Java, Indonesia - Mount Bromo's Smoking Crater / by Mark Boyd

During the night I woke with a pretty intense pain close to where my right kidney is located. It was enough to wake me, and enough to hinder my return to rest. I texted my Dutch nurse Marjo, who was now back in Amsterdam. She asked about my symptoms, asked a doctor friend about my pain, in the end they decided if there were no urinary problems or any other symptoms then it was more likely to be muscular than renal. When I rose the following morning the pain was intense. It was painful to laugh, cough, sneeze or breath deeply. If it was still bothering me in a few days, ie. Once Mt Bromo was done with and I'd finally arrived in Yogyakarta I'd go to hospital to get checked out. That morning our train to Probollingo departed on time. All the travel guides and blogs pretty much said the same thing 'trust no one involved with taxis, bemos or public transport' whilst in this city. At some point you have to bite the bullet and trust someone though. We walked out of Prob. train station and one of the old guys outside flagged down a little bemo bus.  Very kind. An 18 year old Aussie kid jumped in along with us, lugging his huge plastic shelled suitcase. His curly brown locks, soft features and pale skin did their utmost to disguise his Antipodean accent. He was lovely kid, but a moving target for anyone looking for a tourist to rip off. After a few minutes the bemo driver stopped at a place that clearly wasn't bus terminal let alone the main bus terminal where we needed to be. This was just one of his mates tour agencies of course.... We weren't going to have the wool pulled over our eyes, well not that easily. 'No tour agency, the main bus terminal', I said adamantly. He continued onwards. A few minutes later he pulled over again. A guy approached the bemo and told us we could catch the mini bus to Mount Bromo from right there alongside the road, saving us going all the way to the bus terminal. He said the ticket price was 35,000INDR which we knew to be the correct price.... I went in to the little office to purchase the tickets. He informed me that we don't buy tickets there, and that we would need to pay on the bus.... He then proceeded to try and sell me a tour with a guide. I told him we didn't need guides or a tour. Bloody hell.... We'd just fallen for the tour agency drop off... I couldn't believe it. So there we were waiting for the mini bus..... After five minutes I suggested to Ildi that the bus probably didn't go past here at all. The guys had all just sat down a few metres away from us and started chatting amongst themselves. Ildi asked them where we actually needed to be to catch the bus. The leader of the pack decided to share with us at that point that we actually needed to walk 10 minutes down the road towards the bus terminal. They wouldn't have said a thing unless Ildi had asked them. To add insult to injury they seemed amused at the inconvenience they had caused us. The three of us began walking. We knew there'd only be one minibus going to Mount Bromo that afternoon and we needed to be on it. After a few minutes we began doubting if the corrupt public transport system and tour agency folk hadn't lied to us again. A bemo driver pulled over. I told him we were fine, that we were walking to the bus terminal. He told us it was a long way and to get in. I told him it wasn't far, he told me it was far, too far to walk. Once again I was lured in. He trundled maybe 200 metres down the road to the bus terminal and then demanded the bemo fee. By this point Ildi and I were at the end of our tethers with the seemingly endless supply of liars we had encountered in the space of no more than thirty minutes. I told him he was getting nothing, that we were almost there when he picked us up. I told him he had lied to us just to get a fare. He became aggressive. I told him calmly one more time that he was getting nothing. In the end we paid him half, but he remained aggressive. Amazing how cheats and liars don't like it when the tables are turned on them.

It seemed the minibus for Mount Bromo was never going to get the 15 passengers necessary to leave. Low season in Indonesia was a difficult time to organise things that required groups of people. Over an hour passed and the three of us turned in to a five.  We all ended up paying 100,000 indr each, almost three times what the 75 minute drive should normally take.

When we reached the town we checked in to Cafe Lava. There was an economy double room for 150,000 indr, we took it. We were only going to be in the room until around 2am. We headed out and grabbed a bite to eat at a local warung. The air was chilly outside. We then wandered and explored the village. We found the 'back entrance' to Gunung Bromo so knew where we needed to go when heading to the crater rim. This 'secret entrance' would save us over 250,000 (over £16.00) the unjustifiable entrance fee, that was over 10 times what the locals pay to enter the 'park'. As we sauntered around in the cool air a local man on his usty old bicycle attempted to sell Ildi a woollen hat with 'Bromo' embroided on the front. As he came down in price to 30,000 indr (less than £2.00) she bit and took the lovely 'I'm a tourist' hat to keep her warm during the night walk. We grabbed a large bottle of Bintang beer to take back and share.

Ildi was worried about the lack of traction on her trainers, she'd been slipping all over the place on the way down from Ijen's sulphur mines. I took out my knife and got to work on the soles of Ildi's useless slippers and turned them in to a more suitable sole sporting hand carved treads.

A young Belgian guy next door continued to make derogatory comments and remarks during conversation, insinuating that he pretty much everything to do with this area.  He'd arrived yesterday. His each and every sentence was completed with the word 'actually'. Both Ildi and I noticed how negative and annoying he was 'actually'. His girlfriend remained silent the entire time whilst he provided us with all the necessary information to survive here. He went on to tell us that the walk to the sunrise area was all asphalt so tread on trainers wouldn't be an issue.... actually. I'd also read this on one of the blogs, but by morning this rather important fact was forgotten by us both.

We went to bed early. And rose late/early.... whatever 3am is!?

Like many travellers visiting Bromo we found ourselves being obsessed with beating the entry fee, it was almost as exciting as seeing Bromo itself. So the plan was to watch sunrise and then head across the sea of sand and on up to the crater rim. After 5 minutes we reached Cafe Indah, where the small 'secret shortcut' (it's not a secret) to Bromo begins. A local guy spotted us asking where we were headed. 'Sunrise' we said. He pointed in the opposite direction up another road. Well Ildi and I weren't about to fooled again! We pretended to walk away, switched off our headlamps, then about turned and headed straight down the little muddy  track. Like two mischievous children we laughed at what we'd just achieved. A few seconds later we popped our lights on illuminating our way down the muddy path and on to the sand. A stream of 4x4 headlights lit up the main track running parallel to where we were walking. We then crossed the main 4x4 track and picked up a a little path across the sand. We were obviously headed in the right direction. An hour after leaving the Cafe Indah area, and checking the MapsMe application on our iPhones to ensure we were still on the right track we stopped in the darkness. Where the hell had we walked to? It suddenly dawned at me (pardon the pun) that we had set off early to watch the sunrise over Mount Bromo, not to climb Mount Bromo. Oh no! What had we done! We were meant to walk up Penanjakan which overlooks Mount Bromo and here we were almost at the base of Mount Bromo. We couldn't watch the sunrise over Mount Bromo when we were standing on Mount Bromo.... We grumbled at our stupidity, blaming our sleepy brains and over enthusiasm to break the rules. We began walking back in the direction from whenst we came. We knew it was going to take almost an hour to get back to Cafe Indah, then almost another hour to reach one of the sunrise viewpoints. Time wise we realised sunrise from the viewpoints was no longer achievable. Ildi was gutted.... Even though there was a bit of rain in the air, which suggested there'd be no clear sunrise anyway. We walked in the darkness struggling to rediscover our path. The headlight of a distant motorcycle was bouncing our way. He was clearly offroad and coming straight towards us. The local man looked at us with a sad expression on his face, 'Ohhhhhhhhhh you are lost....' Well we're not lost but we did go wrong, and now we couldn't see sunrise. The man was in his mid forties, he was well weathered, and a well weathered man on a bike was just what we were looking for.... He offered to take us to within spitting distance of the sunrise points for 100,000.00indr (£6.25). Ildi was very keen, so we agreed to his fifteen minute fare and jumped on behind him. We slipped and slid on the soft sand until we met the road. Our rider did well to keep the bike upright! We then picked up the road, then the asphalt single track road that we should have been on from the beginning.... 'Asphalt road leads to sunrise points' when did we decide to forget that fact?  The rain became heavier, and the air chillier. As we pulled up we were just behind the walking Belgian couple..... we pretended we'd walked, dismounting just behind them 'actually'. Once again like little kids we giggled at our own stupidity. We walked up towards the main viewpoint and waited for the morning light to illuminate the landscape. The entire morning I'd been suffering with the trapped nerve, or muscle spasm or whatever was happening.

There was no awesome sunrise, but there was a decent view, and considering where we'd been and what we'd done that night/morning it was good to be where we were.

We contemplated walking back to Mount Bromo's crater rim to experience the sound of the grumbling belly of one of Indonesia's most active volcanos.  

I wasn't feeling as enthused as I normally would have been due to the pain I was suffering. It would take almost 2 hours to get back to where we'd been a couple of hours ago. I had reached a point of not being so fussed. Ildi got chatting to a local Javanese lady who was visiting Bromo with her husband, baby son and mother.  I wasn't feeling overly sociable. Ildi explained my current situation to our new friends. Before I knew it Ildi had managed to somehow wangle our way in to their tour jeep (and around the entrance fee, which would now be payable if the jeep took us along the road down to the sea of sand). We drove down towards Cafe Indah again, and the 'secret shortcut'. This was now being protected by two local men holding a manual barrier. They wanted a cut of the tourist dollar. Ildi and I needed to pay another 100,000indr each again, the car would follow the road down on to the sand track and meet us there. This way we avoided the official entrance charge. Ildi's new friend joined us on the walk down. Fifteen minutes later we were back in the jeep heading towards the parking area for the fifteen minute walk across the sand to Mount Bromo. Some folks jumped on a skinny horse to get there, but most walked.

The family sat and ate snacks at the bottom of the man made staircase that lead to Bromo's smoking crater rim.

The narrow path that gripped the perimeter had a treacherous feel about it. This was the one place I'd found that only a selfie stick would do if one wanted a picture with the crater in the background like the one below. There wasn't enough room for anyone else to step back and capture the picture without tumbling down a steep rocky volcano face.

The sounds were indeed awesome. The view in to the crater rim matched the sound. I was glad we'd come here. It was very impressive indeed.

When we came down the family decided that they would now head up. This meant another half hour of hanging around.

But during this time we bumped in to a group of young German girls we'd met at Ijen, and they already had return transport to Probo. arranged through someone in their hostel and invited us to join them. Perfect!

We arrived back at our room around 10.30am. Ten minutes later an English guy knocked on our door to inform us that the minibus was ready to go. We stuffed our backpacks in a horribly disorganised five minute rush and headed up the road. The minibus driver in the meantime had decided to increase the return journey price from the agreed 50,000 for the guys who'd arranged it, to 65,000. This had been prepaid so as you can imagine there was much anger and aggression in the air on both sides. Ildi and I stood on the sidelines. 'Mr Probolllingo' knew he was the only way back to Probs. So there he sat at the side of the road waiting for everyone to agree to his new fee. It was an hour before the guy who'd made the payment agreed to the increased amount. An hour later we were back at the bus terminal in Probollingo. Ildi had been given an accommodation tip within walking distance from the main bus terminal. Hary's Hostel. It was new, clean and very nice! We dumped our stuff, took nice warm showers and walked along the main road in search of food and a pharmacy for me.  I also found these homely looking cans of..... stuff in a local Indomart.  Manx as the hills!

I'd decided that this pain was probably muscular and went and purchased some over the counter muscle relaxants. These little fellas needed to be taken with food. Ildi gave me orders to go eat and take my medication whilst she went and sorted out the train tickets to Yogyakarka (pronounced Jogjakarta, or Jogja for short).

As I sat down to eat the sky exploded with thunder, lightning and torrential rain which continued for the remainder of the afternoon. When Ildi hadn't returned to Hary's (it's spelt with one 'r' weird) after over two hours I became concerned. Then I received a message saying, 'Waiting for a bus back'. She was at least another 45 minutes. When the door to our room opened in came a drowned looking Ildi. She was pent up with frustration. Everything we had now come to expect from Probo. happened to Ildi. The transport guys had took her from pillar to post. She'd been dropped at places where she hadn't asked to be dropped. She'd had an argument with a taxi driver, ended up on one of the pedal powered tricycle taxi riders and then finally ended up getting a ride from a local guy who took pity on her as she ranted and raged about Probollingo and everyone involved in transport being horrible liars and cheats. Poor girl. Tough few hours. I have to say I think being at Hary's Hostel in pain was more fun than having gone through the few hours Ildi had suffered. We lay on the bed with the AC turned off (Ildi was wet and cold). We chatted and laughed, which hurt.... Choosing not to laugh when two similar senses of humour reside in the same space is extremely difficult, but the laughter was worth the pain. Ildi wanted a Magnum icecream. I said we'd play 'rock, paper, scissors' to decide who walked to the shop. A minute later I found myself grabbing an umbrella from reception, it's pink frills allowing me to touch base with my feminine. I wiggled my hips down the main road towards the Indomart shop.

We needed at 6.30am pick up for our bus the following morning. I asked the guy on reception. He said he'd organise said transport. Thank heavens for that. The following morning I headed down at 6am to remind him. Fifteen minutes later our breakfast of coffee with highly processed, white, crustless bread adorned with a liberal glug of condensed milk and chocloate sprinkles on top was served. Interesting..... We drank the coffee.

The train journey was great. Mid-morning we headed up the train to the cafeteria carriage and ate a a microwaved heated (surprisingly tasty) Indo-meal. The five members of staff sat around with nothing to do lost in whatever was going on on their smart phones. Back at our seats the guy opposite Ildi on the other side of the aisle picked his nose and wiped it where ever it was most convenient whilst the voice coming over the speaker reminded us as we approached every stop, 'Ladies and gentlement (yes gentlement) it is not allowed to smoke on this train. The people that is found to be smoking will be asked to getting you off at the next stop.' Exactly. Point made. Just over 8 hours later we pulled in to Jogja train station. We ordered a GoCar on Ildi's phone just before we exited the station. GoCar and GoJek are Indonesia's answer to Uber. There is also Uber. Our driver eventually found us.... and I mean eventually. Considering the drivers are sent the exact location of pick up and the exact location of where you want to go they don't half make a balls of it. But GoCar and Uber can be a quarter of the price of a local taxi, so these services are great for backpackers. GoJek and UberMoto, the motorcycle taxis are cheaper again!

We were staying at the Happy Buddha Hostel. A cracking place with some great young local guys at the helm. What were we going to do here in Jogja? Well they say if Jakarta is the heart of Java, Jogja is the soul. Great places to eat, drink and socialise. Good street food, museums and craft shops along with Borobudur the largest Buddha temple in all of Asia (apparently). But today we'd rest up and go eat something Western in the evening, maybe have a beer or two and play some pool.

I was still in pain, and it had been over 5 days. I was pretty sure the pain was less than at it's peak so maybe it was getting better. Marjo (my Dutch nurse, via text messages) and Ildi suggested it was time for a hospital check, so tomorrow morning that's what I'll do.