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Published: August 21st 2017
At 2.30am, a gentle knock on the bamboo door of our room was met by a muffled, "Yeah!" from us and we got up, threw on the clothes we has cleverly left out for ourselves the previous evening and stumbled out to the waiting jeep where our guide practically threw us into the back of the decrepit vehicle and we were off! Whizzing around tight bends in the road, following the tail-lights of the line of jeeps ahead of us, we climbed even higher still, our ears popping and bones shaken to the core. There was a loud growling noise coming from the back of the car, and our driver soon stopped and got out to look what was causing the noise. It transpired that it was the rear door that was the problem, so to fix it, he simply tied it shut with ropes and advised us not to lean on it. He had our complete word, and we smushed further together to keep from sliding into the door each time the road took another twist!
We arrived at the point where jeeps could travel no further, and began to climb My. Penanjakan, trying to leave behind the masses of people who were also undertaking the ungodly-hour pilgrimage to witness sunrise over Mr. Bromo. We passed small tea houses and warungs selling local food to hungry travellers but were undeterred in our quest for the "front row seats" for the spectacle. Fortunately, our guide had timed things to perfection, and we were grateful for the early morning call when we arrived at one of the viewing points to be greeted by a long stretch of empty low fencing, from behind which we would stand and watch the sunrise.
At this point, it was 4am and sunrise was due at 5.45. We were at an altitude of around 300m and it was pretty cold. We huddled together for warmth and began the waiting game. The sky above us was completely clear - the sky was so full of stars that it looked like silver paint had been spilled across it. Shooting stars soared above us and we waited for the main event. After half an hour, the sky began to lighten enough that ghostly shapes began to emerge in front of us. Mt Bromo is famous because it is an active volcano which sits within the Tengger Caldera - another crater! Beyond it are a series of smaller volcanoes, creating a line which leads off to the edge of the main crater, giving the effect of being in some strange alien landscape.
Soon, while other travellers appeared behind us, in lines about ten deep, we watched from our prime viewing location as the sky began to pinken, and stripes of colour appeared on the horizon to our left. Oranges, reds and yellows began to rise up from the darkness and the scene before us started to come to life. As the early rays of morning began to hit the line of volcanoes, the stones glowed in every possible warm colour, while the surrounding trees blushed red. Clouds had began to form around Bromo's base, while a thin spiral of smoke puffed out of the crater. These added to the ethereal beauty of the landscape, the eerie peaks rising up from a sea of sand that surrounded them, all the ancient lava flows like melted wax, being picked out in oranges and reds as the sun continued to rise.
Soon though, it was all over, crowds dissipated as quickly as they had arrived and it was time to leave the site and head through the sea of sand, off-roading in the jeeps and passing through stunning vistas, the volcanoes on all sides, before arriving at Mt. Bromo itself where we were able to climb the active volcano and peer down into its crater.
Our guide informed us that there were 250 steps up to the crater. Several members of the group declined at this point, but a group of us decided it would be worth it. Our guide, however, had neglected to mention the 3km hike, that we would have to take before we reached the bottom of the steps - up a steep gradient, on sand (which meant that our shoes kept slipping backwards whenever we took a step), surrounded by ponies which were ferrying less energetic climbers to the steps. The shifting sand and the trotting ponies meant that the air was thick with dust, which filled our noses and mouths adding to the difficulty of the trek.
However, eventually we managed to reach the crater itself, our eyes and throats burned by the sulphur as we gazed down into what looked like the pits of hell. The mountain was emitting a deep, rumbling growl, as if it was going to belch its fiery contents up and on to us at any moment. Smoke billowed out, in thick clouds, from the bubbling rock below. Our guide had once again knocked timing out of the park, as we passed a huge snake of people queueing at the steps to get to the top, we wobbled down quickly, on shaking legs, and were soon at the bottom, sand once again clogging our nostrils and mouths as we trekked back to the jeep. A short drive later, we were back at the guesthouse and eating breakfast. It was 7.30am and we felt like we had been awake all day!
We hopped into the minibus and were soon on our way to the train station. We had allowed enough time to get to the station, grab some lunch and board the train. Unfortunately, this time was cut incredibly short as we became embroiled in traffic caused by more marching children, in a long parade. Crowds of parents and locals lined the streets, waiting for a glimpse of their group marching past. However, as they saw us, we caused quite the sensation, groups of people waving and shouting as we went past! When we arrived at the station, there was barely time to catch our breath as the train was running early. We jumped on board and coasted through agricultural areas en route to our next destination, the small town of Kalibaru.
We arrived at our Eco-hotel, where our cottages were set in pretty gardens. On arrival, a huge fruit bat was hanging from a tree near our cottage, preening himself and yawning, posing for photos and delighting the group. What didn't delight me quite so much was the absolute demon of a spider that was perched on the door the our cottage. Twice the size of my palm, it sat there, it's eyes glowing green in the flash from the camera, no doubt planning its leap onto my unsuspecting face in the night. I was paralysed for around 10 minutes before plucking up the courage to edge past its hairy legs and evil, exposed fangs and beat a hasty retreat from the room.
To lower the blood pressure after my ordeal, I enjoyed a traditional Javanese massage, my masseuse having magic hands, pummelling and easing away the tension from the morning's climbing. Once again though, I missed the plinky plonky music normally associated with a massage, as my treatment was accompanied by the sound of the call to prayer from three adjacent mosques, whose competitive calls mingled together for two hours non-stop. It wasn't quite as relaxing as I would have hoped, but the massage itself was so good that I really couldn't complain. The one hour treatment cost £6. Have I mentioned that I love Indonesia?!
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