Our volcanic time on Java: Mt. Bromo and Mt. Ijen

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When we booked our train ticket to Probolinggo (or Probo for the cool kids), we were told that there were only economy tickets available. Perfect, thought the budget traveler in me. Damn, thought the girl who just left her Swiss and Jakartan comforts. We knew that we had had luck with our train from Jakarta to Yogyakarta and we really didn’t know what to expect. It was… an experience in itself. People were very friendly but the trip was a pain: we were delayed without any explanation and the seats were very tiny! Your knees were basically kissing your neighbors’ knees and there was no space to put your hand luggage. But as a famous comedian said once, always look on the bright side and it could have indeed been worse! At least we were in a car where the AC was working. We were however happy to reach Probo, especially M and his long legs. Since we missed the last public bus, we had to organize a private vehicle to Bromo and that’s when things got… interesting. 

We had met several travelers at our hostel that were on the same train and we knew that we were were already 6 so this should help with our negotiations, we thought. When we reached Probo, two of them decided to travel the next day so we were down to 4. Don’t ask me why but I looked at a girl from another group and at once, I somehow knew she was French. We smiled at each other and started to talk in French. 8 of them were also traveling to Bromo. Perfect. Negotiation power going up again, we thought! That’s when things got even more interesting. Two French decided to join a very expensive private car and we lost the 4 travelers we had met at our hostel. We took two taxis to go to the bus station and they were apparently unloaded for annoying behavior. The driver simply refused the fare and they had to find another taxi… Oh… 6 of us were driven to a non-bus station (really?) where greedy travel agents were happily waiting for us. We were clearly stuck in Probo and they knew it…

Apparently the Bromo mafia is known. All agents, guides, homestay are connected and let’s say that they can royally f*** the tourists over. Luckily we found an agent who seemed reasonable enough. We negotiated what we found to be a good rate with Ijen and the ferry ride to Bali included (from our calculations we were maybe 2 to 3$ more expensive than if we would have done it independently). Two French decided to do it independently and rode with us to Bromo and 4 of us went for the package. Yes, we would have preferred to do it on our own but when hassles are reduced for a few dollars, there is no reason to stubbornly go ourselves through unnecessary hoops! Our homestay was fully booked and the 6 of us ended up having a hotel for ourselves! Now we are talking! 

The French members of our ‘volcanic’ group had done some research and they had found a way to hike up Mt. Penanjakan to watch the sunrise over Mt. Bromo. It was an easy hike and we were glad to have done it independently as it was (what a surprise) overrated. First of all, sunrise was NOT over Bromo but slightly away from it… Second of all, no guide was needed as it was an easy hike up to the view point. That said, we enjoyed very much the view (better in our opinion once the sun was up) and we were glad that we didn’t miss Bromo. Plan would have been to walk down to the moon valley and up to Mt. Bromo but M and I (we are clearly getting old) decided to head back to our hotel for a power nap before breakfast. For our defense, the past 5 months we walked up and down a fair amount of volcanoes and we didn’t feel the need to breathe Bromo’s toxic fumes. 

Breakfast was a huge disappoint but luckily our driver took us to the office back in Probo before going to Ijen and the guy who sold us the package was very honest and paid for our breakfast while waiting for the shuttle to Ijen. Our volcanic group of 4 (we lost two French who decided to go independent) and a german guy arrived at our homestay (Indonesian people need to rethink the concept of homestay) which look like a motel really. Basic and good enough for our short night. To hike Mt. Ijen up to reach the rim before heading down into the abyss, we woke up at midnight. Yes starting at decent hours would be half the fun. The trail was steep, slippery, narrow, just what we needed while hiking with a gas mask on (we were at times surrounding by toxic fumes coming from the burning sulfur) and had only dim head torches to guide our way. 

At first, I couldn’t breathe and I considered turning around. It was very scary and I wasn’t taken seriously until M realized that my mask was broken. For once I wasn’t a drama queen but a hiker about to die of asphyxia (dramatic effect? Check!). We started our way down, sharing our trail with dumb tourists (read wearing fliflops, no mask) and sulfur miners (a miner can carry up to 90 kg of sulfur out of the womb of the volcano,with little protective gear. The life expectancy rarely reaches 50 years). However we made it to the bottom and we were immediately rewarded by the sight of the Ijen volcano’s blue fire! We saw a lot of idiots literally walking into the fires for the sake of a good picture. I’m the first one to look for a fantastic composition for a wonderful shot but when this endangers any life and could result in having Ijen closed to visitors, this is not acceptable and I’ll have to be happy with a distant shot. Not perfect but this will have to do! 

Before starting our descent to the parking lot, we waited for the sun to come up to see the blue lagoon. It was difficult for us to believe that the dark hole we just came up from was about to turn into a lagoon but after a few minutes, there it was. We were probably a few meters from it while we were in the abyss but the darkness and the fumes were hiding it the whole time! Incredible! The lake, tho heavily acidic, looked turquoisely inviting but no thank you! Instead we hiked down, surprised by the wonderful landscapes surrounding us. We didn’t except to find a brethtaking view over the valley and surrounding volcanoes since we hiked up in the pitch-black night but the descent turned into a real treat for our eyes. We would highly recommend this hike! Thanks Java for a great time! Next stop: Ubud, Bali. 

Happy trails and remember: Carpe Diem!

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