapes from the Bromo crater. Surreal! We’re going back to our car, delighted with this first experience. This day starts much better than the previous! 😉
Climbing the crater
Our Jeep now takes us to the foot of the crater, on the caldera, a plain of desert ashes, which reminds of a landscape from Mad Max movies. We walk to reach the base of the crater and climb on the top of it. A business was set up here in the middle of nowhere. The Indonesians offer to take you to the foot of the stairs on horseback or motorcycle. You also have drinks and snacks stands. We are beginning to understand that the tourist industry is very well settled in the country. We first walk beside a temple, before starting a series of stairs to reach the top of the crater. And that is where we become aware of where we are.
We can hear a big roar coming straight from the ground. The smoke that escapes from the crater leaves little room for doubt. Yes, Bromo is awake and active! We get to see a tiny bit of lava down in the crater. This is where we realize that we are really nothing compared to this force of nature. It remains an unforgettable moment when we hear and feel the Earth living under our feet. Incredible!
Some Indonesians play with their lives by installing large plastic tarpaulins on the slope of the crater, trying to catch the offerings (money, flowers, etc.) thrown by tourists in the crater to bring luck. Small precision, many tourists are local. Indonesians are the first to visit their country.
After this moment of contemplation and utter helplessness, we go back to our car to return to the hotel. We just have time to have breakfast, have a (cold) shower, before going back on the road to go to the Kawa Ijen. Yes this is the game with this kind of tours. You spend a lot of time in transport and rush a little, in order to see everything in a minimum of time. We acknowledge we have chosen the facility, because we did not want to negotiate for hours to make the journeys and ascension by ourselves. As we said above, the tourist industry is well settled here and people prefer not to help you and interfere if you try to do things by yourself. So we have not negotiated and we are preparing to get back on the road. The experience of the Bromo volcano still remains unique and very impressive!
The impressive Kawa Ijen
We arrive at the end of the day in a new “hotel”. The night will be very short. Our guide asks us to be ready to leave at 1 am, if we want to enjoy the “Blue Flames” show. So we share a meal together and at 7 pm, everyone is in bed!
Waking up at 00:45 on the third day is even more difficult. We almost had better not to sleep. It rains when we leave the hotel with our backpacks and our breakfast. Small surprise: It also rains in our mini bus … 😉
We take our rain ponchos and leave for a big hour of walking to reach the top of the crater. With the rain, some struggle more than others. Many people wear only flip-flops and slip on the mud and rocks. We continue our ascent to the top, then start the descent into the crater at night. Sometimes it’s a little difficult because the stones slip and we don’t have a great visibility. Wearing the mask to avoid sulfur fumes completes the panoply of “explorers”.
We arrive down in the crater at 4 am. We enjoy the beautiful show that the blue flames offer. These flames are actually the result of burning sulfur. It is better to come during the night to see them, because the show is all the more magical. So we enjoy a moment, sometimes completely drowned in a fog of sulfur that stings our throats and eyes. Fortunately we wear masks, because the air is unbreathable and smells like rotten egg!
After an hour and because we start to get soaked and really cold, our guide leads us to the other side at the foot of the acid lake. This is the second most acidic lake in the world. So we do not try to put the toe in the water, for fear of seeing only one bone coming out of the water…
This is where we see sulfur miners at work. These men are incredible and very courageous. Sharp muscles, marked faces, barefoot for some, they collect sulfur in the volcano, in the form of yellow blocks and go up the same path as the one we took to descend. They carry up to 100 kg on their shoulder, balanced in two wicker baskets. The boys in the group try to lift a basket, which is not yet full, but cannot take it off the ground. These men are admirable … and awfully poorly paid. They earn the equivalent of €0.05 per kilo harvested (900 Indonesian rupees). We’ll let you do the math, but they have to collect a lot of sulfur to live. They go two to three times a day down in the crater. Some carve pieces of sulfur in the shape of flowers and animals to make a little more money. Sulphur is used by Chinese companies that make cosmetics, medicines, pesticides, etc. #whorulestheworld
We have remorse to maintain this tourism industry created around these men who live off the mine. The visit is very interesting, but it also shows us the contradictions of our world. We, rich Westerners who have the means to travel, in front of these people, who have no choice but to risk their health and their lives to make their families live. It is a truly significant moment that we are experiencing for the last day.
As it is still raining and we will not be able to see sunrise today, we go back up to the top of the crater and then down to our bus. We are really soaked and smell the rotten egg when we arrive. So we decide to put on dry clothes for the journey to the ferry. Surprise: the bags are completely wet because of leaks. Luckily we had rain covers, but other people get their stuff soaked. Once warm, we can enjoy the breakfast, made of … Hard-boiled eggs! 🙂
These 3 days on the volcanoes of the island of Java touch to their end. We now arrive at the port of Ketapang to take the ferry which will allow us to reach Gilimanuk, on the island of Bali. After some quack of organization, drivers not really honest and unscrupulous, we finally arrive in Ubud, where we plan to rest for a few days. Story of our adventures to follow soon!