Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Trek to Mount Bromo

Due to some mix up, the driver was not here to pick us up at the Surabaya airport and we had prepaid.  When something like this happens in a foreign country where not everyone speaks good English, it can be the cause of some anxiety.  But Judith was on phone soon, after a few challenges, and was told that the driver was waiting at the train station and it would take 30-45 minutes to get to the airport.  He did come thankfully.  This resulted in a 90 minute delay in getting started on our 3 + hour road trip through insane traffic. But once we started up the mountain we saw an entirely different view of Indonesia. It all started when turned off the main road and started up the mountain.  Soon the vegetation started to change and the road turned from a smooth wide 2 lane avenue with few mild curves to a rough, narrower road with hairpins turns the norm. 
We arrived at the Java Banana hotel, high up the mountain, and the receptionist had no idea of our problem.  We were angry that we missed seeing the sunset due to our delay plus all the hassle we had to do through. We had difficulty negotiating some compensation at first, but in the end things were made right. The room had a great view and was well appointed. There is no internet and no TV except fuzzy local channels, but we didn't care as our main priority was to get up at 3 AM and travel up the mountain via jeep, horse, and foot to reach a high spot for viewing the break of day and to see the shadows and colors around Mt. Bromo, an active volcano.
We had the sequence of events explained to us when we checked in, so as scheduled we were ready to hop into a jeep at 3:30 AM and after 20 minutes up a twisty, dusty, bumpy road upward, the caravan of jeeps peeled off and parked.  I unfold my legs and climbed out.  Up the trail we started and after rounding a curve, came upon the horses and horse valets (to make up a concept) who wanted money to rent their wiry, small horses to take us up the mountain.  It did not take long for us to agree that horsepower was the way to go.  And best of all, the men walked with the horse leading him by the reins.  All we had to do is hang on for dear life.  This is not an exaggeration.    
But eventually the trail narrows again requiring the last leg to manpower.  Fortunately, there are well defined steps and we reach the top, stopping along the way to let our lungs take in as much oxygen as the thin air will allow.  The flat area at the viewing point looks like a miniature village with the local Tenggerese people there with small fires ablaze to heat water for instant coffee, tea, or hot chocolate to sell to the tourist and well as knit hats and handicrafts.
We arrive about 5 minutes before the sky starts to light up.  Capturing the sequence of the sun rise is on everyone’s agenda as people jostle amongst each other to position their cameras with clear shots of the event.

Soon there is enough light to see the three volcanoes, two which line up as if drawn from the same axis.

In the foreground is extinct Mt. Batok with Mt. Semeru behind it.  Mt. Bromo is just to the left of Mt. Batok.  The top of the volcano has been blown off.  It last erupted in January 2011.  Mt. Semeru is one of the most active volcanoes in Indonesia, spewing off ash and smoke about every 20 minutes.
After more light I can see how far down the jeeps are parked.
In our descent, clutching onto the horse’s saddle becomes even more challenging because we need to lean back slightly due to the steepness of the slope.  Back in our jeeps, we travel to another vista where we can see the other jeeps trekking across the “Sea of Sand” to the Hindu temple at the foot of Mt. Bromo.  Look closely to find it.
We declined this part of the tour due to the requirement to do more climbing in the volcanic dust up a very narrow trail without the aid of horsepower.

 Legend of Mount Bromo

There is legend related to Mount Bromo and the region of Tengger. According to this legend, there was a 15th century princess named Roro Anteng from Majapahit who started a principality with her husband Joko Seger. They named the principality Tengger, an amalgam of the last syllable of both their names.

Being childless for many years, the royal couple made a trip up Mount Bromo to seek the help of the mountain gods in granting them a child. The gods agreed to their request, telling them that they would have 25 children, but demanded that they sacrifice their final child. Together, the couple had 24 children.
When the last and final child was born, Roro Anteng refused to sacrifice it. The mountain gods sent fire and brimstone until she finally relented. After the child was thrown into the crater of the volcano, anhis voice was heard asking that an annual ceremony be performed to appease the gods. The ceremony was still being performed to this day. It takes place on the 14th day of the full moon Kesodo, according to the Tenggerese calendar. Rice, fruits, vegetables, flowers and livestock are offered to the mountain gods.
Dear readers, it strikes me that if you happened to be born into a Tenggerese family, you would probably be trekking up to the rim of the cauldron each year, chicken and rice in hand feed the god anhis.  What you wouldn’t be doing is observing special dietary rules, travelling to Mecca, confessing your sins, setting up nativity scenes at winter solstice, going through prostrating rituals, lighting a lot of incense, wearing funny hats, or privately donning special underwear.  You probably would hope that your capricious god would be satisfied enough protect you from the dangers of the world and offer your inner spirit a safe haven after your earthy remains are scattered to the winds.  The more pious amongst your people would know that your god has favored your tribe with the unquestionable truth on how to achieve everlasting peace and any other visions need to be rejected by whatever means necessary to keep your mind cleansed of disturbing evidence to the contrary.

Our jeep driver must have been blessed with skill, acquired knowledge, and confidence because we arrived back at the Java Banana safely.  We took time to meander through the unique flora and feel the warm sun increase the temperature to a pleasant level as we wait for breakfast.
This photo was shot from the grounds showing the small but beautiful Tenggerese houses and an onion field which, along with potatoes and cabbage thrive in the rich soil and cool temperatures.  The houses are constructed mostly with tile and cement which probably is a result of learning to keep trees to help prevent soil erosion.
We leave late morning for our trip to Surabaya and have a chance to see the terrain, villages, and people as we wind our way downward.  Our delayed trip up the mountain was done with darkness close at hand.
We get to the main road to Surabaya and our young driver maneuvers in and out of out-of-this-world traffic insanity of motorcycles, aggressive tour buses, slow over-loaded trucks, ox-carts, bicycles, and risk taking cars and after over 3 hours we get to our hotel in Surabaya, the Hotel Majapahit Surabaya.
Hotel was built around 1910 and is in great shape with 143 rooms and the largest Presidential Suite in Asia. It has a very rich history. I wrote a review on Trip Advisor entitled, “Grand, Old, Elegant Hotel, and great value”. In the restrooms outside of the rooms in other parts of the hotel, it has pull chains for the toilets and long urinals in the men's rooms. Floor standing mirrors, old heavy wooden furniture in great shape, old chandeliers and ceiling fans.  The hotel sits on a very busy street but the property extends far away from the street and no traffic could be heard. 

Judith had business the next day and I hung out at the pool and spa relaxing before travelling back to Jakarta the next day.  There are so many wonderful places to visit in Indonesia and Mt. Bromo and Surabaya should be on any tourist’s short list.

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