Published: April 10th 2010March 22nd 2010
The train journey from Yogyakarta to Surakarta (Solo as its known) took an hour and cost around 50p. It was fairly uninteresting except for the western-style trolley service which despite all of our train travel, we have yet to see outside of England on trains in Thailand and India, individual sellers come along offering everything from rice to pressed & dried squid served on big popsical sticks.
We only had one night to spend in Solo so decided we'd see a bit more by walking the 2km from the station to the town centre with our backpacks. The heat was reminiscent of India but otherwise it was a nice walk watching people go about their daily lives. Very few people come to Solo, favouring Jogja which is shame as it a very authentic Javanese city. We checked into a home stay for the bargain price of 50,000 Rupiah (about £3.50) which included a basic breakfast of fried noodles and strong black Javanese coffee.
We set out to explore the place starting with the palace. There was more to see at the palace than in Jogja with a large museum and the strange throne area which was essentially some pillars
and a roof (it was similar in Jogja- far from grand but just the way the Javanese do it I guess). The strangest thing though was that the palace was littered with what looked like classic Greek marble statues- woman holding fruit baskets and wine jugs, even angels with wings- all seemingly very out of place.
After the palace we wandered through the market place which was mainly full of clothes made from locally produced batik cloth. We found a cafe selling very nice food- the local speciality of nasi livet is chicken curry with a coconut and served on a banana leaf cost only about 65p: delicious.
We booked a bus to a small town called Camero Lawang the following day with the intention of visiting a small volcano called Gunung Bromo. The minibus journey took most of the day and we didn't reach our hotel until 9pm. The final leg of the journey was a steep climb up to around 2000m to the small town which provides tourists access to the volcano. It was pleasantly cool at this altitude and we even had to break out the fleeces for the first time in a while. We
stayed at a hotel called Yoshi's which was the cheap (and one of the nicest) in the vicinity of Bromo. It was set in a nice green garden with the backdrop of some very steep green mountains that wouldn't be out of place in the lake district (although it was pitch black so we didn't realise this until the following morning). The two options for seeing sunrise the next day over the volcanic valleys were to take a Jeep tour to a higher mountain viewpoint looking down over Bromo or to walk to Bromo itself and climb to the crater rim for sunrise- needless to say we choose the cheap option!
As the walk to Gunug Bromo is traditionally done with the intention of reaching the volcano and climbing to the crater rim to catch the sunrise at 5:15am, it required a 3am wakeup call and a semi concious walk in the pitch black. Stacey had made friends with an English girl named Cat who was travelling alone so had arranged with her to make the journey to Bromo together. The hotel kindly included a packed-breakfast consisting of bread & jam and the world's smallest banana along with a
cup of black coffee to send us on our way.
Yoshi's is 4km away from the start of the walk (all up steep hills) so a minibus that was heading that way kindly dropped us off near the start of the hike. It began with walking across the desert for an hour (in the pitch black) following some marker stones in the direction of a temple at the back of the volcano. As it was very misty and the sand was a dark colour: it really was impenetrable blackness as we walked along with our flash lights only cutting through the haze for a few meters ahead.
The white marker stones ended and the dark silhouette of the temple was just about visible ahead but shortly after this, the path disappeared. With no idea where to go and no sign of the volcano, we had to methodically search around for any sign of a path to the start of a climb. One of us stayed put and the other two set out in a likely direction, searching for signs of a track and being very careful of our footing as small craters were starting to appear. It took
some trial and error but we eventually found what looked a track and it started to go up a shallow incline- we'd found the right track at last! A ten minute trek led to a set of 253 steep steps up to the crater rim. We start to ascend and actually climbed through the fog bank to see the beginings of some of the surrounding volcanoes and the start of sunrise.
The volcano is semi-active and belched out huge clouds of stinking sulphurous smoke as we climbed which were inconveniently drifting in our direction, stinging our eyes and making breathing difficult. We quickly walked 100m around part of the crater rim to escape the sulphur clouds and watched the sunrise from behind a neighbouring mountains, illuminated the valley which was completely filled with low lying cloud. It was very beautiful and the best bit was that all of the other tourists had paid to go on a Jeep tour to a higher viewpoint slightly further away so we had the entire volcano to ourselves.
We walked around the crater rim (1-1.5km) which was around a metre wide most of the time but worryingly thinner at some points, looking
out over the surrounding valleys and looking down into the smoking crater. Our only stop was for our amusing breakfast! As we reached the steps down, the Jeep tourists were turning up and it becoming a circus of drink and T-shirt sellers- time to leave! On the way down, we asked some folks if they had a good view from the other mountain viewpoint and they had but said it was very crowded at sunrise so were very pleased to have skipped the expensive Jeep tour and done it ourselves.
We found some cheap tea and Nasi Goreng (fried rice topped with fried egg) for breakfast and walked down the steep road back to the hotel. It was the first time we had seen the surrounding in the daylight and were surprised that it was a lush green valley with steep hills either side- no doubt from the fertile ash the the many surrounding volcanoes have expelled over the years. The same was true for the hotel- in the daylight the surrounding gardens were green and landscaped with covered tables for you to eat outside. Completely shattered, the three of us decided to stay here for an extra night
and relax in the cool surroundings.
It was the first time since visiting the Cameron Highlands about three weeks ago that there was a slight chill in the evenings and we were enjoying every minute of it, not being hot and sticky like in the lowlands. That evening the three of us decided that we would travel to Lovina on Bali the next day to do some dolphin watching so we called it an early night to try and be up for the minibus ride down back down the valley and into the heat.
There are more photos below