Mount Bromo, on the island of Java in Indonesia, is a must-see destination. Whether by Jeep or on foot, the visit to the active volcano is magnificent and the landscape seems almost lunar.
he jeep goes straight ahead, full headlight. Nothing seems to stop it, not even the huge ruts punctuating the dirt road. At the back of the jeep, it looks more like a washing machine, so intense are the shocks. All this is covered by the noise of the roaring engine. In its wake, a thick cloud of dust rises but quickly dissipates in the darkness. A hundred metres ahead of us, a procession of yellowish lights, dots dancing in a lightless landscape. These points of light suddenly begin to float in the void and disappear sporadically. Then it is our turn to leave the dusty desert and climb Mount Penanjakan.
“Don’t worry, we’ll go where there aren’t many tourists,” says our half-reassuring guide. He is not very talkative and prefers to talk with the driver. We are still drowsy from the lack of sleep of the last few days of the trip and we won’t remember his name. There is nothing to see outside, and we quickly fall back into the arms of Morpheus.
Cemoro Lawang, at the gates of Mount Bromo
Also, the day before, we had to wait for more than an hour at the station without hearing from him, because he had gone to pray at the mosque without telling us. The only topic of conversation was football. And Zidane, of course. A strange guide, with his dark glasses and his hair slicked back. He looks more like a mafioso than a guide. The day before, after more than five hours of driving from Surabaya, endless highways, overtaking that we thought would be the last one because it was so close to the centimetre, climbs and descents, sharp turns, we finally arrived in Cemoro Lawang, the closest town to Mount Bromo. The latter welcomed us with a small cloud of smoke, a sign that it is only dormant and not completely asleep.
Everything is covered in ash. The leaves, the road, the roofs of the houses. The island of Java, like most of Indonesia, lies on the Pacific Ring of Fire, which contains no less than seventy-five percent of the world’s volcanoes. The volcanic and seismic activity is the result of subduction of the Eurasian and Australian plates, making Merapi the most active volcano in Indonesia.
We remain in the dark for most of the journey. The town of Malang is still visible from time to time, but it is still bright. The engine struggles a bit to climb the steep hill. Unfortunately, we are the only ones, because the others are happily passing us on a chaotic road that technically has room for only one car. The miracle of Indonesian driving. Of course, like all tour operators in the region, ours takes us to the most touristy platform. On the side of the road leading to the platform, countless vendors selling hats, scarves, food, torches, etc. are crowded together and impatiently waiting for the horde of vehicles carrying tourists.
We stop at least five hundred metres from the viewpoint, as the number of jeeps blocking the access is so high. “You are lucky, you didn’t come during the high season. There are normally a lot more people”, our guide tells us. The irony of the situation, no doubt. At this altitude, it’s only about ten degrees. The crowd on the platform grows and the roar of the engines dies down to the murmurs and laughter of the tourists.
Everyone waits patiently. The moon becomes beautiful, the stars disappear. In the distance, an intense horizon of fire pierces the night. Mount Bromo, on the other hand, emerges timidly from the darkness, or rather what is left of it: a crater from which emanates the smell of rotten eggs. In the background is also visible Mount Semeru, less known than the first one. The valley below is covered by a thin, transparent layer of mist, blown by the cold wind of a beautiful morning. As if coming straight from the crater of Mount Bromo. The whole thing is reminiscent of the mist over a lake in autumn.
At one end of the valley, we see lights, those of Cemoro Lawang. The town is on a ridge and the whole thing looks like a huge dam holding back the mist in the valley, which at times overflows. The colours tending towards purple give the landscape a supernatural look. The show lasts several tens of minutes, until the sun finally appears through the clouds and is projected on the top of the neighbouring volcanoes. The show is wonderful. We take the time to quietly contemplate the vapours and the mist dancing while enjoying what seems to be the most famous viewpoint in Java. As soon as the first rays of sunshine appear, the cold suddenly disappears, as do the tourists who hurry into their jeeps to leave immediately.
At the top of Mount Bromo
It’s time for us to go back down to the valley to get a closer look at the smoking crater. And the smell of sulphur at the same time. Once in the valley, on a huge improvised car park, we have to walk for about ten minutes to reach the foot of Mount Bromo. The merchants are on the lookout and offer tourists to rent a horse, thus avoiding the possibility of visiting a magnificent Hindu temple of Pura Luhur Poten, one of the only vestiges of this formerly dominant religion on Java. For Hindus, Mount Bromo is a sacred volcano and is used as a place for their offerings during Hindu festivals. Our guide doesn’t know the history of this temple and is almost impatient when we ask him if we can stop to visit it. Unfortunately, most of it is not open to the public.
The climb up Mount Bromo only takes a few minutes. There is a staircase that leads to the top. But beware of falling, as it is so covered with ash. The crater itself does not offer much more than the abundant smell of sulphur, which will remain on our clothes until the end of the trip. There are several offerings from the people of the surrounding villages around the grey chasm. On the steep slopes there is a cosy bed of ash which some people, not without risk, try to climb down. For the others, the stairs seem to be a better way to get down from Mount Bromo.
It’s eight o’clock in the morning, and yet we already feel like a whole day has passed. We reach the huge, dusty, deserted car park to get into our jeep. We smell rotten eggs and discover ash in places we didn’t think there could be any. As at the driveway, there was little discussion with the guide and just as much fear when overtaking. But sleep takes hold of us little by little, which a few horns manage to disturb. We reach Surabaya for our flight to Bali, leaving behind one of Indonesia’s icons.