Monday, February 9, 2015

Crazy Drivers and Two Mountains in Two Days

The day after I last wrote was spent mostly on the road. I slept in a bit and then hopped on a van from Jogja that was heading for Mount Bromo, neatly saving myself two extra hours cramped in a van, and since I was the last pickup, I got to sit next to the driver in a nice comfy spot with leg room and a window I could control. This is where the comfort ended because drivers in Java are insane. Lanes are treated as suggestions and drivers will honk and go around any and all vehicles in their way, sometimes driving against oncoming traffic for miles just to keep getting ahead. The streets are not all in good condition and as we were traveling through mountains, the roads were very twisty though this did not lead to anyone slowing down, just to more honking. I think there's some rule about which street lights need to be followed and which ones can be ignored, but I have not been able to crack the code. Looking out the window was absolutely gorgeous with steep rolling hills of rice terraces, cabbage fields, and coffee plantations, but I don't have any pictures of that as I was too scared of death from my front row seat on Indonesia's roller-coaster to even take out my camera.

The bus took us to Lava Cafe, which is a homestay that's as far near the top of the mountain and the trail as was possible, and we spent a cold and clammy few hours trying to sleep before a 3am wake up call for yet another sunrise viewing.  This time around though, no matter how early we got up, the viewing spot of the Bromo crater was absolutely packed with tourists from all over the world, pushing and shoving and brandishing their selfie sticks like weapons. People were accused of being too tall and blocking the view, other people were very obviously sleeping through the whole thing. I took a few shots of the view, but mostly I sat back and enjoyed the massive melting pot of hysteria over a event that happens to occur every morning. I watched entire memory cards being filled up with shots of a fairly static scene and what can I say, I found the people entertaining.

I forgot to mention that along the way up to the mountain there were several vendors hawking little bears(?) made out of dried flowers, which were meant to serve as offerings to the mountain. I watched an old woman making these by hand and it's pretty amazing.

Once the insanity of the paparazzi was exhausted, the masses headed for the crater itself, but as Elf had to pass through the gumdrop forest, we had to walk through Indonesia's little Sahara. Before you ask, no, I did not see Viggo or Hidalgo, but there were several dozen "helpful sherpas" willing to take you across the dessert and right up the hill to the steps up the volcano. I passed on the ride, choosing to walk instead. How am I supposed to maintain my supreme dominance on Fitbit if I keep paying for rides everywhere? 

And so I crossed the Indonesian desert on foot, past the mystical temple of the mountain, and up the very crazy steep steps of doom right up to the edge of the crater, where I peeked into the boiling acid lake steaming below.

Mystical temple of the mountain

Boiling acid lake in the crater of Mount Bromo

Crazy steep steps of doom

And then all the way back down all those things and back to the van, and back on the road, except this time not in the front, not for as long, and to a slightly nicer homestay. The guide said "There are hot springs right next to the pool!!!", but the pool was small and warm and the hot springs were tiny and cold...until someone complained at which point management turned the heat back on for the dirty stinky water in the corner tub. They also sold bags of Kopi Luwak in the gift shop, but pretty much everyone passed on a taste of poop coffee of extra questionable origin.

The next morning we were all up again at 3am (man these people LOVE sunrises!) and ready to scale another mountain. Mount Ijen is known for the sulfur miners who trek up and down it's crazy steep slopes several times a day, carrying 50-70kg baskets of sulfur mined from acid smoke filled pits at the very top of the mountain for barely any money.

Those baskets are heavy!

My group set out up the crazy steep path but very soon those marathon runners and whipper snappers in their twenties left me huffing and puffing in their dust. Slowly but surely though I did wheeze my way up the damn mountain, and all the passing workers who jogged past me were giving me regular updates on how far I still had to go and encouraging me to keep going. The views from the trail were stunning so whenever I had to stop and catch my breath, I'd just pretend to be overcome with feeling at the view. 

Ooooh! Aaaahhh!

The winds were strong and the acid lake was generating way more acrid smoke than usual (which is why we left at 3am and not midnight to see the blue flames...too dangerous), so I wandered around with the other tourists watching the workers do their thing and basically trying to muster up the courage to head back down the crazy steep mountain. 

Oh yeah, remember how I said that the workers get paid literally pennies per kilo for the sulfur? Well, they figured out a way to earn more: sulfur carvings make stinky souvenirs for people you pretend to like, but secretly want to suffer.

Cute but stinky!

On the way down while I was carefully trying not to skid or roll down - and possibly right off- the hill, I saw monkeys up above! They did not seem friendly and every now and then one of them would tear off a stick and chuck it at a camera happy tourist down below.

Hot, sweaty, but safely off the mountain we all piled into the van and headed for the ferry to Bali and its promises of beaches and sunsets.


  1. Omg that sunrise pic is priceless! Thanks for not sending me a sulfur hello kitty (or should I be expecting a stinky parcel?)

  2. Monkeys, mountains, sulfur oh my!! Hope you sent Polina a stinky hello kitty hehe

  3. Wow, the sunrises are truly majestic. So glad you braved the mornings and those crazy stairs, and I love the clever ploy of "ooh,"...catch my breath... You're a clever one Anna Goldberg.