Drinking in the sublime views from Mount Bromo (Gunung Bromo, Java, Indonesia)

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August 15th 2009
Published: August 23rd 2009
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(Day 498 on the road)From Yogyakarta, I opted to take a direct minibus to the magnificent Bromo volcano in eastern Java. The twelve hour journey was exceptionally boring, which was mostly due to the four other people in the minivan, two French couples. None of them spoke much English (one guy didn't speak any English at all), and barely enough for the most basic of conversations. I am not a native English speaker myself, but English really is THE language to speak when you are travelling. And when you don't speak English you are typically quite isolated from everybody around you, as you can only talk with people from your own country, which takes away an importaant aspect of travelling (meeting people from other cultures and backgrounds).

Whilst I am on that topic: The French are funny travellers really: Of all the backpackers I have met (and I have met a lot) they are almost always the ones with the worst English. They are also always easy to spot, as the vast majority of them are typically dressed from head to toe in "Quechua" gear, a French outdoor brand. I have the feeling that the two issues are related somehow, possibly indicating a strong pride in the French culture and language that makes them buy French products and prevents them from learning English? It's a shame, as the French travellers I have met are almost always lovely and interesting people - if only we could communicate with each other more. I really need to ask the next French traveller I meet about this.

So with nobody to talk to (the driver spoke no English either) I had ample time to think about the dire Indonesian traffic situation. At first it seems just to be an issue of simply too many cars and insufficient infrastructure to cope with this. But there is much more to it. By far the worst is the overabundance and the behaviour of the omni-present passenger-minibuses (called bemos or colts). Because there are possibly 80% more of these minibuses than needed to transport the numbers of passengers, they are all constantly looking for more passengers, which invariably means they are driving along at the slowest possible speed or are simply hanging around in the middle of the road. In the process, they are blocking the road for everyone else, making the already bad traffic situation much worse. Of course, there are no bus stops either, so the minibuses stop all the time and everywhere to take people on or let others off, blocking the traffic behind. The same pretty much holds true for taxis, with the exception that these also constantly honk their horns trying to grab your attention. I would like to have a chat with the government official responsible for issuing the amount of licenses to the minibuses and taxis.

On top of that there are numerous other reasons of course why traffic is so bad. A very liberal interpretation of traffic rules (including traffic lights) is one. Reckless driving and overtaking at the worst and most dangerous times forcing the oncoming traffic to evade, slow down or even stop is another. Or the prevailing attitude of "me first", that typically only serves to slow everyone down at the benefit of one car or motorcycle. Or the bicycle rickshaws, that clog the road with their slow speed compared to the vehicles around them. Or the complete absence of any underground trains, even in the nine-million people capital of Jakarta. I would think that the situation could be improved significantly with a bit of planning and a smart set of rules and laws. That this is not possible is shown with the ingenious Trans-Jakarta bus system, which introduced dedicated bus lanes that work wonders for transit times in the capital.

But I got carried away here a bit, so let's focus on Mount Bromo, an active volcano in the eastern part of Java, and the most visited tourist attraction in this part of the country. I stationed myself in the surprisingly cold mountain-village of Cemoro Lawang (2.300 metres) just next to the volcano, where I needed three blankets at night to stop me from freezing. The typical way to see Bromo is to take an organised sunrise-tour by jeep, which takes you first to a viewpoint on the mountain of Gunung Penanjakan (2.770 metres) and then later to Bromo itself. Being the budget traveller that I am, I did not opt for any of the expensive tours, but rather explored the area by myself, which is quite feasible and was very enjoyable indeed. On my first day I hiked for about two hours to the viewpoint on Gunung Penanjakan , and as all the tours come in the morning I had the whole place absolutely for myself. The view that day was not great unfortunately, as it was a very misty and cloudy day. Interestingly, the locals I passed were not friendly at all, which is rather untypical of the usually very friendly Indonesian people. I smiled at every single person I passed but did not get a single smile in return. The only two people who were friendly were two old women who wanted their picture taken, only to ask me for money afterwards. Nice. Maybe the people here are not too happy that their town is taken over by tourists wanting to see the volcano.

The next day it was time to check out the view from Bromo itself. The volcano is about 45 minute walk away from the town. My plan was to skip sunrise, both as I expected it to be overrun with tourists and because I am still very shaky on my feet in the dark, where I can't rely on my eyes for balance. So instead I set off after sunrise at six o'clock, and as I was walking out to the volcano a lot of tourists who had gotten up at four o'clock were coming towards me. I thought I had made the right decision and would have Bromo mostly for myself until I reached the top of the volcano, which was - well, crawling with people. I am not sure what it is like for sunrise, but it was clear that my grand plan to escape the crowds hadn't worked.

But no big deal, as the views from the top of the volcano were stunning all the same. It was a pretty foggy morning and I had almost abandoned going altogether, not expecting to be able to see anything. But to the contrary: The top of Bromo was right above the puffy white clouds, which lingered just below and across the vast plain of Laotin Pasar (Sand Sea), giving the whole setting a sublime feel. I was relieved that I did go and stayed up there for a long time, drinking in the views and just being happy to be here.

Next stop: Kuta (Bali, Indonesia).

To view my photos, have a look at pictures.beiske.com. And to read the full account of my journey, have a look at the complete book about my trip at Amazon (and most other online book shops).

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25th August 2009

Wonderful travel experience
But why do you expect everyone to know English? Why don't you learn French?
26th August 2009

Can French speak English??
I spent 20 years in France with out speaking good french. Most French can speak some words of English and those that can speak fair English hisitate in fear of sounding wrong or afraid to make mistakes. If you had a small dictionary and ask for some help to understand a french word they would jump at the chance to help you. You can make friends fast. I'm sure. I just finished travel with my french friend for two months (( in Central America )) and when you travel with french and hook up with other french you are sure to eat well!! My friends English is fairly limited. But we managed and had a great time. Patricia
26th August 2009

What about Americans? Are they easy to spot while traveling? Great pictures, by the way!
27th August 2009

Hello Ben, I went through your amazing story and I'm so happy for you that you have been able to do what I can only dream of doing. The journey you have undertaken is nothing less than a profound spiritual experience for me. Travelling makes you nothing but more knowledgeable , enlightened and a much better person. Some day I too would like to embark upon such a trip. As I follow your trail I see that you are very close to India, my country of birth. Do visit this wonderful land full of life enhancing experiences. I have been away from my country for 3 yrs now and miss it everyday. I would wait eagerly for your updates if you do visit India. Remember India has been quite rightly named a sub-continent as she holds all possible climatic contitions and geographical features within her, not forgetting the diverse cultures intertwined in a complex but beautiful medley. I wish you the best and good health thoughout your trip. Bye. Agni
28th August 2009

Hello there
Great blog! and been enjoying reading your entries especially around Myanmar and Indonesia. Myself am itching to travel whole lot of Indonesia soon! Many tips gathered from your blog and keep it up... http://sputnikme.blogspot.com/
30th September 2009

Thank You for your Travel Story
Hallo, apa kabar (How do you do) Mr. Beiske? I am Indonesian and I thank you for you to tell the world travel story about Mount (Gunung) Bromo, Lautan Pasir (The Sand Sea), Gunung Batok and everything. Yes, transportation is still our main problem in urban or in rural parts of Indonesia. But there are many hiring car you can hired at the city to visit many great location at Java, Bali, Sumatera, Borneo, Celebes, and Papua, after you arrive at the airport. Indonesian people are usually friendly, maybe you find a tired or unsleep people or a local tourist, :) Thank you, please come again, Visit Indonesia
16th October 2009

Thanks, Ben
Thanks for the comment. Ive actually been reading up on your blogs about the same time you wrote in your comment! Been planning a short trip to Yogyakarta + Bali, but have not figured out yet what to do. Can be away too long. Safe travels........enjoy Taiwan. Do the mountains.......something i failed to do.
8th January 2010

I like ur experience in my country
Hi Sir, I have read your articel and i do agree with your statement that English really is THE language to speak when you are travelling. And when you don't speak English you are typically quite isolated from everybody around you, as you can only talk with people from your own country, which takes away an importaant aspect of travelling (meeting people from other cultures and backgrounds). So, may i talk to you as i want to practice my English more and more. I Live in East Java and I go to Bromo mountain several times, and sometimes i will be the tour guide. :) So, do you have facebook id Sir? May i be your friend? :) as I Like to meet other people from another country and please be free to email me. -Thanks Candra
20th May 2010

full of complaint
I just read it, and will never like the author. Maybe he's not funniest backpacker as france, but he MUST be an unhappy person who always complains everything in everywhere.

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