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Published: January 4th 2010
Until now - Java had remained a mystery to me. The most populous island of one of the world's most populous countries, home of coffee, volcanoes and a programming language. With only 9 days planned, a route from Yogjakarta to Bali emerged, I'd forsake diving for volcanoes, what with the rainy season in this part of the world the underwater world would be choppy and murky anyway.
Luckily - I was treated to some unseasonably clear and dry weather for the volcano trips, the hawkers selling hats, scarves and rain jackets weren't having so much luck.
With so little time, I joined a tour. One sold by a cheap hotel in Yogjakarta - I have no idea how it compares to other tours in Java - but it was a series of small disappointments with hotels, mini-vans and scheduling - contrasting with a series of mind-blowing destinations.
With more time and and the corresponding freedom - I would travel from city to city by train - I'd also avoid the local holidays - where in the world is crowdless during the Christmas break?
A 3am rise, a pitch black jeep ride to an overcrowded ridge, I perched
on a railing hoping to get a crystal clear shot of Bromo (2,329m) and Semeru (3,676m), East Java's most active volcanoes. Around 5am - the sun slowly turned the sky to dark shades of purple and blue, Semeru belched a fluffy cloud in the distance, Bromo continuously churned out vast plumes of sulphurous steam. Gradually the sun tinted the landscape, highlighting the ridges, crests and rims of a series of craters.
I jostled for position amongst many other eager sightseers - no room for the tripod, I couldn't play with HDR photography as I'd hoped. Hustled by the other members of the tour group - I headed back to the jeep.
Bromo - a surreal landscape surrounds the volcano, a dusty scree filled crater from what must have been a monstrous incarnation millions of years in the past, with a relatively small caldera gradually rising in the centre. The local employment seems to solely consist of driving jeeps, a little farming and raising small horses to take tourists from the jeep car park to the base of the caldera. 50,000 ($5) rupiah to sit on a pony while a guy leads you 5 minutes walk - 50,000 drops
rapidly with the most basic of haggling. Mainly Indonesian tourists took the option of riding.
As hopefully the photos show - the landscape is stunning - the small bulge that Bromo appears to be from a distance turns out to be much bigger close to - I went around the entire crater - I didn't see another person doing this - and got the best shots from various vantage points there.
The mystery of Java started to fade - 120 million people live on an island smaller than England or New Zealand's North Island - during the many mini-van rides I took getting around the island I saw how this is possible - except for a few national parks - every inch of this land is utilised - either for houses, towns, cities, villages, or for farming, rice paddies and coffee plantations. Sadly former virgin forest can be seen often - crops growing amongst hacked blackened stumps.
Bromo was worth the 11hr mini-van ride from Yogjakarta - though my days of travelling with all the time in the world - staying as long as I want and changing plans on a whim are gone and much missed.
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