11 Feb 2014

Hiking An Active Volcano

Indonesia has over 147 volcanos many of which are still active and climbable, so as we were in the country it would have been rude of us not to give one a go. Our research led us to Mount Bromo on East Java at 2,329m ASL. The best time to view Mount Bromo is at sunrise when if you are lucky you get to see low blue clouds circling the rim of the crater. 

propellor plane Indonesia domestic flight

So, after a week enjoying the tropical island of Gili Meno we embarked on our journey there which involved a boat, a very cramped bemo ride, and two short domestic flights on small propeller planes. We actually broke our journey up with an overnight stay at a pretty dire hotel on Lombok where Steve got bedbug bites on his legs - gross! Nothing a few antihistamines couldn’t relieve though. 

For our first flight Vicky had the window seat and enjoyed some incredible views over the islands below as we made our way to Bali (again). Steve was unlucky (again) on the second flight as the thick clouds prevented any interesting views. Our descent into Malang was VERY steep, so steep that we had to fight the urge to reach out and hold on to the seat in front of us - it was pretty thrilling, just like being on a roller coaster but we were less certain of our survival. 

propellor plane Indonesia domestic flight view
"Steve, this view is amazing!"

Thankfully we landed safely into Malang’s tiny airport which consisted of just one room that doubled as a taxi office and baggage reclaim - the baggage belt automatically dumped the bags on the floor too so we had to be quick to grab ours. Glad to be on land we took a taxi to the lovely boutique style Cosy Guest House. After a confusing conversation with the reception staff we managed to organise our sunrise trip to Mount Bromo for the following day, unfortunately this meant a 1am pickup so just 3 hours sleep for us after a whole day travelling!

With the help of a few alarms we awoke on time a little confused but excited for the interesting experience awaiting us. Our friendly driver Mr Hemli was waiting for us in our private car and we set off on our two hour drive up into the mountains around Mount Bromo. We didn’t see much on our journey as it was pitch black and we were dozing in and out of sleep. The great news was we could see stars so a fantastic sunrise was imminent, pretty lucky for us as the last two days it had been cloudy as is usually the case in wet season.

sunrise mount bromo indonesia

We arrived at the first check point around 3.00am and our car was promptly surrounded by about ten ladies each trying to sell us woolly hats, scarves, gloves etc. By Indonesian standards it was very cold but for us Brits a couple of hours at a temp of 5°C was more than bearable in just a jacket. Instead we opted for a cup of coffee with the locals whilst we waited for our Jeep to arrive. The next leg of the road was steep, winding and riddled with potholes but as we were early and ahead of the crowds it took just 30 minutes to reach the foot of the viewing point. 

sunrise mount bromo indonesia

At about 4.30am we clambered up about 100 hundred steps to the viewing point which was a manmade kind of quarter amphitheatre offering 180 degree panoramic views. At this time in the morning we could see nothing and it was still 90 minutes until sunrise! Our next challenges were to: a) stay awake, b) keep warm, c) work out the best viewing spot and, d) defend our spot from the supposedly aggressive crowds. We’d heard it gets very competitive here over the best spots! At first there was only about 30 people but it soon became a lively rabble of a few hundred - Sticky were front centre with elbows out on the railings! 

sunrise mount bromo indonesia
"Hard to believe this is planet earth!"

Our position could not have been any better to our left was a beautiful sunrise and straight ahead the incredible volcanic landscape featuring Mount Bromo. There were also a few silly tourists (as much as 25% of them) oblivious to the volcanic landscape and instead just clicking away at the sunset - duh!

sunrise mount bromo indonesia

We’re very happy to say that the view was worth the wait and early rise, as the sun rises and the minutes tick by Mount Bromo's silhouette earily starts to appear. Mount Bromo actually sits in a huge crater itself and the land around it is dark grey ash, there is a mountain and a crater to Mount Bromo and behind you can see other volcanoes such as the tallest Snega at 3,700m. To us the landscape looked like another planet - it was very surreal. We didn’t see the infamous blue clouds around the crater lip but it was still a fantastic sight. We were in awe and took over 300 photos but don’t worry we’re only inflicting you with a select few! 

sea of sand mount bromo indonesia
"Inside the huge crater on the Sea of Sand."

The next part of our excursion was to go down to the plain were Mount Bromo sits, or as the locals call it The Sea of Sand and as we said above it's actually a mammoth size crater itself. The drive took about 25 minutes and descended through very narrow, steep and winding roads that were on par with the roads of Nepal - we could see the drops either side now that the sun was up. Finally we were at the bottom and our jeep sped partway across the Sea of Sand before we jumped out on to this curious landscape - the ground was smooth dark ash with high dark green hills on all sides and inside this giant crater with us was the smoking crater and volcano of Mount Bromo.

mount bromo indonesia

From the jeep the foot of Mount Bromos crater was a 2km walk, we turned down many offers by local men to take a horse ride as we really wanted to walk - for an excursion described as a hike we’d been driven everywhere so far. Our mini trek up was really enjoyable, we were walking on solid ash that had spilled out of the volcano on previous eruptions and it was full of deep rivets. We made it to the foot of the staircase that leads to the lip of the crater and as we climbed we could see bellowing white smoke and the eggy sulphur smell became stronger with each step.

mount bromo indonesia
"Halfway rest in front of Mount Bromo."

The sun was pretty high now so we were really hot by the time we made it the the lip where we gazed down into the wrinkly, rocky mouth of the Mount Bromo crater - the constant stream of smoke puffing from its mouth reminded us of an 100 a day cigarette smoker a little like Dot Cotton from Eastenders. 

mount bromo smoking crater Indonesia
"Ooh I say!"

"Ooh I say!"

The crater was huge and with very steep insides, we felt a little dizzy teetering on the edge of it but there was a wooden barrier to prevent us falling in. The barrier didn’t go very far around though and we saw a trio of crazies who had decided to walk a full circle of crater on what looked like a super narrow ridge, all we could see were their silhouettes through the smoke and we hoped they were not going to be a new entry in the Darwin awards.

mount bromo smoking crater Indonesia

After inhaling an unhealthy amount of sulphuric gas, tiredness and hunger were kicking in so we decided to head back to our jeep where our packed breakfast awaited us - to our delight it was custard doughnuts! Our earlier decision of leaving the viewing platform early paid dividends as we were hit by wave after wave of tourist on horseback or foot making their way to the crater. 

mount bromo smoking crater Indonesia

mount bromo smoking crater Indonesia
"Our bravest smiles!"

Now that we could see where we were we could really appreciate the scenery on the journey home. Luscious green hills everywhere and it   amazed us that the land could be farmed as its almost vertical, some of the roads we drove across were just a paved ridge edged with a few slimline trees with near vertical drops either side, the kind of road where you don’t want to meet an oncoming truck! We were back at our hotel by about 11.30am for some much needed sleep before we headed to a nearby bar for Bintang and dinner. This excursion cost 600k IDR per person (£32 per person ) and we would definitely recommend it.

Mount Bromo last erupted in October 2010 and it continued to do so until Feb 2011. It spewed cold lava and black smoke dropping ash onto local homes and land in the vicinity, thankfully nobody died and the ash was very good for farming as it fertilised the land. The downside was that the tremors and ash damaged peoples homes. This area is so volatile that just over a week after we left from Surabaya Airport, Mount Kelud (just 60km from Malang) erupted and killed two people, closed airports, ruined many homes and caused a whole load of chaos in the area. The true power of nature when you live near a fault line! The tragic eruption at Sinabung was in a different part of Indonesia to us in Sumatra and its dangerous white hot smoke killed 14 people.

indonesian food

On our last day in Malang we treated ourselves to fabulous Indonesian lunch at Melati Restaurant(inside the Tugu Hotel) as it was our last chance for Indonesian food and it was fantastic - stuffed crab claws and 'nine spice' steamed fish. Delicious! Mount Bromo was our final stop in Indonesia which we definitely view as one of the most beautiful countries we have ever been to. There is so much more to Indonesia than what we were able to experience so we will definitely be back!

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