With my new found friends from Singapore who had so kindly allowed me to hitch a ride with them, we took a train from Banyuwangi to Probollinggo, the nearest city to Mount Bromo. We managed to get a seat in the executive section of the train at a discounted price for no apparent reason, and it was heaven sitting in the reclining chair, snacking abit while dozing off in the comfort of the AC after the trek up and down Ijen. I never knew that there were so many rice fields in Indonesia, and the train went by a never ending sea of green. After a comfortable 4 hours, we reached Probollinggo, where a bemo, or minibus, headed for the bus station promptly picked us up. I had read that there were many scams at Probollinggo, which was expected since every one going to Bromo had to go through it, and this provided the best opportunity for unscrupulous tour agents to milk tourists of their cash. The bemo didn’t go to the bus station, and instead, stopped at a very official sounding “Bromo tourist agency”. The guy there tried to sell us a hostel, onward bus tickets and a mini bus ride to Cemoro Lawang, the town where the trail to Bromo started. He gave the very convincing “I’m not hardselling to you” tactic, and “if you don’t book now, tickets might run out”. I just refused to buy the onward ticket to Malang, my next stop, as honestly, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to extend an extra day in Bromo or if I was going to take the train or bus. We decided to get on his “express” minibus, which was double the price of the standard one, as he promised that it would take just 1 hour instead of the 2.5 hours. Not too bad a deal I guess, and the road up to Cemoro Lawang was really steep and windy. This was really a perfect opportunity for scammers, as unless you had your own transport, this was your only option to get to Bromo.
After a quick walk around the town to look for accommodation, we settled on Cemara Indah Hotel, one of the most expensive options, as we were sold by their promised “buffet breakfast”. With the room split between the three of us, it wasn’t too bad. The view from the hotel was awesome, and after a quick settle-in, we headed out to the sand of the sea through the short cut just outside the hotel. This is the (in)famous free entry route to Bromo, by the way the horses go. Naturally, the path was paved with horse shit, and we took great pains to avoid those golden lumps.
Once we were down, the scenery that greeted us was surreal. It was just barren nothingness, something that I had never seen before. Black sand everywhere, a little foggy and mountains in the background.
We had planned to see the sunset from the crater, but realised that not only was there going to be any visible sunset, even seeing the crater was going to be difficult. Afraid of getting lost, D took a large branch and started tracing the path we took. The crater was supposedly only 1.5km away from our hotel, but besides google maps telling us so, we couldn’t see it at all. About 30 minutes into our little walk, it began to pour. A few motorbike guides spotted us and offered us a lift back, but we outdid them in being stubborn and insisted on walking on. They circled us, slowly guiding us to the crater, where we decided not to go there as it would have been a waste of time, as all we could see at that point of time was fog. Even the vague outline of the mountains had disappeared. When we turned back, it was dark, and S took out his super powerful torch light, shining it like a light saber. Somehow, we made it back to the start of the horse shit trail, and it felt like an impossible task going back up as the route was now slippery and muddy. I fell a couple of times, face down, into the horse shit lol. But I was seriously glad I had the two guys with me as I probably would have given up if I were on my own. Just on the train that morning, D asked me if I’ve had any near death experiences before. I think this counted as one of them. With the lightning coming down on us ever so frequently, it was really a miracle that we made it back up. The chicken noodle soup we had when we reached the top felt like heaven.
The next morning, after a sound 5 hour sleep, we made our way up to the viewpoint to catch sunrise. It was an easy paved road to viewpoint one, but we had time and decided to climb through some forested areas up to the higher point, hoping that there would be no one there. From what I had read, it was supposed to be an easy walk up, but somehow, with my two new friends, we never took the easy way up. After the previous night’s walk of faith, this was relatively easy, but my efforts to stay clean and non-muddy failed yet again. We made it up just in time to catch a gorgeous sunrise, easily the best I’ve ever seen.
On our way back, we finally decided to take up the motorbike guides’ offers to go to the crater, and found the “proper” road back down. After a quick ginger tea and goreng pisang (fried banana) break, we walked the 250 steps up to the crater, and realised then if we had gone the night before, we would probably have fallen right into it.
A horse posed for us on the way up…
After we got back to our hotel, eagerly awaiting the buffet breakfast, they informed us that it was a buffet for the coffee and tea only, but not the food. Should have guessed it, but still, eating with the volcano crater in front of us couldn’t take away the experience.
I decided to sneak onto the minibus back down, as the guys I were with had booked their onward bus ticket with the tour agent. The minute I reached down, I bade a hasty goodbye to my Singaporean friends, and quickly found a bus to Malang before the agent could catch me. The guys later told me that he was fuming, and that they had indeed been scammed – what was a promised 4 hour ride turned out to be almost 9 hours. I felt like I did them some justice by scamming the scammer.
It was really pure luck that I bumped into D and S, and gatecrashed their private party of two. I probably wouldn’t have had the adventure of sloshing around in the muddy trails, nor would have I splurged on that well-deserved hotel room. Certainly hope that I’ll bump into the two of them in future.