WHY GO SOLO?
A guide took me to Kawah Ijen two days ago, but other than transport, his guiding limited itself to walking up the mountain behind me, with me often having to wait for him to catch up (mind you, I’m not athletic or a trained hiker AT ALL, so safe to say he was in abominable shape). With a little encouragement from the Be My Travelmuse blog, I decided to save money and get some excercise and go solo for the Bromo experience. It was supposed to be an easy walk, with an obvious path leading up to several viewpoints. How hard could it be?
THE NIGHT BEFORE
I rented a beautiful pink jacket (25,000 INR) at Cemara Indah which I needed immediately: this place is COLD, y’all! I was, again, surprised at the total lack of western people here. Cemara said they were fully booked, but I didn’t find any European tourists around town, safe for an older German couple at my homestay. Strange, as this is the Bromo entrypoint after all.
I had dinner at what I *think* was the Toko Edi warung mentioned in the LP, but now I’m not sure. As I had expected, they were “finish” with the sate I ordered, so I went for the bumbu chicken and mie goreng to go with it. They gave me a banana shake and mie, which was obviously instant noodle and literally only had 5 pieces of cabbage in it… (To pay 50 cents for that! I can’t even..) I returned the shake and asked for a hot ginger instead. The chicken never arrived. The ginger looked interesting to say the least (as if they had cooked a full ginger root and then put it in a glas of tea without even cutting it). Total damage: 13,000 INR (under 1€. Yeah, I shouldn’t complain). The place had pancakes, and I’m never one to skip dessert but I just didn’t trust them anymore. They even tried to charge me 33,000 rupiah, I still don’t understand why and how.
On the way back, Lava cafe had miraculously opened and I went in for information. My own “research” had apparently been so thorough that they didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know, except that the wifi didn’t work and had not been working for days in the whole area. They pointed me to a place just down from Yog’s, a local restaurant where I bought fruit, krupuk and fake oreo’s (called Goriorio’s. Gorey oreo’s?) for my trip. Also, I ended up having my (pan)cake and eat it too, and it was pretty awesome! Perfect combination of crispy-salty and sweet! Banana and chocolate – can’t go wrong. Stuffed and satisfied, I walked back and passed a warung with a lot (like 10) of bule (“foreigners”), so I walked in and asked if anyone was planning on hiking to the viewpoint. A French couple was, and we decided to meet at 3 in front of Yog’s. Although I had been kind of excited to do this all by myself, it felt like a good decision to team up (also, it would definitely make my mom happy).
WALK THAT WALK
My alarm went off at 2.30 but it wasn’t until 2.50 I found the courage to peel off the 4 layers of blankets and face the cold. I’d anticipated this and had therefore slept in my hiking clothes. Not quite sure if this qualifies as being “smart” or “lazy”. All I had to do was brush my teeth, get my bag and I was all ready for my rendezvous with the French. Apparently, they weren’t. While I waited and waited, I saw exactly one other couple heading up the trail by foot and wondered if I should quickly join them instead of waiting in vain. Ten minutes later, Isabel, the French lady, met me and said that her partner had been sick all night and they weren’t doing the trip. I wasn’t too disappointed (Adventure here I come!), but secretly found myself walking really fast to catch up with the couple I saw earlier. The road was extremely dark and my mini solar-flashlight wasn’t of much use at all, unless I kept wiring it. So I used my iPhone flashlight instead, yay for Apple. After about 20 minutes, I heard something coming up behind me, but it wasn’t a car or an ojek (motorbike). I turned around and a horse (and rider) passed me. I remember thinking “why doesn’t the horse turn on his lights!?…” – guess I must’ve still been very sleepy. Although now I think about it, I don’t know how you could ride that road without any light whatsoever. “You take horse upstairs, mister?”. “No, I take foot”, I said bravely. I then realized that I was doing my second night-trek in two days, and wondered who the hell I was and what I’d done with Ilona (you know, the lazy-Ilona we all know and love. The Ilona that swore never to hike again only two weeks ago, the one that was so happy hearing about the possibility of taking a 4×4 up the mountain and had been thinking about that Jeep for weeks… Yeah, she had left the building). About 100 meters in front of me, I saw the vague but unmistakeable lights of a headlight and only 10 minutes later, I caught up with two girls (Sion and Yuli) who were taking off their jackets. I did the same; wearing 5 layers of clothing really isn’t necessary while hiking. I would later find out that the jacket was actually extremely welcome while waiting for the sunrise, but more on that in a minute.
FINDING THE VIEWPOINT
Soon we reached what looked like a viewpoint. People were selling coffee and playing loud music, not the rustic scenery I had hoped for. Because it was still very dark, we couldn’t see what the view was like from there, and although the coffeelady confirmed this was viewpoint #1, we kept walking. Somehow, a large group of Indonesian guys joined us (or was it vice versa?) and they led the way, that had suddenly become very steep. We had to make several stops to catch our breath in a matter of minutes, and for the first time I experienced the burning lungs caused by sulphur gas. The smell had been incredibly bad this morning, even in my room I was hardly able to breathe. For those of you who don’t know; sulphur smells like eggs, farts, and rotten rottenness. (Watch the first Shrek movie when Donkey & Shrek walk up the mountain. Donkey knows what he’s talking about…) The guys stopped at yet another “viewpoint” with a big concrete bench, saying this was the “finish” and you couldn’t go any higher. Seriously, I don’t know if all these people the last couple of days are either terribly misinformed, enjoy lying or their English is just too limited to explain anything, but they sure have been giving me/us misdirections A LOT. Indeed, the road was seemingly ending here, but with our flashlights we quickly found a case of stairs leading further up. Shawn was concerned because the impromptu map she had gotten from Cafe Lava said that the stairs led up to the *first* viewpoint. The map wasn’t lying: when we reached the (first) stairs’ end, there was a big sign saying “Serundi Viewpoint”, apparently meaning “first”. We felt silly and naive thinking we had almost made it to the second one, when in reality it was still an hour away. It was 4.35am by then and we decided to wait for the sunrise here while warming ourselves with tea, cookies and our jackets. (Final verdict: take a jacket, but make sure you have a backpack to put it in whenever you get too hot, or you will end up carrying it around). I saw the man who got shouted at at the Probolinggo “tourist information center” and we talked about how totally weird that had been. Poor guy had had it even worse than me, for he got on a wrong bus, leading him 2.5 hours in the wrong direction. Really hope my previous blogs will prevent this happening to other travellers, it was such a hassle!
THERE AND BACK AGAIN
The mountain we were climbing was Gunung Pananjakan, and at around 5am the sky slowly started turning orange, giving us a preview of what we had been staring at in the dark: the immense Tengger caldera with the Bromo Crater, Mount Batok and Mount Semuru luring and puffing in the background. From blue, it turned orange and when the sun eventually hit the crater it was magical. The sun doesn’t come up from behind the volcano family though, it comes up on the left, behind the villages. The clouds formed a sea around some other mountain tops and at one point I wondered if it maybe just was the sea and the Javanese hadn’t told us… Drinking coffee, eating krupuk and taking loads of pictures, we stayed up here for 2 or 2,5 hours. We didn’t go up to the second point, because we heard there would be tons of jeeps and tourist fighting for a good spot there. Viewpoint 1 cannot be reached by jeep or motorbike, and I guess there were “only” 50-70 people there. No one was fighting to get a good picture and we had an excellent view. If you are up for the hike though, leave early and pound your chest screaming you’re the king of the world (or your personal choice of victoryscream) when you reach the top. I myself was quite happy with where I ended up. The walk back was just under an hour, and we had a nice breakfast at the pancake-warung (don’t worry, this time I took toast and omelette). I went to bed after, and just woke up to catch the sunset from the famous Bromo itself.
DO’s & DON’T’s:
– be afraid! The road might be dark, full of terrors it is not;
– think you reached the viewpoint unless it says viewpoint;
– miss the sunrise because you desperately wanted to get to viewpoint #2 but took too long and ended up watching it from the bushes.
– bring a flashlight, jacket, bag full of snacks, money for coffee or tea (5,000 INR per cup);
– charge your camera’s battery, you will need it;
– climb the Pananjakan solo. It will save you so much money, it’s not that long of a hike and you will have the same experience as all the people up there overpaying for a jeep. Actually, you won’t, because you will feel much more satisfied!
– stretch after the hike to avoid those nasty pains the next morning. (I totally forgot about that this morning. Ouch!)