Trip Start Aug 31, 2008
47Trip End Apr 30, 2009
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Where I stayed
It turned out to be a real fortunate move for me to sit in the front because apparently this is the only place where the air-conditioning really worked. I quite enjoyed the ride but everybody in the back got really hot and ended up opening their windows for relief. Of course this didn't help me much but I had a steady stream of cold air blowing on me anyhow. We left Yogya at 9AM and drove east until 1PM, when we stopped at a road-side restaurant for lunch. Of course these types of restaurants always pay kick backs to the tour operators, so the prices were a little higher than normal to reflect that. We ordered two Cokes, which were 5,000 Rp and were absolutely tiny (I think around 175 mililiter). Our meals weren't half bad and cost 17,500 and 20,000 Rp.
After lunch, we hopped back into the minivan and drove all the way to Probolingo and arrived around 6:20 PM. We had to wait for the next bus that was going to take us up to Bromo and I found out that traffic was very good for us that day. The tour agent explained that yesterday the same bus arrived at 11:00 PM, so we felt a little better about waiting out the holiday season in Yogya. However we still had to wait until 7 PM for a bus that was sitting in front of the tour agency the whole time. The bus driver was also there chatting to some other people from the tour agency, so I am not sure why we had to wait.
The drive up Gunung Bromo was a fun ride and nearly entirely uphill. I believe that we started our journey no more than a few hundred meters above sea-level and we were around 2,300 meters above sea-level when we arrived at our hotel for the night. The hotel was named Ceremo Indah and it sat right on the edge of a crater containing three volcano cones. Since it was nearly a full moon with a clear sky, we were able to see the smoke emanating from the famous Gurung Bromo. The crater itself resembled what I imagine the moon surface looks like more than anywhere I had soon on Earth.
The temperature at this altitude was a pleasant break from the unrelenting heat we had experienced in Indonesia so far. I would guess that it was around 14 degrees but neither Lisa nor I bothered to change out of our shorts and t-shirts before eating dinner. The locals were dressed in winter coats, including scarves and tuques. Considering how isolated we were, I was surprised at the reasonable pricing for the food. It was cheaper to eat here than the place the bus pulled over at earlier in the day for lunch. Lisa got spaghetti bolognaise for 20,000 Rp and I got an absolutely delicious potato, mushroom, onion and cheese dish for 15,000 Rp. I would say that was one of the best meals I had yet for this trip, but I was pretty hungry and that may have been an influence.
After dinner, I quickly changed into jeans and a long sleeved shirt and headed out to try and take some pictures of the volcanoes at night. I think they worked out well, but I haven't seen them on the computer yet. This also marks the first time since leaving Toronto that I have worn my jeans or my long sleeved shirt. Considering that they take up as much room and weight in my bag as the rest of my clothing put together, I am glad that they finally came in handy. As I write this now though, I am sitting on the beach in Bali and plan on donating both of these items rather than carrying them any further.
Everybody working at the hotel was pushing us to see the sunrise and to do that we had to get up at either 3 or 4 AM. Needless to say, we went to bed early that night. I was tempted to get up at 3AM and head for a lookout point where lots of famous pictures had been taken, but Lisa wasn't up to that because the staff said we would need a guide to do the dangerous trek (at a cost of 90,000 Rp.) I figured this was just their way of making money and it turns out I was right; a guy from England told us later that it took him only 90 minutes and was a fairly easy hike. Instead Lisa wanted to get up for 4AM to see the sunrise at the volcano peak. I did not think this was a great idea, since I was mainly there for the photo opportunities, so I told Lisa I was going to sleep another hour and meet up with her later.
Lisa left on her own around 4 AM but about 10 minutes later, I realized that I had no alarm clock and would almost surely sleep in and miss the whole thing if I did not follow her. It took me about 30 minutes to catch up to her and when I caught up Lisa was sitting on a horse, camcorder in hand, being guided by a local up the mountain trail. I guess Lisa didn't realize that camcorders, like cameras, require light in order to work. The 15 minute ride on the horse cost her 25,000 Rp and would've made for great pictures/video had there been more light.
We both made it to the summit of Bromo before sunrise. There are a couple hundred steps to climb that the horse could not do, so we climbed the steps together. As soon as we crossed the final step, a cloud of sulphur from Bromo engulfed us and made it very difficult to breathe or see. We were both hyper ventilating from the journey to the top and the sulphur made us cough until we covered our mouths with cloth (I used my t-shirt). It also stung when it got in your eyes, so we walked around the rim of the volcano to where the wind was not blowing a steady stream into our face. I had to wait about 15 or 20 minutes before I could take any useful pictures, but it was nice to watch the sun rise from such an exotic location.
On our walk back to the hotel, I realized that the lens cap was no longer attached to my camera. An hour of backtracking, looking to recover it, did no good. I guess the lens cap became a sacrificial offering to the Bromo volcano because it was nowhere to be found. After getting back to the hotel, we had our included breakfast and then quickly showered up and got ready to leave for 9:30 AM.
In hindsight, I would've taken a different strategy for such a short time in Bromo. For starters, I don't think the 25,000 Rp I paid for the park entrance went anywhere except into a hotel employee's pocket. There was no official entrance that I saw, nor anybody collecting tickets (fortunately for me, since I wasn't given a ticket or receipt.) It would've been just as easy to walk down and visit Bromo without paying that fee. I would also have got up at 3AM and walked to the viewpont, which was a better place to see the sunrise and a better place to take pictures. After returning from there it would be a quick and easy walk (45 minutes each way) to the top of Bromo if you want to see it. All this could be done before catching a bus out of Bromo if you were quick. As I mentioned earlier, I also think it is wise to visit Bromo after the sun is already in the sky, especially if it is pictures or video that you are after.
The journey down the mountain was beautiful the whole way. We twisted down the narrow road and could see farmers tending to their crops with beautiful lush vegetation and smoking volcanoes in the background. We stopped to pick up many locals along the way though and it was quite crowded in the tiny little seats by the time we got back to the travel agency in Probolingo. It was around 10:40AM by the time we finally got there and we were told that the next bus (to take us to Bali) would be there around 11:30. We decided to stock up on snacks so Lisa went to the Indomaret that we saw 5 minutes down the road. After Lisa went, I decided to go to (Lisa forgot to buy any water), but before I had time to pay for anything I could hear Lisa screaming "the bus is waiting for you." The cash register was broken down too, but the girl quickly got out her calculator and handed me some change. Apparently the bus was ready to leave without me (20 minutes early), so I am lucky Lisa was there to ensure that didn't happen (as they did load my luggage.)
The bus was very full when we boarded and Lisa and I got the last two seats. The bus stopped to pick up a few people so for awhile people had to stand in the aisle. This didn't last long though and for the next three hours we travelled in relative comfort in a nice air-conditioned coach bus. I spoke to a young Indonesian man for most of the trip and he took several pictures with us. He was able to translate a lot of what was going on for us and assured that Bali was a beautiful place. Around 14:00 though the bus pulled into a station and explained that we would have to ride another bus the rest of the way.
This bus was not an air-conditioned coach though; it was a local bus that the Lonely Planet guide had warned us to avoid. We were assured that we'd be in an air-conditioned coach the whole way, but for the price we paid it didn't really surprise me that this was a false promise. The main difference between this bus and the previous bus was that they managed to squeeze in 5 seats per row, instead of four like any other bus I had ever been on. There was no air-conditioning either and people were almost constantly smoking, but at least the windows could open a bit.
Lisa and I grabbed sat in a seat cluster designed for three people and we filled in almost entirely. Fortunately the bus was not filled to capacity and we managed to keep our seat free of that third person for quite a few hours. However the bus did fill up and around 17:00 we had a third person crammed in with us. The bus zigzagged through every town in east Java on its way to the port. At every stop there would be people coming on to sell food and water, so I guess it wasn't so important to run to the convenience store beforehand after all.
Besides the sales people, there were young musicians that would come on with their guitars, singing away and looking for donations. I am not a fan of acoustic guitar & singing, so perhaps I am not the best judge, but it seemed to me like these people had very limited talent at best. It was around 19:00 when we finally pulled into the port to take us to Bali and I was glad to get out of the cramped seat to stretch my legs.
The security at the port was somewhat reassuring, but there were some pretty obvious holes that evil-doers could exploit. For example, although everybody had to get off the bus, walk through a metal detector and show their identification cards, large packages were left on the bus which was not checked what-so-ever. I am going to assume that anybody that wants to sneak a bomb or gun onto the island, likely will put it in one of those boxes rather than carrying it on their person. As foreigners, we did not have to get off the bus at all; just show our passports to a policeman that boarded the bus. Although foreigners have been the targets (not the perpetrators) of bombings in the past, any foreign terrorist would not be scrutinized by security except for a quick read of the passport.
It took about 30 minutes of waiting before the bus could board the ferry to cross and we spent another 45 minutes to cross the channel from Java to Bali. Once we were on Bali, everybody was supposed to get off the bus and go through a similar security check. This one was even less reassuring, as certain people Indonesian people decided to simply wait on the bus and were not bothered to go through security. Again I would assume that any potential security threat would simply wait on the bus rather than taking a chance with the security personnel. Considering that the bombs were all set off in the month of October (2002 & 2005), it is hard to believe that the extra security precautions were for anything other than show.
Once we were all back on the bus, which again had more people than seats, we were off to Densapar, the capital of Bali. An Indonesian woman let us know that there was still about three hours to go until we reached the end of this journey from hell. There was so little leg room that we really could not move our legs at all, so by the end of the trip everything was rather sore. At least in Bali the sun had gone down and the heat subsided a little bit. We also lost an hour because of the time zone change from Java to Bali, so it was 23:00 by the time we finally got to Denpasar.