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Cemoro Lawang and the Bromo Region

Written on: Sunday May 25th, 2008

A journal entry from: Around The World Without A Plane

Getting in from the nightclub at 5am, Ben and I grabbed a quick couple of hours sleep and jumped on a bus at 9am east to Cemoro Lawang in the Bromo region. The Bromo region brought us a chance to summit yet more volcanoes, featuring the legendary Gunung Bromo itself, rising up from its volcanic sea of sand and sending continuous plumes of thick smoke up in to the atmosphere, and Gunung Semaru, the biggest mountain in Java and one that has just begun to erupt continuously every 20 minutes or so. Our plan was to first climb Gunung Penanjakan in the middle of the night, affording us a sunset view across the plain to Bromo and Semaru, then hike down in to the Sea of Sand, up Bromo, before continuing on to the base of Semaru to camp, then climbing Semaru the following day. Unfortunately though, the barefoot basketball and the climb of Merapi had terrorised Ben?s feet and he was now sporting a colossal blister on the sole of his right foot and a nasty sore on his little toe where his two sizes too small trainers had threatened to eradicate his pinky for ever. Thankfully for him though and just about every other tourist in Cemoro Lawang, the capitalist revolution had arrived, and instead of having to climb Penanjakan by foot you can pay an appreciative Indonesian to drive you up the road to the summit. How thoughtful, how depressing! So now at sunset you can look out on to one of nature?s most beautiful and amazing views and at times confuse it for being in Tesco?s on Christmas Eve trying to buy a turkey such is the thronging mob of people.We had been joined on the bus from Yogyakarta by Franz, a German from Stuttgart who had also joined us in the Embassy nightclub the night before, and who we affectionately nicknamed ?Herman Ze German?; Pavel a 38 year old public relations manager from Moscow, who with his bushy beard and thick, white, whispy afro looked more like a mad scientist; and Susie, a Korean girl. Ben, Herman, Pavel who shortly became Pavlov and Susie all arose at 3:45am to take a Land Rover up Penanjakan, but despite my insomniac habits over the past few days I decided to get up at 2am and walk it on my own. Although the easiest and shortest of all the climbs I had done so far in Indonesia it became ten times harder and probably one of the scariest because I was doing it alone and had to find the trail myself up the side of mountain. The first 45 minutes was no problem at all, I just followed a road to the mountain?s base, but then the trail broke off in to thick head-high grass and steep climbs. Indonesians, like the Chinese are quite fond of putting dog on their food menus rather than in their homes and so it is quite a rare sight to see any around. In fact throughout the whole of my trip in Indonesia so far I can?t recall seeing more than a couple. So when I decide to walk in the middle of night, alone in the 4C nippy climate on a path I don?t really know it was only right that every dog in the country arrived to greet me with a chorus of rabid howls that made me quite worried to say the least. I got past the dogs unscathed though, and met two Taiwanese ladies ahead of me who must have been quite worried at my approaching footsteps in the depths of the night. They too had decided to hike the mountain instead of taking the leisurely 4x4 trip, but were walking at a slower pace to me so after being informed that one of them was a famous film star in Taiwan I went on ahead and pushed in to the brush. About halfway up the trail the foliage became quite thick and I had to search in several directions to find the path. The grass here was really high and thick with moisture that had soaked my jeans that later on in the dawn of the day made my legs painfully cold. At this point my climb became even tougher too because the inadequate, cheaply made Indonesian batteries run out on my flashlight and so I had to tip-toe on along the trail utilising just the light of the moon?s rays to guide me on my way. Towards the top of the 2,770 metre high Penanjakan the trail brought me out on to the road and just as I was about to reach its peak to isolated glory at 4:25am, the shutters on one of the cafes opened up and six Land Rovers overtook me. Sod it ? I went and had a coffee and a bun.Despite well over a hundred tourists at the top of Penanjakan the sight of Bromo smoking below in the outer crater, surrounded by a thick blanket of pure white fluffy cloud that by sunrise had climbed up to the top of the crater walls and had began to seep down in to the town of Cemoro Lawang like excess water scuttling over the top of a dam, with the towering peak of Semaru on the horizon in the distance puffing out a gush of sulphur at regular intervals made it enigmatically picturesque and probably the best single view of any of the volcanoes I have climbed. If, on the off chance I ever rise to claim a seat in the Indonesian government though, the first thing I will set about doing is destroying the road that leads up here.With my jeans soaked and the chill starting to set in where my sweat had cooled I decided against hiking all the way to Bromo and instead jumped in to the 4x4 the others had arrived in and utilised the road after all. The convoy of vehicles all stop in the middle of the Sea of Sands a kilometre or so from the concrete steps that have been built up the side of Bromo. Here a flurry of Indonesians rush at each vehicle pushing cards with the names of their horses on in to the hands of the exiting passengers. If you chose to take a horse you can ride your stallion (or donkey which they more resembled) across the sands before walking the steps yourself, or you can just walk behind the fleet of people on their steeds. I thought long and hard about this and decided as I?d never really ridden a horse before, had very little experience with them and my one memorable experience of them is when one nearly took my hand clean off when I tried to feed it a carrot when I was six, and jumped straight on one. My horse was called Ribut, but as it was one of the only white horses I instead named him Shadowfax, after Gandalf?s legendary horse in Lord of the Rings. Sadly its colour was the only thing it had in common with Shadowfax. At first he didn?t even want to walk two steps, let alone trot up a volcano. He appeared to be gagging constantly and had an ever-present stalactite of green, bubbling phlegm hanging from his tired jaws. His handler then kept hitting him with a thin bamboo cane and making gushing noises at him to make him move. This was not the He-Man and Battlecat attacking Castle Grayskull scenario that I was working hard to imagine. However Shadowfax did eventually make it up to the steps, albeit 10 minutes behind everybody else and I ungracefully clambered off thankful to give the poor mare a break.We ascended to the top and were hit by the strong sulphurous gases that the volcano was pushing out and the amazing views in to its deep crater. Most took a few pics and climbed back down but Ben, Herman and I decided to walk the perimeter of the rim before relaxing and chilling out taking in the incredible panoramic scenery. Herman asked us on the walk round if we were calling him ?Herman? or ?German?. ?Herman?, we told him. ?Why are you calling me Herman?? he asked. ?Because you are Herman Ze German? Ben told him.On the way back to the cars Shadowfax had an amazing transformation and after a little whisper in his ear and a tickle on the back of his neck just took off. His handler began shouting and running after us while I held on for dear life to the reins with my left hand and the saddle with my right. I felt like Lester Piggot as Shadowfax and I came to overtake Ben and his horse, but Ben?s horse had other ideas and began to sprint or whatever it is that horses do when they go fast, and veered over every now and then turning his head and trying to take a bite out of Shadowfax. I didn?t really want to get off at the end, I?d quite taken to this riding malarkey, but slid off as haphazardly as before and filled my cupped hands with water from my bottle to allow Shadowfax to rehydrate. Despite his parched appearance he didn?t seem to want my water although he did leave that cascade of thick phlegm draped all over my fingers.