Sunday, April 4, 2021

A Family Outing To Bromo

 “YOU MUST SEE MOUNT BROMO”. It was 16 years ago and I was traveling around Indonesia for the first time, and there was always some “must-see” destination in each place, whether it was a royal palace, a temple or verdant rice paddies. Well, back then I was single and (relatively) young, so getting up atg stupid 0’clock in the morning, to drive upa sheer mountainside in a jeep and then ride on a horse to see a volcano was something I thought was doable. I booked a tour and arranged to be picked up from my hotel at 3 a.m. the following morning.
Alas, being single and (relatively) young, other thing interposed. I went out for dinner with the intention of getting an early night but met up with some friendly local people, who persuaded me to go for a drink, just one mind, at a nearby nightclub. One thing kind of led to another and by the time reception called me at 3 a.m., I really wasn’t in the mood to go volcano-spotting. Full disclosure, there were quite a few other “must-see” destinations, royal places, temples and verdant rice paddies, that I also missed for similar reasons 16 years ago.

I often regretted that decision, not a lot I admit, but enough to make me think I really should make the trip at a latter date. So here I was all of 16 years later in the pleasantly compact East Java town of Malang, oldern and wiser and with four kids ranging from 7 to 12 years in age, looking forward to our trip to Mt. Bromo.
For someone used to my comfort zone of Jakarta, rarely venturing to anywhere else in Indonesia, other thn driving to Bogor for the afternoon or a long weekend in the expat havens of Bali, I was looking forward to seeing again some of the other bits of Indonesia on a family tour of East Java. The short flight to Malang certainly provides a magnificent view of the Java that for too many of us is simply “fly-over country”. To see the line of dark brooding volcanoes, some extinct, some just waiting the right moment, emerging through the clouds below you is to be reminded of the powerful and ancient forces that have crafted this beautiful land. And to arrive in Malang’s sleepy little airport and wait the best part of 40 minutes to collect you bags from the only plane parked not 100 meters from the baggage carousel is to be reminded why you don’t make the trip so often.
On this trip to Bromo we were being picked up at midnight to drive trhough the ngiht up the mountain to catch the beautiful sunrise fro ma neighboring peak. We calmbered into a Toyota Land Cruiser that had seen better days and began a spine-shaltering ride along rutted tracks and around hairpin bends in the pitch dark in what seemed like some Mad Max-style race with hundreds of other jeeps and  insane motorcyclists to get the peak first.
Dropped off just below Sunrise Point we climbed to the viewing platform, two hours before dawn, and having got our spot, there was little to do other than lie down on the concrete floor and try to get some rest, while latecomers stumbled over us in the dark as the jostled for their spots.
It is cold. Not cool, as in a nice evening in Puncak, it’s an Irish night in February cold.

You need to wear warm gear, a sweater, thick coat, hat, gloves, a scarf too. There are blankets to rent but you don’t want to wrap yourself in one of those for a couple of hours, trust me on this. The cold was made worse by a biting wind that rolled big, marrow-chilling we clouds of fog over and around us. Fog that meant that when the sun did rise there was not much to see. So, after trying to look cheerful for family pictures consisting of shivering children against a pallid background of murky gray mist, we finally gave up and made our way back down.
Then into the Toyoto again to go hurting down the mountain, with the added delight of now being able to see over the sheer sides of the road into the dedly precipes below. We arrived at a dustbowl that appeared to contain the entire production line of Toyota Land Cruisers circa 1996 and in the middle of which was the steaming caldera of Bromo. The caldera is reached on the back of tiny little ponies. The ponies can carry adults but in the interests of animal welfare I skipped the ride and crossed the sand-blown moonscape on foot. I may have looked a little mad, because a vendor offered to sell me a paper surgical mask. For Rp 100.000. I am not that mad.

The climb to the caldera is a steep one, and very crowded. But at the top the sight is ever ybit as stunning as you are led to expect, well it is if you can get through the forest of selfie-sticks to take a look. Don’t seek a moment of intense self enlightment at the wonders of nature and our puny place in the great universe, though, get the pictures you need for social media and move on for the next person to take your place at the railing. You also might want to leave young kids below in safe hands before you begin your ascent, trying to get that perfect instagram picture while keeping an eye on a 7-year-old girl in a san-kicking competition with her brother on the edge of a volcanic crater can be distracting.
Time for a few more photos before we got emphysema from the dust swirling around everywhere and then it was back into the Toyota to contemplate the great wisdom of modern car designers who had the clever idea of making vehicle interiors of soft molded plastic and foam, as we bumped hedas against the roof or backs against angular steel door fittings, before retuning to the hotel for long hot baths in the late afternoon, a mere 18 or so sleepless, bedraggled hours since leaving.
Whisper it, I really should have done this 16 years ago.
[From : The Jakarta Post Travel Edition, August 2018  | Words: Arif Suryobuwono]