36 - Mt. Bromo (East Java, Indonesia)
Time is a flat circle. Traffic is a demonic crucible. Volcano sunrise? You bet your ass. Sandy ash or ashy sand? Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow… I did it again. More volcano, please.
by Mr. Nos T. O’maniac
SURABAYA IN MY REARVIEW. BUH-BYE. It took a while to escape its gravitational pull (i.e. vehicle bedlam). Riding a motorcycle in and out of Indonesia’s second largest city? Fucking glorious. I treasured every moment, especially those circumventing a retarded traffic jam by driving on the rocky dirt shoulder… but I was lucky. Piloting anything with more than two wheels could drive a gringo catshit bonkerballs. Going slow is better than not going at all, eh? Fo’ shizzle.
Red means stop? Mmmmm… maybe. It could also mean accelerate, maintain current speed, slow down momentarily and then accelerate, or stop. Sometimes red lights felt more like decorations than safety mechanisms. And it wasn’t always easy to tell which species I’d encountered. If I was the only one waiting, then the light was probably a polite suggestion. Probably. Unless it wasn’t. Or was.
Head-on collisions are bad, so I avoided them. Truck drivers in opposite lane wanna pass? They gonna pass. My cloaking device was on the fritz yet it felt like it was operating on full power. A driver decided I didn’t exist and, even if I did, I couldn’t possibly be stupid enough to keep my rightful place in a lane specifically designated for people driving in my direction. Duh. More than once I veered off (or escaped) the road to avoid destruction. I was getting more comfortable (but not too comfortable) with the chaos.
I arrived in Cemoro Lawang, a tiny mountain village in eastern Java, in one piece. Have I mentioned volcanoes? Thank you, sir, may I have another? Oh, yes you may. This time it was Mt. Bromo (7641 ft, 2392 m) in Bromo-Tengger-Semuru National Park. So breathtaking you might think you’re asthmatic. I now realize lone volcanoes are rare., extended family volcanoes much more common. Young volcanoes inside dead or dormant ancient volcanoes next to older or younger sibling volcanoes with volcanoes on top of volcanoes.
“Rising from the guts of the ancient Tengger caldera, Gunung Bromo (2392m) is one of three volcanoes to have emerged from a vast crater, stretching 10km across. Flanked by the peaks of Kursi (2581m) and Batok (2440m), the smoldering cone of Bromo stands in a sea of ashen, volcanic sand, surrounded by the towering cliffs of the crater’s edge. Just to the south, Gunung Semeru (3676m), Java’s highest peak and one of its most active volcanoes, throws its shadow – and occasionally its ash – over the whole scene.” (Courtesy of Lonely Planet.)
You know the rules by now. The sunrise is a fucking must. Is it worth seeing? Sure, but you won’t be alone on Mt. Penanjakan (sunrise viewpoint). The early morning light gives the photos a prehistoric feel, but it’s a teensy bit different in person. If not for hundreds of tourists and twenty-four radio antennas (I counted), you could pretend you’ve traveled back a couple million years. Good luck trying.
After sunrise, it’s giddy up. The hordes remount their four-wheel-drive chariots and dash across the massive ancient crater to Mt. Bromo itself for a rim job. Dismount and it’s a short climb to the volcano’s edge. And I have to admit, notwithstanding the tourist swarm, it is a magnificent scene. Pure awesomeness brought to you by Mother Nature’s violent proclivities. Oddly, most are content to view the magnificence from the initial perch when the lion’s share of volcanic splendor lies with an unchallenging walk along the crater. Skirt the rim. Live on the edge… and even over it. A slight descent and some blood-curdling screams for effect. The echo circulates the caldera. Like a child playing in an empty furnace. What could go wrong?
At the jeep tour’s conclusion, I writhed with withdrawal. The only cure? Hop on my hog for a spin inside the crater (ancient Tengger caldera). This was a challenge. Jeeps had no problem. Motorcycles on the other hand…Sandy ash or ashy sand? Take your pick. Either is ideal for a Phantom wipeout. I had to bring my A-game. (Author's Note: I do not possess an A-game.) Somehow I stayed upright, but shit weren’t easy. The clouds rolled in and stripped the scene of its color vibrancy, so I retreated to my homestay. Still, I needed more. I got more.
Fast food tourism. That’s Mt. Bromo. Most cattle pop in for the evening, start the tour at 4 am, and vanish by 9:30 am. No lingering. No savoring. Well, dammit, I’m a lingerer. I’m a savorer…“a joker, a smoker, a midnight toker. I get my loving on the run…”
I stuck around.
The only thing more fun than navigating an ashy sandbox on two wheels is navigating an ashy sandbox on two wheels in the dark with a shitty headlight. I cared nil about the actual sunrise but I so treasure volcanoes basked in morning glory. I skipped the Mt. Penanjakan rendezvous and went straight for Bromo’s crusty brim. Again, I remained upright. Again, I gave myself a sturdy, yet supple, pat on the asscrack.
I had less success on foot, floundering blindly for a path skyward. I did find a ravine and had to retrace. I encountered a horseman skulking in the gloom and inquired as to the location of the stairway to Bromo. He offered to show me for 20,000 rupiahs (about US $2). I’m not big on guide-by-extortion…the prick. Too harsh, you say? Without knowing it, I was standing nearly a stone’s throw from the base of the steps. He got greedy. I got pissed. He never did tell me where to go. Prick. I pulled up my britches and found my own fucking way… cause I was a big boy. Alright, perhaps in retrospect, I was rash. He probably assumed I was a stingy tourist looking to avoid a local hire. I understand the impulse but rooting around fecklessly could be dangerous for the fragile novice. Let’s go with prick-ish.
Nothing like the smell of sulfur in the morning. On Bromo’s lip, I awaited the yellow blanket of morning radiance. I was not disappointed. There were a few others milling about but nothing compared to the subsequent jeep onslaught. This was an exceedingly pleasant way to pass the morn, my reward for patience and determination. I lingered. I savored. I choked on gratitude.
On occasion, I’ve been accused of vainish vanity. Somewhat deserved? Mayhap, but how else can one gain perspective from a photo? And most photos were a solo endeavor without a tripod. Hit the timer. Scurry into frame. Rinse and repeat for desired effect. It became a personal challenge to get the best shot possible even when I’d lost interest in the scene. I’m not so keen on direct eye contact with the lens either. I like my photos to smolder ever so slightly. The result? Sometimes I come off as a third-tier pre-Instagram selfie whorebag. Guilty. If I weren’t me, I’d certainly ridicule me. But I am me, sooooo…
Pose: Precarious (Um, careful numnuts).
Pose: JCPenny (Online Catalog).
Pose: The “Fuck yeah!” Smolder.
Pose: Willful Ignorance.
*Drone Footage Courtesy of Elvinardy Darwin
Onward and eastward. To Bondowoso, billed as one of “the cleanest towns in Java” by the Lonely Planet. You know what they say about cleanliness? It’s next to…something or other. Bondo is the jumping off point to the Ijen Plateau, an area dominated by coffee plantations and, you guessed it, volcanoes. Weird. I never grew tired of volcanoes. Ijen is one reason why. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I took a breath. Took a breather. I decided to savor Bondo’s cleanliness.
The evening of arrival I went searching for Tapai (pronounced tah-pay), a regional specialty. Tapai is a fermented sweet-and-sour snack made from rice, boiled root vegetables, or other carbohydrate sources (potatoes, cassava, etc.). Better than you think but less than adequate as a meal. I found a food cart near a park and hunkered down for a feast. Lunch had alluded me, so by 6 pm I was ready to eat my shorts.
I got the sense tourist visits were few and far between. The hospitality was overwhelming; they were just about tripping over each other to serve me. This wasn’t just a family business, it was an extension of their home and I felt like an honored guest. The whole family pitched in. I ordered three pieces of chicken, a bowl of rice, vegetables, fresh orange juice, and a coffee. Grand total: $3 US.
Ordering half a shit ton of food perplexed many, and not just in Bondo, but many stops along my path. I think my height helped justify the perceived gluttony, but still. Jesus, white people sure do eat a lot, was what it felt like folks were saying with their eyes. Case in point, the next morning I requested two portions of scrambled eggs and the waiter behaved as if I’d asked for every item on the menu. I should’ve. I couldn’t eat enough. I’ve always been a substantial eater, and this made things difficult on the road. It was hard getting enough without spending significant amounts of time ordering and reordering food and then trying to explain I was being serious. By then I’d dropped ten pounds. Between the itinerant lifestyle and portion sizes my cupeth did not runneth over. I forced myself to eat more but rice was a ubiquitous staple and I hated wasting food. Filling but nutritionally worthless. So, I compensated by ordering the better part of an entire chicken and other such culinary Tom Foolery.