Envision a land so varied and mesmerizing that it tugs at opposing facets of your emotion. A land that makes you contemplate your Being in relation to, or as an embedded element of, a far superior property of nature, an environment. Oftentimes, we know something is special when we witness it, or are a part of it. But we don’t begin to truly grasp the enormity of such a distinction until we are physically detached and have no way to experience it but through memory, and the emotion that that memory embodies.
For me, Mount Bromo and what surrounds it is that land.
Desiree, Teresa, and I came to the little village of Cemoro Lawang after an entire night of travel, arriving early in the morning after a final ascent from the base town of Probolinggo. Up in the mountains, the weather was temperate and refreshing, cooling down substantially in the evening. There are a few accommodation options. Hotel Bromo Permai is the most expensive, resting right along a cliff-side that descends into a massive, dust-covered valley from which numerous volcanic protrusions emerge. To the left is the sulphur-odoured, smoking Bromo crater, and to the right is Mount Batok. Off in the distance is Mount Semeru, towering over both. We chose the homestay next to the hotel, although we came to Bromo Permai quite often just to enjoy the magnificent view along its border.
In our homestay, there was no heat, no flush toilet, and very limited hot water. I’m the type of person who would typically rather be too cold than too hot, though, so I had no complaints. We slept fully clothed and under several blankets.
Visitors usually hike up the side of Mount Pananjakan, which lies to the north of Bromo, a couple of hours before dawn in order to catch the sunset once the summit is reached. We spent the first day exploring the village since we arrived too late in the morning for the hike, and either way, we were beat since travelling from Denpasar to Probolinggo. The few restaurant options available served up some amazing soups and stews ideal for the cool climate and it all kept us feeling cozy.
Cemoro Lawang was where Teresa and I gained a liking for Indonesian kretek cigarettes, specifically, Djarum 76s. The tobacco is infused with a variety of spices, with emphasis on cloves, and 76s are unfiltered. When you draw on them, you can hear the crackle of the spices. The flavour and that crackle somehow suited the cold weather. Neither of us are typical tobacco smokers, but if I’m able to get my hands on a pack of Djarums, I’m laughing.
We did our best to get to sleep early that evening and awoke at 3 AM. We set out for the trek up Pananjakan about half an hour later, making sure to pack plenty of water and snacks to keep us fueled. It was pitch black and we relied on our flashlights and phones to keep the path lit. Partway up, we came across some men on donkeys, offering rides up for those who were beginning to feel the strain of the upwards hike. We declined, though, determined to make it up on our own two feet. It took about an hour and a half, but after climbing the winding gravelly road, we finally made it to a set of steps that marked the final ascent. Up here, a lady was running a little food stall. We got instant noodles and a cup of that strong, grainy Javan coffee. We walked up the final set of steps, somewhere between two and three hundred, I lost count. The view from the top was and is nothing short of divine.
We stayed up here for about an hour, taking pictures, taking in the view, meditating on life. It’s next to impossible not to take part in all of these activities when the best of existence is laid out before you.
Later, we descended. The sun was up, and we were invigorated. We had breakfast and then decided to take a walk down into the valley below. The descent began from the edge of Hotel Bromo Permai where a zigzagging path led us down, down, down. We stepped into the open desert of the canyon and realized how vast it really was as it surrounded us. The earth was saturated with volcanic ash which is still embedded in my travel runners to this day. Teresa and I each picked up pieces of volcanic rock, once molten lava, to take home with us. They kind of look like what you would think a lunar rock would be.
Further out, near the edge of Mount Batok is a lonely Hindu temple, the Poten Hindu temple. We didn’t learn much about it, just that it is a revered place in this already godly landscape.
We hiked up the side of Mount Bromo, eventually coming to a set of steps that took us up to the gaping crater mouth. The smell and essence of sulphur was all about us. It kind of smelled like rotten eggs.
Dozens of people were here to visit the volcano as well. A group of military men had come on a journey here. One of the men engaged me in friendly conversation, asking me the same kinds of questions I would ask a stranger from a place I was foreign to. He asked me about my travels, and what interested me to come to this place. He seemed just as awed with what he was seeing as I was, and this was no meek individual. He was a towering figure with a dominant presence, perhaps a man of rank. His reaction speaks to the intensity and power of Bromo.
Mount Bromo and the surrounding peaks have become a template in my mind for nature in its most ideal, powerful, daunting, terrifying, and beautiful form. If you are travelling in Java, Indonesia, you must pay this area a visit. It will change the way you see the world, whether you’re a creative aesthete, a person who thinks with mathematical precision and care, or simply an adventurer who appreciates an astounding view and the thrill of making it to the top to witness it. The privileged individual is the one who is able to envision it within the context of the reality of experiencing it firsthand.