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Bromo or Bust – Mt. Bromo (Indonesia) | We're Not There Yet

A trip to see smoldering Mt. Bromo and its smoky neighbors has become an obligatory stop on the tourist trail in Indonesia. I was completely ready to pass on it- we kind of got our fill of volcanoes in Central America- but I showed R some pictures that I Googled and he instantly decided that we had to go. By all accounts, Mt. Bromo is a big hassle to get to, way more expensive than other tourist areas, and full of exasperating touts giving the hard sell on everything from warm hats to motorcycle rides to a bowl of soup; also, it is totally worth it.

It is possible to get to Mt. Bromo from Yogyakarta via public transport (train-train- taxi-minibus or long, sweaty bus-minibus) or via chartered minivan (with a connecting minivan) from the infinity-pool of tourist agencies in town. We heard horror stories about both: if you go via public transport, you have to pass through Probolinggo, where pickpocketing and overcharging are accepted evils; if you go by charter, you’ll be a captive audience to touts trying to sell you a hotel room/tour package/onward transport at inflated prices. Since the charted bus picked us up from our hotel and was only $2-$3 more than it would have been on public transport, we went with that.

The trip itself was fine, although we were promised an 8pm arrival in the Mt. Bromo area and the actual arrival time was about 11:30pm. As predicted, when we stopped in Probolinggo to change buses we were given a little spiel about ‘how to visit Bromo’, broken down by the cost to purchase each service required to do so. Most people in the shuttles opted for an all-inclusive tour of Bromo including a 4am pick-up to see the sunrise the next morning and onward travel to Bali later that same day. Ever the wary travelers, we opted to make all of our own arrangements, which was inconvenient, to say the least, given our late arrival time. Nevertheless, we, along with a delightful Spanish couple that we befriended, found a hotel at an only marginally outrageous price and decided to spend a full day in town instead of the 5 hour stop that package tourists get.

One of the guys trying to sell pony rides up the volcano.

We slept in until 9 the next morning- about the time that everyone else was regrouping from their sunrise tours and getting ready for another day-long bus ride all the way to Bali. Seeing that the sky was still completely clouded over and our fellow travelers didn’t look too enthused after a late night arrival followed by a crack-of-dawn wake-up time, we congratulated ourselves on our decision to go it on our own. We found a small food stall for breakfast. I tried ordering 3 different dishes on the menu, only to finally realize that my choices were fried rice and ‘soup’. The soup turned out to be chopped vegetables in clear broth with chunks of chicken joints and slices of hot dogs. Perhaps it was a punishment for any stray tourists who declined to go with the program- this, afterall, is a company town. Poor start aside, we struck a deal with a pair of ojek drivers (young men who offer taxi rides on the backs of their scooters) to take us to the base of Mt. Bromo .

The typical trip is an early morning jeep ride to Mt. Penanjakan to see the sunrise over the spectacular ancient caldera in which three active volcanoes are now sitting. After everybody gets a chance to take some photos, they are driven across the ‘Sand Sea’ (it looks like it sounds) to the base of Bromo where they can opt to walk up the path to the volcano rim, or pay a couple of bucks to have a horse do it for them. Owing to our late start and the thick layer of clouds overhead, we skipped the first part and just went straight to the volcano. Some especially thrifty or hardy backpackers opt to walk the 3km across the Sand Sea, but we opted for the quick and cheap motorbike ride. A gaggle of locals crowd around the base of the mountain trying to sell horserides, t-shirts, and dried flower bouquets (it’s ‘tradition’ to buy one of these bunches to throw into the fuming crater of the volcano). We evaded them all and made our way to the rim, seeing no other foreign tourists, but a ton of Indonesian tourists, several of whom requested photo ops with yours truly. The crater is pretty cool- I’ve seen my fair share of volcanoes, but never have climbed up to peer down into a steamy, smelly pit that threatens to blow up at any time.

Love the hat

The lip of the volcano. To the left is a few hundred meter drop into the smoking crater. To the right is just a long tumble down rock and mud.

View of the valley from top of the little volcano. This valley is basically the crater of the bigger volcano in which the little volcano sits. So those hills in the distance is the rim of the larger volcano.

The mud and ash hillsides of the little volcano

Aside from the volcano, there is not a heck of a lot to do in town. R has no proper hiking shoes, so we couldn’t avail ourselves of any of the other walking routes in town and the town itself is little more than a collection of hotels, eating shacks, and the occasional minimart. Lazing around doing nothing suits us just fine, but we’re looking forward to doing it on the beach instead of in the chilly mountains. We’ll attempt a sunrise trip to the viewpoint in the morning, but then it’s on to Bali!

The center of the little volcano. Constant streams of steam come out of that hole.

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