Travel is fractional of life as life is fractional of all of existence. To ask “what does it all amount to?” is almost always to refer to a minor convex in a world of colossal mountains whose peaks are, and always will be, far beyond sight. My adventures, such as from Bali to the heights of Mount Bromo in East Java, hold an endless series of finish lines that I will continue to cross, again and again, until my legs will carry me no further. But I have no false impressions as to a possible total endgame. Life, as I see it, is simply an ever-evolving sequence that a lot of us are just trying to make the most out of within the temporal restraints that define our own personal being.
It was quite a long overnight bus ride from the station in Denpasar to the base town of Probolinggo, which perhaps explains why my brain had nothing better to do than to contemplate these amateurish existential thoughts. But the ride itself wasn’t without excitement, either.
Boarding at dusk, it was a few hours along Bali’s west coast before Desiree, Teresa, and I made it to our docking point at Gilimanuk. From there, the bus drove onto a massive cargo ship which took us the two or three kilometres across the straight that separates the Bali Sea and the Java Sea.
We were packed bumper to bumper along with dozens of other busses and motor vehicles like sardines in a can. The driver shut off the bus, turned off the lights, and stepped out, into the ship. That was when the cockroaches came out.
I suppose they’d been riding on the bus with us the entire time. It wasn’t until the engine stopped rumbling that they decided to make an appearance, en masse, from every corner that they’d been hiding. My sister was freaking out as thousands of cockroaches roamed the floors and walls of the bus. We pulled out our flashlights and shone them in every direction, at first to give ourselves some awareness as to the cockroach’s locations, and then as a repellent when we realized that they hate light and would scurry away the instant they were illuminated. This lasted for about forty-five minutes with all of us standing on our seats, packing away all of our snacks, stomping cockroaches with our shoes as often as we could, and flailing our flashlights like lightsabres in order to avoid being overrun. As a child, insects and spiders were my number one fear. If this had been a decade or more earlier, I would’ve been emitting high pitched wails for the duration. Nowadays, it’s just another one of those great stories that I love telling.
When we’d finally docked on Javanese soil, in the tiny town of Ketapang, the driver started up the bus again, the cockroaches retreated, and the Three Musketeers breathed a sigh of relief. It took a few more hours to finally nod off to sleep. In fact, it wasn’t much more than a hazy headache before we were awoken at about 2:30 AM. We’d reached Probolinggo and we didn’t know what to do next.
When we bought our tickets, we were told we’d be taken up to Mount Bromo. In truth, we didn’t know the logistics of travelling here so we certainly didn’t know that large charter busses can’t possibly make their way up the treacherous mountainside. Instead, we were dispatched in front of a small tourism office where a sketchy man smoking an Indonesian cigarette was trying to sell us bus tickets up to Cemoro Lawang for a highly inflated price. Keep in mind that it’s now the middle of the night and we’re foreigners who have no clue where we are, or how to proceed. It didn’t help that he grouped us under the umbrella of ‘tourists who want to see the mountain just like the guidebooks told you to do’.
I turned down several offers only to sit outside on a bench, drinking a heavily grainy coffee that the man brewed for during our talks. Eventually, he came out and sat with me and we talked some more. We came to an agreement that we would wait for the first minivan heading up to Cemoro Lawang, a little village in the mountains from where we’d be able to trek up the still-active volcano. It was typical of how we’d travelled throughout the several months we’d been backpacking through Asia. Jump from one place to wind up in another in order to find a way to get to the next, while hiking, adventuring, exploring, and relaxing along the way. The entire trip sparked an endless desire for more travel since. There was no end, there will be no end, until our lives are over, and even then, what is will be, whether we’re here or not, whether we care or not. And so what? I love it and I’m lucky that I have what I do, for any period of time. The joy and the sadness of living, coupled together, feeding off of one another, is my salvation. I won’t pretend otherwise.
The minivan arrived at about 4 AM, before any local passengers arrived. The three of us were allowed to board right then and there, so that we could catch a few hours of sleep before it left for Cemoro Lawang at the crack of dawn. I wasn’t awake for most of the ride up, although Teresa and Desiree were, laughing at my snores and interacting with some of the friendly locals who were headed up to work, to see family, or to return home. The three of us were the only foreigners.
When I awoke, we were high up and the land had changed drastically. We were surrounded by pine trees and crops indicative of cooler weather.
I remember asking the man who arranged the minivan if any of the guesthouses up in Cemoro Lawang had air conditioning; it was a staple question up until that point. He just laughed. When the sun is at its highest up there, the temperature is about 15 degrees Celsius. At night, we slept fully clothed and covered in several blankets. About a thirty second walk from our homestay (whose toilet was nothing more than a hole in the ground and whose shower had about three minutes of warm water) was the valley separating Cemoro Lawang and Mount Bromo. It’s a sight to behold. I feel privileged to be able to walk you through it.