30 December 2011

Not From This World [Bromo, Indonesia]

The Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park is a completely unique part of Indonesia. I'm struggling to think of words to describe it, so bear with me. Imagine a massive basin (10kms wide) surrounded on all sides by steep cliff faces. The bottom is a flat, desolate area of sand and volcanic rock. Rising from the basin are two huge, smoking volcano's sitting side by side. The volcanic rock and the way it has formed makes the whole area seem as though it is not from this world. In the distance is one more volcano, Semeru, which shows off by blowing out massive clouds of steam at regular intervals.

We arrived to Probolinggo about 4:30pm and found a van going to the 'bus station'. Problem - they dropped us at tourist agency and told us to go in to the office. Uhhh, no, we wanted to go to the bus station! So that pissed me off, but not as much as the guys at the agency trying everything they could to take our money. Apparently all the local buses had finished for the day, but they could organise us a ride up to Cemoro Lawang (a small town overlooking the National Park) with some Indonesian tourists. But it was going to cost us IDR 50,000 each, double what the local bus costs, and probably double what the Indonesian guys were paying. Smelling a rat, I asked for directions to the local bus station and said we would find a hotel, stay the night, and catch the bus up the following day. Soon afterward they magically found some more people that wanted to go up, so now the price was only 35,000... funny that, because no one else actually joined us on the bus.

Once they had sold us the transport up to Cemoro Lawang they tried to keep a good thing going. Firstly pushing their sunrise jeep tour of Bromo, which would set us back 100,000 each. I'm a fan of getting to a destination and then working out what I want to do and how I'll go about doing it, so their offers were quickly refused. But they moved on to 'where are you going next?" We had a general plan to keep moving toward Bali, but no fixed itinerary. They were extremely keen to sell us an onward bus ticket, and when asked about public buses running to Bali he stated twice that there were none. I was quite sure, and later found out for certain, that he was a big fat liar.

And the final thing they did which made me really despise them - We had not eaten all day, so asked the guys in the tourist agency if they could direct us to somewhere we could eat. They called over a guy selling fried noodles in his street cart. I went over to pay the noodle man but one of the tourist guys intercepted me, asking for 20,000. What? It should be around 5,000 each. I walked around him and asked the noodle man how much. 12,000. This guy was trying everything he could to get my money. Asshole.

The bus was meant to show up in 20 minutes but took about an hour. It then stopped at another tourist agency, the gas station, the supermarket, a car parts place to get some oil... basically anywhere the driver could think to stop; he did. But we did eventually make it up the mountain at about 7:30pm that night.

Cemoro Lawang is a tiny village on the edge of Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park. Apart from its location, there is nothing to distinguish it from any other small village anywhere else in Indonesia. That is apart from the prices for accommodation. Most places didn't have a room for less than 400,000. That is about 8 times the MAXIMUM we have paid for any other room in the whole of Indonesia. The minivan driver, who was either trying to be very helpful or after some kind of commission tried to lead us to a few cheaper places, but ended up being plain irritating. We were shown a room in an old ladies house that had the smallest bed I have ever seen inside a minuscule room - and she wanted 170,000! We thought we were being ripped off when the guest-houses in other cities demanded 60.

We finally found a room for 75,000. The bed touched three of the walls and was about a foot from the fourth. And it was a small bed. It was TINY! We could hardly fit ourselves in, let-alone our bags. But we only needed it for a few hours (we planned to catch the sunrise the following day) and it was the cheapest we could find...

Next job was to find out what we would do in Cemoro Lawang and how we would go about doing it. I knew you could walk to the crater of Bromo which took about three hours each way, but had a hunch that the best viewing spots required transport. The Lonely Planet was of almost no help, and the local guest-houses and tourist offices were after one thing; our money! When we asked about walking to the view points and to the crater we were laughed at. A sunrise jeep tour to the main view point, then on to the crater of Bromo was 85,000 each. While we were wandering around a guy came up to us and offered the same tour on the back of a bike for 75,000 each. I bargained him down to 60,000 and agreed to meet him tomorrow at 4am.

After too few hours sleep we rose and met our drivers for the morning. The village was thick with fog, but five minutes drive up the hill we cleared the fog and were greeted by open skies. You could see all the way out over the valley which had a thick carpet of cloud, slowly spilling over the edge of the ridge. The ride was actually quite short, only taking about 15 minutes to the parking area. From there we had to climb. It was quite difficult in the dark but after about 30 minutes we made it to the highest viewing area. It was not really out of choice, just that the 'helpful' locals kept pointing us up the path even though there were two perfectly good viewing areas lower down.

While the sunrise was a little bit of an anti-climax, the view definitely wasn't. With three volcano's in view above a massive basin thick with cloud, it was pretty magical. We watched the sun rise up over the basin and slowly start to burn off the low cloud, all under perfectly blue skies.

We jumped back on the motorbikes and headed down into the basin. Passing through into the cloud was like a passing into a bubble; as soon as we crossed through the surroundings grew very dark, and the atmosphere very damp. We drove across the floor of the basin with a carpet of sand and volcanic rock. It was a really strange experience; driving through what seemed like a desert in the thick fog, watching the outlines of horses and people forming up ahead of us.

Bromo is short and stout with a massive crater. The sides fall steeply down toward the center, where there is a large hole and a deep vertical drop. At the bottom lies the small crater lake. There was not a lot of action; the most we saw was a small puff of steam, but it was still an amazing site. And it provided some pretty spectacular views out over the basin.

By 7:30am we were back in Cemoro Lawang. And while the motorbike tour was quite cool, those budget conscious could easily walk the whole thing. It is what we would have done had we known it was possible. Oh, and one more word of advice; before the sun could burn off all the fog in the basin, the clouds rolled in. You couldn't see the sun at all by 9am. Apparently the weather follows this pattern every day at this time of year.

With grey skies and having seen what we came for, there was no real reason to stick around. I mean, other than another night in the tiny, cramped, overpriced room... We decided to move on and head back to Probolinggo. We weren't completely sure on a destination, but we would just see where the public buses went and then decide. I asked about the local bus going down the mountain and was told one left at 9:30am. So at 9:20 we were at the stop and ready to go. The bus FINALLY left after 12! Very frustrating.

So I'm not entirely sure where we will end up tonight, but we are generally heading toward Bali. The East Coast sounds quite nice, so maybe we will end up there.

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