After my unexpected visit to the little-known craters of the Dieng Plateau, Courtney and I made the long and tiring journey across Java to visit one of Indonesia’s best-known and most active volcanoes–Mount Bromo. Our plan was to endure the nine hour bus ride from Yogyakarta to Cemoro Lawang via Probolinggo, and arrive with plenty of time to figure out how to hike Mount Bromo the following day.
Yet, as often happens with budget overland travel in developing countries, things didn’t exactly go as planned.
Seventeen hours and two flat tires later, we finally reached Cemoro Lawang at midnight–exhausted, frustrated and nearly defeated.
We had wanted to visit the volcano independently, as we’d both read that the national park is easily reachable and far more enjoyable when explored on one’s own. But after arriving at such a late hour without plans or an idea of where to go, we succumbed to paying a few extra dollars and followed the crowds on a 3:00am Mount Bromo sunrise tour instead.
There are countless agencies offering Mount Bromo sunrise tours and, to be completely honest, I’m not even sure which company we chose. All agencies seem to offer the same product: transport to Cemoro Lawang, accommodation, a 3am Jeep ride to see the sunrise, transport to the Bromo crater and then a ride back to Probolinggo.
Our tour came with accommodation options ranging from luxurious to basic. Courtney and I chose the cheapest accommodation package and realized immediately that the basic option meant we’d spend the night breathing through our mouths and laying on towels and scarves to create a barrier between us and the bed.
Trying not to think about the bugs, the stench of stagnant urine or the musty sheets, I bundled up in all my warmest clothes and collapsed for two hours of sleep.
At 3am, we piled into the Jeep and followed hundreds of similar vehicles up the mountainside in a cloud of exhaust. When we reached the top, throngs of people were already practically piled on top of each other–selfie sticks in the air–waiting for the volcano to reveal itself. In complete darkness, Courtney and I carved out a little space in the crowd and waited for the sun to emerge.
As the minutes ticked by, the sky slowly lightened and I began to see the shapes of the mountains form. With time, the faint outlines of volcanic ridges grew thicker and thicker. The rising sun cast a golden light on the volcano.
The view took my breath away. It was stunning. It was awe-inspiring. It was every bit as surreal and majestic as I had imagined it would be.
A few of the travelers we had met on the long and agonizing journey from Yogyakarta, had decided to explore the volcano on their own, without a tour. In order to make it to the top for sunrise, our travel companions skipped out on a nap and began their hike as soon as we arrived in Cemoro Lewang. They followed the Jeeps up the mountain in a cloud of exhaust, arrived at the viewpoint after those of us on the tour had already carved out the best spots in the crowd and only saved a few dollars in the process.
We later learned that an alternative path takes hikers on a shorter route up the mountain, away from the vehicles. Yet, since we arrived in Cemorro Lawang after dark, our companions didn’t have time to ask around for information. They followed their intuitions and walked up the clearly marked road instead.
When Courtney and I realized that we would have likely followed in their footsteps had we foregone the Mount Bromo sunrise tour, we were happy with the choice we’d made.
From where we witnessed the sunrise, our Jeep took us back down the hill toward the the Bromo volcano itself. Mount Bromo sits in a large, flat expanse of sand inside the Tengger Caldera. Though it is not the tallest active volcano in Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, it is certainly the most famous.
From where the jeep left us off, we began our half hour roundtrip walk to the lip of the Mount Bromo crater. The short hike to the crater of Mount Bromo crosses a sea of undulating sand, a Hindu temple and a smaller volcanic peak with wave-like ridges. Behind me, I could see steam rising from the sea of wet sand.
Like the active Masaya Volcano in Nicaragua, I saw smoke rising from the volcano’s bowl-shaped cavity and could hear its thundering roar. The deafening noise shook me to my core. Though I’d hiked up volcanoes before, knowing how active Indonesia’s volcanoes have been in recent years, nearly had me sprinting down the mountainside with every audible rumble.
Staring into the fuming crater was awesome. It was powerful. It rattled me and shook me and pumped my adrenaline a million miles a minute. I was exhausted from my long journey and from lack of sleep, yet I was also exhilarated, awestruck and full of wonder.
And suddenly, the long and tiring bus ride from Yogyakarta to Mount Bromo, seemed like nothing more than a minor inconvenience.
Note: Those hoping to visit the volcano without a tour, might want to check out Mike’s guide to hiking Mount Bromo for free.