Bromo: Java’s Burping Volcano

by Michael

This post is Part II in my series: Jumping Around Java. You can see the Preview with index here.

Templed-out, we call it. Ancient or modern, we have had enough. So off we go to volcanoes. First, to Gunung Bromo. Unfortunately, there’s not an easy way to get there. Reading the guidebook I warn Elizabeth, “transport is going to be a shit show.”

The plan is to take the train from Yogyakarta to Surabaya, taxi from the train station to the bus station, bus to Probolinggo, minibus to Cemoro Lawang, walk to the rim of the Bromo volcano. Several steps would involve haggling and potential scams. The Internet is rife with warnings.

Then we go to the Yogyakarta train station and find out that the train we want for the next morning is fully booked. The best option is to leave in the middle of the night. So we do. I’m not a fan of waking up at 2am.

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Best train we took in Indonesia.

Then things started to work out better. We met a trio of German travelers at the train station in Surabaya. They mentioned that there is a train from Surabaya to Probolinggo leaving shortly. We hadn’t even considered this since our original plans had us in Surabaya at a different time of day. But it worked, and soon we were on that train. Then, having arrived with the Germans, the five of us caught a “little yellow van” to the bus station. Our luck ran out a little, and the yellow van took us to a travel office trying to sell us a jeep ride to Cemoro Lawang, not the bus station (a frequent scam noted on the Internet…). Using the combined bargaining power of five travelers, we agreed on a price (higher than the minivan) and were on our way to Cemoro Lawang, the town perched on the edge of the caldera.

[A note regarding transit to future travelers: we were approached by a man in the Surabaya train station offering a direct jeep ride to Cemoro Lawang for 500,000 rupiah. We couldn’t convince the Germans to join us since they though the train would be faster. While that might have been true, we ended up collectively paying 500,000 rupiah for the jeep from Probolinggo to Cemoro Lawang so we would have ended up ahead if we’d taken the man up on his offer.]

We asked to be dropped at Cafe Lava (not just a cafe, it has rooms). Of course we had no reservation. Our driver immediately ran over to the door of the hotel before we could get our bags out. Smelling a scam (probably involving him redirecting us to a more expensive and lower quality hotel), we insisted that he come back to help me with the bags overflowing from the back of the jeep while Elizabeth got into the hotel. We successfully got a room without his interference (and prices were posted, so we didn’t have to worry about a surcharge for his “help”). Having arrived with only being scammed once, we called it a win.

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This is what the town looks like. Not much.

Before going further, I should give some context. In our experience, Javanese people were friendly and helpful. We did not run into people expecting a tip in exchange for help, the way we did in Morocco. And the only attempts to scam us were from the usual suspects: taxi drivers who don’t want to use the meter (one even had a second meter that ticked up faster) and longer distance drivers who try to take you to the wrong place so you will buy from the vendor of their choice (presumably in exchange for a kickback).

After a short break, we started our hike. Out hotel was just outside the park gate, which collected a quite substantial park fee from foreigners thanks to a relatively recent 1000% fee hike. Since we paid steep fees for Prambanan and Borodubur, we were happy to take the “free trail” which runs down the hillside into the caldera, across the “sea of sand” and then up the side of the Mt. Bromo. It’s unclear if our entry was a legal entry, but it is clearly marked on our maps.me app as the “Free Trail to Bromo.”

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Gotta love the descriptions on maps.me

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Free trail not on the official map from our hotel.

Gunung Bromo is a volcano inside a large caldera (volcanic crater). It’s not the tallest — there’s a taller mountain nearby and much taller mountains in the distance — but it’s impressive to look at.

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View from the start of the trail. Mt. Bromo is the volcano on the left puffing smoke.

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View from ground level, looking across the “sea of sand.”

And then it rained. Of course.

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Stopping for a quick picture of our own on the way up the side of Mt. Bromo.

And, of course, the Indonesians wanted to take their pictures with us. In the rain. I refused the majority of the requests, because really?

The first part up Bromo is a road that gets slippery in rain, but it’s not too bad because it’s not too steep. When it gets steep, the stairs begin. Those stairs go right up to the crater’s (wet and increasingly slippery) edge. And there my vertigo kicked in, requiring me to kneel down to enjoy the view.

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Stairs to the top.

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Looking down into the crater.

This felt like looking down at the Sarlacc Pit from Return of the Jedi.

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Not my photo. For comparison only.

[Elizabeth’s note: For a non-Star Wars analogy… the thing that I wasn’t expecting when we got to Mt. Bromo’s rim was the noise. It sounded like we were on an airport runway surrounded by jet engines as the the volcano hissed and puffed below. A reminder of how powerful the volcano is and that the steam and smoke we saw rising was actually evidence of the volcano’s constant activity.]

Of course, it rained while we were at the top but the rainstorm died while we were on our way back. So it goes. Walking to and from Mt. Bromo along the “free trail” turned out to be pretty easy. We did the round-trip in about 2.5 hours. Well worth avoiding paying for a tour/jeep driver (you’d have to climb up Mt. Bromo anyway) and the high park fee.

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Crater panorama. Lots of smoke.

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Looking back. Rain ended.

We got up the next morning around 5:30 a.m. for an early morning hike and view. At Bromo, this is sleeping in since most people get up at 3 a.m. to see the sunrise — we opted to start walking around sunrise instead. We have reached the conclusion that sunrise is overrated, but early morning can still be good. The hike rewarded us with beautiful views not just of Bromo, but also of the area around town.

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Bromo puffing in the background and surrounded by a low layer of clouds.

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At first the clouds didn’t reach town (on top of the hillside at the center).

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But later on they did.

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Beautiful view, even with Bromo partially obscured.

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Having seen the sights, we quickly learned that transit from Cemoro Lawang is even more difficult than transit to Cemoro Lawang. We had more strength in numbers (ourselves, the original German three, plus two more who joined us in Cemoro Lawang), but it took forever to even locate the driver for the public minivan down the hill. When we finally found the driver, he claimed that the van fit 14 passengers, so the price was double to leave with just seven. We bargained it down quite a bit, and once we were going it was clear that 14 people with backpacks would never fit in this vehicle.

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Not our van, but the same size. We might have been able to fit nine.

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This sticker was on our van and others. Every one of these was a lie. There was no AC, Wifi (I checked), Audio, or Karaoke. I have no idea what an Ultra Seat is, but this seat was not it. And the driver was chain smoking.

In Probolinggo we had the option of taking a “direct” bus to Banyuwangia or waiting a couple hours and catching the train instead. The internet had told us there was no such thing as a direct bus and warned of scams, so we opted for the comforts of train travel instead. This gave us time to grab some food, and enjoy a beer and a chance to talk with the German fellow who joined our group in Cemoro Lawang. We talked scuba diving and even got a few recommendations for diving in the Philippines that we’re presently considering. 

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Train station.

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Sunset from the train.

While the remaining six travelers all took the train to Banyuwangi, we were seated in different cars and headed to different hotels, so the German-American alliance came to a quiet end. Next up, the blue fires of Kawah Ijen…

[This blog post describes our trip to Gunung Bromo (Mt. Bromo), Indonesia, January 8-9, 2017.]

One thought on “Bromo: Java’s Burping Volcano

  1. Pingback: Jumping Around Java: Our plans (or lack thereof) for 13 days on Java | two backpacks, no plan

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