Marching Up Mount Bromo

Mount Bromo is the most popular volcano to visit in Indonesia, and thousands of tourists flock to this sight every year. The journey here was a roller coaster in itself, so instead of ending this post on transport like I usually do, I will start with it. Catching an 8 hour night train from Yogyakarta to Malang, (economy AC for 170 thousand rupiah), meant we managed to catch a few hours of precious sleep. Arriving in Malang we caught 2 angkots to the destination of Tampung. Choosing this direction to go to Mount Bromo meant that we avoided venturing through Probollingo, so the journey would be shorter and cheaper, and this route also goes through the main entrance of the national park of Bromo allowing you to take in the magnificent and beautiful scenery. We found two options to choose from to go to Bromo from here, eitter an ojek, or jeep. Head straight through the market in Tampung to the yellow house covered with stickers all over the windows, if you decide to take the sensible and more expensive option. The father and son organize jeeps to Cemoro Lawang (the town on the crater of Mount Bromo) for 650 thousand, a fixed rate that is ‘regulation’. The family are warming providing sweet tea and a place to rest your weary feet. However, being short on time and with no other tourists in sight to lighten the cost, our only option was to take a motorbike taxi for 120 thousand rupiah.

Bromo Bromo

We took ojeks, speeding hough the town with 17kg on my back and having an adrenaline junkie for a driver, I was little anxious to say the least. We whizzed past chilli plantations, rice fields, and thick dense forestry until my drivers bike died. Contemplating my options for a while, I began to worry, until he magically fixed it (until it broke a few minutes later). With a little bit of ol gaffa tape, we were on the road again, reaching the entrance of the park, which looked like a scene from Jurassic Park. Paper Mache mountains point up to the sky as if wanting to touch the top of the world circle the crater, whilst dry marshlands lay flat in the centre.

Bromo Bromo Bromo

My mad driver and I descended a bumpy and rocky death defying journey. Clinging on for dear life and balancing myself was tough, but we managed to reach the middle of this giant bowl of land, where pink flowers bloomed on bushes and waving sand led us in the right direction. Approaching a thick blanket of mist and a landscape where vegetation starved and died, created a contrasting landscape that appeared bleak and sparse. A desert of black sand engulfed us as my driver pointed out the crater of Mount Bromo, whilst watching its gaping mouth blow smoke rings. The bike began to swift and swerve and my heart began to flutter with it, I shouted to “watch the road”, and he merely chuckled back at me. Luckily we made it Cemero Lawang in one piece. Although a thrilling journey, I advise to get a jeep.

Bromo Bromo

The hike up to the top of Mount Bromo does not require much fitness as its large influx of tourists that visit here means an easy accessible path has been constructed. Walking through volcanic sand and cut out ridges where lava once chewed up and spat out pieces of land, you reach the bottom of a number of steps. Follow the steps up (equal to about 30 minutes on a step master), you reach the rim of the crater. As the volcano burps and gargles, local townspeople give offerings in the form of flowers and food wrapped in banana leaves, muttering sweet nothings to this once disastrous volcano. Looking around, it resembled a similar landscape of my trek up Mount Kinabalu in Borneo, as if on the moon: empty, destructive and ghostlike.

Bromo Bromo

To return to town it is roughly a 3k walk down the steps, over the vast ocean of gravel like sand and a rather large hill that leaves you gasping for breath. Many head to the Viewpoint (either 1 or 2) which is roughly 5k up a hill from town. Sunrise, when blessed with good weather, makes the morning frost walk a mere blip in the journey. Views of swirling mist circling the volcano of Mount Bromo and its neighbour Mount Semeru, can be seen whilst the sun spreads its brilliant rays, displaying glorious colours of red and orange, as if a reflection of the lava inside Mount Bromo itself.

Accommodation options are quite limited, however we stayed at Cafe Lava hostel– known by the Lonely Planet, in their economy rooms. The rooms are quite basic but clean and comfortable, and the shared bathroom is the nicest bathroom I experienced throughout my time in Indonesia. The amazing hot water showers are a godsend. Rooms are 175 thousand rupiah and if you pay an extra 40 thousand rupiah, it includes a massive tasty buffet breakfast, which you can easily feast on to get your moneys worth.

A Modern Day Hell at Ijen Volcano

If the trek up to Bromo was easy, then you would call the hike up the volcano Ijen a medium level hike. Ascending the volcano in darkness only led by the star lit sky and a few torches held by other visitors, you make a gradual 3k hike up to the crater rim. At times, the path is a little steep, but luckily the path flattens out for some periods of the walk, meaning less work for your calf muscles. Descending from the crater rim you fumble down a rocky cavernous path to the very heart of the volcano. The deeper you go into the abyss of darkness, the more dangerous it becomes.

Ijen Ijen

Clouds of sulphur smoke vaporize, twisting and turning in the night wind and engulfing every entrance hole possible of your entire body. Clutching makeshift masks made by scarves, the blinding smoke burns and stings your eyes, destroying your windpipes, slowly eroding the insides of your mouth. Trying to dodge this horrifically painful smoke is a difficult challenge. Although, many tourists endure this ordeal to catch a glimpse of the extraordinary and magical “blue flame”, which is a memorizing sight. This sight is unique, with very little other places in the world that have such a wondrous scientific fascination, and the main reason why so many tourists flock to it.

Ijen

Seeing the glaring lick of the blue flame tickle the crater whilst vast clouds of smoke circle the area, creates a modern scene of hell. And those that suffer the most, are the sulphur workers that chip away day and night at this burping beast. Local men of all ages, wearing little safety protection, dig up lumps of sulphur which are sold at a multitude of prices and used for a variety of reasons, commonly used for women’s make up products. Seeing them work in such horrific conditions is disgusting enough, but making the journey up and out of the crater and down the volcano with 60 kilos on their shoulders, sweating and trying to find a balance on rocky footing, is utterly soul destroying. The worker’s here climb up and down the volcano repeatedly, carrying a vast amount every day for an incredibly low income. Trying not to pity and admire them, is a difficulty.

Ijen Ijen Ijen

Some workers sell carvings out of sulphur, intricate and beautiful- hoping to earn more money off tourists for their designs rather than their work pay. If you can, try support them by paying for a picture or buying a souvenir. Leaving hell behind and the sun slowly rising before you, one can see the full scene of Ijen volcano surrounded by a large aquamarine lake. The sediment around the volcano is dry and rocky, with so many crinkles and grooves in it, it resembles an aged women’s face, worn down with worry. As you pass along the crater rim, the glorious view of the island of Java is beneath you. Clouds float below you as other other volcanoes break out of the swirling marshmallow clouds and vibrant green foliage encompasses the sweeping scenery below. It is a beautiful sight. Be careful when journeying down the volcano though- take it step by step as I walked faster then I should of done, and fell over (someone had to!)

Originally myself and my travel buddy were planning to make our own way to a nearby town of Ijen by public transport and organise a cheap and last minute tour there. Talking to a number of locals, we found that public transport is difficult to find around the surrounding areas of Ijen and so tours are advised to be booked, but from nearby areas, not from main tourist destinations as this will be at a extortionate price. Booking from the nearby town of Probollingo, (taking a local minibus from Bromo for 30 thousand there), we arranged a tour from a travel desk in Probolingo which included a night’s accommodation in a nearby town of Ijen, transport to the park and a guide up the volcano.

However, a guide is not necessarily needed up the volcano as the path is only one way and pretty simple. What might be difficult is arranging transport to the park where the volcano is, at such a late time, as well as, accommodation near the volcano. However, with some prior organization, a tour can be well avoided.

Chilly Nights in Dieng Plateau

Dieng Plateau is a hidden prized spot on the island of Java, tucked away from the main tourist route of Jarkarta to Yogyakarta. Although a distant place to reach, the breathtaking scenery is well worth it. High up in the mountains, Dieng Plateau is a flat marshy land filled with emerald and azure lakes, sulphurous bubbling craters and endless rice terraces that are stacked high on top of one another, as if Connect 4 blocks. Walking around this memorizing landscape “stirs the soul”, as my travel buddy poetically put it, as shrouds of mist smother a patchwork of crops whilst the melodic call for prayer floats out of speakers and echoes around the valley.

Dieng Plateu Dieng Plateu Wandering by foot is a picturesque way to see Dieng Plateau, however some of the sights are far away and are much more easier obtained by renting a motorbike, (some are so spread out, just visiting one might zap out your energy). The roads have often suffered from many a motorbike rider so they are worse for wear, just rubble at some points, which creates a slightly uncomfortable and thrill seeking journey at times.

Dieng Plateu Dieng Plateu Dieng Plateu

Head to see sunrise at Guning Sikunir, a massive hill next to the village of Sikunir– the highest mountainous village in Java, and it definitely feels like the coldest! Hugging a blanket around my shoulders and looking up at the starlit sky, we ascended the hill. There are two paths to see the sunrise, one to the left which is a easier route to ascend in the dark, whilst to the right, the path is more different, but the views are more spectacular. On one side of the hill is a large glossy lake that centers in a crater with domineering velvet like mountains that surprisingly still sow and crop rice terraces at such a high height. On the other side, the pink sun disperses through a thick smog like mist that encompasses the horizon. The two slowly part ways as if imitating a dance led by lovers. As the sun begins to rise and the mist begins to tumble and fall over the scenery, the rising 7 peaks of magnificent volcanoes loom in the distance. The view is breathtaking and well worth the chilly climb.

Dieng Plateu Dieng Plateu

The other sights which I recommend seeing in Dieng Plateau are the complex of temples called Candi Gaththaea. Although not the most beautiful temples, seemingly more like ruins, the surrounding landscape around the combination of temples is a striking contrast. Come here early evening and you’ll recognize that here is “the place to be” for young locals, who sit here and gossip and giggle.

Dieng Plateu Dieng Plateu

Other places to visit are Telaga Wama and Telaga Penglau– both adjoining lakes that are bright in colour and smelly in nature. Wander around both soaking in the peaceful atmosphere of the meditation garden and the calmness that the lake brings. Another beautiful lake is; Telaga Nila, more of a distance from here but snugly placed through winding roads, over large hills and past the spitting Kowah Caudradi crater. The largest and closet crater- hands down, is Kawah Sileni, a crater that produces so much smoke, one would think someone places a smoke machine into the middle of the crater, because it seems so unnatural.

Dieng Plateu Dieng Plateu Dieng Plateu

Going in dry season meant the weather was phenomenal, brightening the landscape even further and making our days much more enjoyable. I can imagine that visiting here in wet season, would be an entirely different experience. Although dry season, the weather here was remarkably chilly at night, so I do advise bringing or buying- extra layers with you.

Accommodation options are basic with poorly insulated rooms. We stayed in Dieng Plateau Homestay, where we managed to barter for a superior room for 150 thousand- including your own bathroom, a thick duvet and a TV. However the economy rooms looked very minimal and were a 100 thousand for each one. We dined most of the time at Bojoono’s next door, which had average tasting food- but had heating- a definite bonus! Rooms were also available here and the staff were incredibly helpful with our transportation plans and we also hired a motorbike for 100 thousand for 24 hours from here.

Getting to and from Dieng Plateau is surprisingly complex. Many tours offer a visit to Dieng Plateau from Yogyakarta, however you spend at least 6 hours of the trip in a car, which isn’t fun. I’d recommend staying over night in Dieng Plateau to fully immerse yourself. We caught a minivan from Yogayakarta through Rahyu travel, taking us four hours and 55 thousand rupiah later. This took us to Wonosobo where we then took a local bus to Dieng Plateau for 15 thousand each. Buses run frequently and minivans go every 2 hours, just be organized in your travel plans to fulfil your desires.

Buddhist Borobudur

A must visit whilst in Yogyakarta is Borobudur. Known as the “centre of the earth” and being one of the most beautiful temple complexes in South East Asia, as well as one of the most important Buddhist sights in the world, it makes my list of top three temples. Made out of grey pumice like stone, each piece of rock has been placed perfectly in coordination to its original structure. Reconstruction has taken place, to restore this wondrous monument to its former glory, after a volcano eruption occurred destroying much of its structure.

Borodubur Borodubur BoroduburWandering around the stupa- clockwise to follow the Buddhist tradition and beliefs, you see detailed and intricate carvings in the rock, in a number of different types of figures from gargoyle style shaped heads to dutiful Buddha statues. The higher you climb to, the more levels and intricate work there is. Reaching the top you are greeted with an enormous stone stupa that dominates the scene, surrounded by smaller stupas with lattice designed granite, reminiscent of bells one might have at Christmas time. Inside each stone bell, is a statue of Buddha meditating. Try find one with his head intact- its quite difficult due to the eruption.

Borodubur

The temple itself is memorizing, but the panorama landscape is spectacular, and is aptly titled, ‘the garden of Java’. Valleys, mountains and volcanoes line the horizon, with towns clustered between. Many different types of green smother each type of foliage that stands lofty in front of you and amongst the view. Walk over to Dagi Hill where you can easily spend a few hours sitting below pine trees- unusual to Indonesia, that stand high and proud, swinging in the wind. From here you can see how Thomas Stamford Raffles discovered Borobudur. A stone temple stacked up to the sky surrounded by a memorizing landscape, one would think it is a scene out of Indiana Jones, and puts in perspective how awe struck Raffles must have felt when discovering it.

Borodubur Borodubur Borodubur

Being budget backpackers we made our own way to Borodubur, searching for a cheaper alternative rather than the tours advertised. Catching a bus from the center of town to the bus terminal Jampur, and then switching to another bus that led to Borodubur, meant the journey was a long 4 and a half hours, that cost us for the return journey- 58 thousand Rupiah each. Arriving at Borodubur we were told to pay the international tourists fee, a very expensive 250 thousand fee. Given a bottle of water, let in through the VIP entrance and making use of sparkling toilets, we could see where our money went. However, in total, we realized that going on a tour would be cheaper than what we we paid as tours are advertised at 300 thousand rupiah. Taking a tour would have also meant more of a direct journey.

The sight itself was a relatively empty due to it being a weekday and in the holy month of Ramadan. However, if planning to go, I’ve been told sunrise at Borodubur is phenomenal- although quite a busy time to visit, it is the most picturesque.