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Worth It (?) – Mt. Bromo (Indonesia) | We're Not There Yet

It occurred to me to skip the whole ‘sunrise over Mt Bromo’ thing and just get some sleep, but it’s hard use an early wake-up time as an excuse not to do something since our whole lives are comprised of leisure time. So I guilted myself into it and I’m glad I did (R was ready to go without me). We had made plans the night before with the Spanish couple that we met on the bus to Bromo to pool our bargaining power and get 3 ojeks (motorbikes that operate as taxis) to pick us up at 4am to take us to the traditional sunrise viewpoint. Only 3 ojeks because David, one half of the Spanish couple, is a dedicated runner and decided to get in a little trail running up the mountain before meeting us at the top. (I thought he was crazy, too.) The three of us set off on the backs of three scooters driven by local teenagers in the dark, up rutted, winding roads. It took less than 15 minutes to get to the end of the line, where the road got too uneven for even these gravity-and-road-rule-defying guys to venture. We walked for about 20 minutes more and found ourselves at a modest little lookout point with a handful of food vendors. Esther, the Spanish girl, had come here the day before on a day hike with David and said that this was not the final viewpoint, but only about half-way there. Even if we had wanted to stop here, David was planning to meet us at the second viewpoint so we kind of had to press on.

We ended up walking for another hour or so in the dark, often scrambling up rock piles sometimes slipping and falling in mudslicks. We’re not put off by this kind of thing but I might have bargained for our ojek drivers to take us around the back route had I known what we were in for in the pre-dawn hours. By the time we reached the viewpoint, it was full of warmly dressed tourists and their drivers (most other people opted to pay a slightly higher price for the comfort and convenience of an SUV that took them all the way to the top via a longer back-route). Still, we managed to find a nice spot along the railing and could just see the outline of the mountains against the lightening sky. David arrived moments after us, which made me kind of ashamed because we were out of breath just walking it.

Little volcano sitting in the caldera of the massive volcano

The view was beautiful and the early morning hike was rewarding, but the sunrise was a bit of a dud (so far as sunrises can be duds) and the photos turned out nothing like the ones on the postcards. The whole experience makes me mindful of going too far out of my way for one experience or having too narrow of expectations. In this case, we enjoyed our time in Bromo anyway and it was kind of on our way to Bali, so it couldn’t be considered a fail, but there was kind of a sense that we were going to get that picture, to see that sight, the one we had seen on the postcards. The lesson can be applied to anywhere: going to the beach just in time for a storm, going to a diving destination to find conditions unfavorable, going to the jungle for wildlife spotting and seeing nothing. I guess the lesson should be ‘make the most of any situation’ or ‘enjoy the experience for what it is’ but I think a more proactive lesson is to not make plans based on something that can so easily go awry. If we knew that we wouldn’t get the best views of Bromo, maybe we wouldn’t have come at all- certainly we wouldn’t have woken up at 4am. The reason this is relevant to travelling on the backpacker circuit is that touts have figured out what the hot spots are and they will put together no-brainer package deals to get tourists there. Many of the people we arrived with got in at 11pm like us, were up at 4am and then were on a bus to Bali four hours later. They literally stopped long enough to see the sunrise and then go. At least we gave ourselves an extra day to walk around and enjoy the cooler temperature. But there was a long out-and-back drive over a severely potholed road to get there and hotel prices are well above what they are in most other parts of Indonesia. It is easy to go on auto-pilot when traveling on the backpacker trail and just check off the standard places that everybody goes. That makes it so much more important to evaluate each stop for yourself and make sure it is what you want to do with your time and money. Many destinations are charming when they are stumbled upon and unexpected, but would prove underwhelming if they were overhyped and high-cost. I won’t say that about Mt. Bromo, but I do want to make sure that all of the places we go from now on are places that we chose for ourselves and not just because everybody else goes there.

We were on a Probolinggo-bound bus by 9am and on a bus to Bali by noon. 11 hours and one ferry ride later, we were being dropped off in the downtown disco of Kuta, which is about as far from Bromo as you can get.

All three volcanos. The one in the distance is usually smoking. The “little” one in the foreground is where yesterday’s images come from. It is quite active.

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