The Brim of the Beast

Thursday, February 15, 2018

mt bromo hiking tour
Storytime is a series of  stories about my most memorable travel experiences. Read more here.

This trip was made possible by Indotravelteam, a premier tour agency that organizes tours to active volcanoes in Indonesia. Check out their website for more information on our three day Bromo Ijen Tour.

Silver-sheet, sodden pavement felt dangerous under my running feet. The streets were empty. The lights were off. Bali at first light is lonely. With one of my backpacks slung across my back, the other in front of me, my husband and I sped through the silent, bluish morning light. We were leaving for East Java and we were late.

Believing the rendezvous point was too near for a cab, my husband and I decided to just sprint it. I was starting to think it was a bad idea, but we made it just a few minutes past 6AM. Pierrick, Indotravel's frontman, saw us off, giving us bagfuls of Indonesian bread for the road.

We made ourselves comfortable in the middle row of the van. It was going to be a long trip. It started raining hard as we headed to Gilimanuk dock. But as soon as we arrived, the sky cleared. We then got on a quick ferry ride before continuing the rest of the way to Cemoro Lawang.

Including a quick lunch stop, it took us more or less eight hours to reach the town. Light was already somber when we arrived. Mist crept from the edges. The air greeted us with a freezing embrace and we hurriedly snuck into our rooms.

After putting on jackets, my husband and I decided to walk around town. The place reminded me a bit of Baguio. Quaint houses. Misty mountains on the borders. The chilly air. The vibe was the same.
lawang east java

The streets here were bare, save for locals peddling gloves and hats, and the occasional motorcycle. Where the clusters of houses ended, farmlands began only to be punctuated with peaks. A wintry gust would blow from time to time, plucking my hat from my head.
where to stay in mt bromo

cemoro lawang mt bromo

A little later, we were fetched for dinner to a local eatery. We were served hot soup, tempe, and chicken. I was grateful for the warmth of the broth. My clothes weren't helping with the cold.

Despite the freezing weather (or perhaps because of it), we slept soundly that night. We were all too excited for the next day's adventure.

It was still dark when we hopped into the 4x4. Rattling and jostling on the way, we arrived at the foot of Mt. Penanjakan where we would catch sunrise.

I was a little disappointed at the crowd. There were throngs of people. And cars. It was a holiday, our guide said. What he actually meant was students were on semestral break.

In any event, we trudged up the viewdeck. At one point, we steered from the rest of the crowd, to a more difficult trail. There'd be less people here, we were assured.

Darkness was still thick but I could see the solid mass of people inching its way across the stairs on the opposite side. Flashlights blinked like stars. Not satisfied with our spot, Dennis and I decided to venture farther into our hill. As we walked, the sky began to crack. When we finally reached the end of the ridge, we set up our cameras and waited. We held our breaths as we watched the day unfold before us.

There, in the distance, craters and peaks bundled up, affording a surreal scene. Like a glaring blemish in an otherwise smooth surface, Mt. Bromo, Mt. Semeru, and the Tengger Caldera rose from the Sea of Sand. Except they did not at all look like flaws. They stood majestic under the golden light of dawn. Wisps of clouds snaking amidst. To the left, Cemoro Lawang looked as if it were keeping mist at bay. The whole village was blanketed in haze. As a result, the volcanoes were bare. Stark. Sharp. Unchallenged. The early sun shone upon them gleefully, and it was wonderful to behold.

Photographing Mt. Bromo and its nearby volcano, Mt. Batok, was just in my wildest dream. It was only at that I learned about Mt. Bromo. The search engine featured a photo of it on their homepage. It was like I had a photogasm (if that makes sense) when I saw the photo and never would I’ve imagined that in the same year I will come face to face with the famous volcano. • It’s been more than a year when my now wife, @celineism and I decided to have an adventure in Southeast Asia for our honeymoon. I suggested Mt. Bromo when Celine ask me where else to go in Indonesia. Then after a month or two, it’s like the universe just conspired to help us achieve this dream when Celine heard about @indotravelteam - a premier agency specializing in tour around Indonesia’s most popular volcanoes. They made our trip to Mt. Bromo possible and so much easier and convenient. • Fast-forward to the big day, we started our hike at 3:30am to witness Mt. Bromo at sunrise. But it was cloudy, so cloudy that Mt. Semeru can not be seen anymore from the background. The sun was up and as I expected, no sunlight shone in the face of the volcanoes so after a series of photos using a tripod, we climbed down the view deck to go to the crater of Mt. Bromo. But seeing the other view deck with lesser tourist, Celine and I decided to have a quick snapshot of the view up there, and for just about a minute or two, the sun lit the volcanoes and without any hesitation, I held the camera up, this time with no tripod because I knew the moment will not last long. I was right. I just hoped that using the DSLR’s burst shot would reduce the vibration made by my hands when I pressed the shutter button. • And I think it did. Cheers to making dreams come true with your love one.💕 • Nikon D7200 F/10, iso100, 1/50 • #CDhoneymoonAdventure #WonderfulIndonesia #Nikonph #officialnikonph
A post shared by Dennis Dela Cuesta Murillo (@thedennismurillo) on

mt bromo mt penanjakan

We could've stayed there all day, but the Bromo tour we signed up for had more up its sleeves.

So, on we went to the crater.

Mt. Bromo is said to be Indonesia's most active volcano. It's most recent eruption, albeit minor, happened only in 2016. That day, fortunately, the volcano was stable and tourists were allowed to go up close.

Mt. Batok rose as we approached, disrupting the flatness of the Sea of Sand. As we disembarked from the 4x4, I saw that right beside it, right where it should be, Mt. Bromo seemed to be just at arm's reach. A dirty white haze hovered just above the crater, tapering on the sides until it gave way to the sky's mid-morning baby blue. From where I was standing, the volcano looked harmless.
sea of sand indonesia

We started treading the vast, sandy plain, joined by a herd of tourists both on horseback and on foot. Far to my left, the Pura Luhur Poten was swarmed with people. When we reached the foot of the volcano, we were welcomed by rows of food and souvenir stalls. The land started to soar and cleft, forming ravines and gorges. We navigated these platforms. Hopping one moment; tottering the next. Occasionally, we had to give way to horses. All of them carrying tourists either too weak or too lazy to trek.
mt bromo hiking

mt bromo crater trail

After several minutes of playing get-out-of-the-horses'-way, we reached the stairs to the crater. The steps were stone and two-way. The way down was not as packed as the way up. I sighed wearily. I was worried there would not be enough space, but I moved to climb regardless.
mt bromo crater tour

mt bromo trek

Before I reached the bottom step, I saw a man standing over a spread of colorful flowers, bunched up in bouquets. These dried-up blossoms were from the Javanese edelweiss – a mountain flower endemic to Indonesia.
mt bromo flowers

Bunga abadi, the locals call it. Eternal flower.

These multicolored corsages are peddled to visitors mostly as souvenirs. Some gift it to their partners, as the flower is a known symbol of eternal love and sacrifice. But vendors could often be heard encouraging customers to bring it up the crater, to make a wish and then hurl it into the abyss, as if some sort of offering to the mountains gods. This, along with the haphazard picking of wildflowers, had cause a severe decline in the  numbers of the Javanese edelweiss. In the Bromo-Tenger region in fact, the plant is considered extinct. The good news is that steps are being taken to revive and preserve the plants.

But "feeding" Mt. Bromo was not a new concept. There was, in fact, a tradition called Yadnya Kasada by the Tenggerese people. It lasts for about a month, and on the 14th day, the people gather at the Pura Luhur Poten before proceeding to the edges of Mt. Bromo's crater to throw their offerings of fruit, rice, and even livestock. The ritual was rooted in the legend of Kesuma, the 25th child of Tenger's founders Roro Andeng and Joko Segur. Kesuma had been offered as a human sacrifice after the mountain gods granted the once-childless couple two dozen kids.

The vendor saw me looking and tried to persuade me to purchase but I shook my head politely and proceeded up the stairs.

The way was steep but the slow pace allowed us time to catch our breaths. When we finally reached the top, we still had to carefully wrangle our way out of the crowd.

The narrow tract of volcanic stone made my heart thump. There was a low fence that provided a sense of safety from the crater, but the sheer drop on the other side defeated the purpose. We slid farther from the crowd, passing by an altar of Ganesh protruding towards the crater, to a point where the fence came to a halt. We were the only ones in this area. And, here, was where it all dawned on me.
mt bromo hindu altar

mt bromo volcano crater

This was a dream. To be honest, all I wanted was to view Bromo from Mt. Penanjakan, but here we were. Right at its lips, staring at its gaping mouth.
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By then, the fumes had slightly lifted. From where we were, I could see Bromo's black tongue, coiling, lapping at the thin air, as if tasting it. When from a distance, it looked harmless, from here it looked menacing. It was lost on me how people could even scale down the sides of its mouth to recollect the offerings, thinking it could bring them good luck. But what's more mind-boggling was the fact that humans had the gall to throw trash in this beast's mouth. Plastic bottles, candy wrappers, and junkfood packaging clung to the crevasses of the crater. It looked as though these things didn't want to be there.

I watched the magma tongue roil down below, thinking how trifling my existence was. More than ever, standing at the edges of Mt. Bromo's crater, beyond its beauty, I was in awe of how tolerant Nature was. We make such a big deal of how we're destroying the Earth when we should be worried how the Earth could destroy us. A hiccup could wipe out a town. A belch could topple civilizations. One fiery burp from Bromo and all of us there would now just be a speck in the Sea of Sand.

How humbling experiences like this are.

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