Without doubt the most famous place in Java, Mount Bromo is to be discovered in the series “lost in Indonesia”, a wonderful month-long trip to meet the largest archipelago in the world and its surprising diversity.
he jeep goes straight ahead, full lighthouse. Nothing seems to stop it, not even the huge ruts punctually punctuating the dirt road. On the back of it, it looks more like a washing machine, the shaking is so intense. All covered by the roaring engine noise. In its wake, a thick cloud of dust rises but dissipates quickly in the most total darkness. A hundred yards ahead of us a procession of yellowish lights sets off, dots dancing in a landscape without light. These luminous points suddenly begin to float in the void and disappear sporadically. Then it’s our turn to leave the dusty desert to climb Mount Penanjakan.
“Don’t worry, we will go where there are not many tourists,” said our guide, who was half reassuring. He is not very talkative and prefers to speak with the driver. We are still drowsy by the lack of sleep of the last days of travel and will not remember his name. There is nothing to see outside, and we quickly fall back into the arms of Morpheus.
Cemoro Lawang, at the gates of Mount Bromo
So the day before, we had to wait more than an hour at the station without hearing from him, because he had gone to pray at the mosque without notifying us. The only topic of conversation was football. And Zidane, of course. Funny guide, with his dark glasses and his hair turned back. He looks more like a mobster than a guide. The day before, after more than five hours on the road from Surabaya, endless highways, overtaking that we thought were the last so much it was done to the centimeter, uphill and downhill, tight turns, we finally arrived in Cemoro Lawang, the closest town to Mount Bromo. He greeted us with a little cloud of smoke, a sign that he is only drowsy and not completely asleep.
Everything is covered with ash. The leaves, the road, the roofs of the dwellings. The island of Java, like most of Indonesia, is located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, which accounts for no less than seventy-five percent of the world’s volcanoes. Volcanic and seismic activity results from the subduction of the Eurasian and Australian plates, making Merapi the most active volcano in Indonesia.
We stay in the dark most of the way. Intermittently, we still see the city of Malang shining brightly. The engine is struggling to climb the steep slope. Unfortunately, we are the only ones, because the others pass us happily on a chaotic road having technically room for only one car. The whole miracle of Indonesian driving. Of course, like all tour operators in the region, ours takes us to the most touristic platform. On the side of the road leading to the platform, innumerable sellers of hats, scarves, foods, flashlights crowd next to each other and impatiently await the horde of vehicles carrying tourists.
We stop at least five hundred meters from the point of view, as the number of jeeps blocking access is high. “You are lucky, you did not come during the high season. There are a lot more people normally, ”says our guide. The irony of the situation, no doubt. At this altitude, it is barely more than ten degrees. The crowd growing on the platform and the roar of the engines goes out to give way to the whispers and laughter of tourists.
Everyone is patiently waiting. The moon is getting beautiful, the stars are disappearing. In the distance, a horizon of intense fire pierces the night. Mount Bromo, for its part, timidly emerges from darkness, or rather what remains of it: a crater from which this smell of rotten egg emanates. In the background is also visible Mount Semeru, less known than the first. The valley below is plunged under a thin, vaporous and transparent layer, tossed by the cold wind of a beautiful morning. As coming straight from the crater of Mount Bromo. The whole thing is reminiscent of the mist over a lake in autumn.
At one end of the valley we see lights, those of Cemoro Lawang. The city is on a ridge and the whole thing looks like a huge dam retaining the mist of the valley, which overflows at times. The purple colors give the landscape a supernatural look. The show lasts several tens of minutes, until the sun finally appears from the clouds and projects itself on the top of the neighboring volcanoes. The spectacle is wonderful. We take the time to calmly contemplate the dancing fumes and mist while enjoying what seems to be the most famous viewpoint in Java. As of the first rays of sun, the cold suddenly disappears, just like the tourists who crowd in their jeeps to leave immediately.
At the top of Mount Bromo
It is time for us too to descend into the valley to discover this smoking crater up close. And the smell of sulfur at the same time. Arrived in the valley, on a gigantic improvised car park, we have to walk ten minutes to reach the foot of Mount Bromo. The merchants are on the lookout and offer tourists to rent a horse, thus avoiding the possibility of visiting a magnificent Hindu temple of Pura Luhur Poten, one of the only vestiges of this formerly dominant religion in Java. For Hindus, Mount Bromo is a sacred volcano and is used as a place for their offerings during Hindu festivals. Our guide does not know the history of this temple and almost becomes impatient when we ask him if we can stop to visit it. Unfortunately, most of it is not open to the public.
The ascent of Mount Bromo takes only a few minutes. There is a staircase that leads to the top. But beware of the fall, so much it is covered with ash. The crater itself does not offer much more than the abundant smell of sulfur, which will remain on our clothes until the end of the trip. There are on the edge of the gray abyss several offerings from people from the surrounding villages. On the steep slopes is a cozy bed of ashes which some people, not without risk, try to descend. For others, the staircase seems a better way to descend from Mount Bromo.
It is eight o’clock in the morning, and yet we already have the impression that an entire day has passed. We join the huge, dusty desert parking lot to get into our jeep. We smell the rotten egg and find ash in places we didn’t think there could be. As in the aisle, little discussion with the guide and just as much fear of overtaking. But sleep gradually takes hold of us, which a few horns manage to disturb. We join Surabaya for our flight to Bali, leaving behind one of the icons of Indonesia.