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The Wonders of Java

After chilling for four days in Derawan, and doing a whole lot of nothing, I felt recharged and ready to set off to see more of Indonesia. I flew to Surabaya, and got out of there quickly. It’s a muggy, dirty city with little to offer a traveler (in my opinion). I hopped a local bus to Probolingo, which is the in between point for seeing Mount Bromo and Ijen. By the time I got to Probolingo, there were no more buses making the trip up to the mountain, so I spent a night in town and made friends with a local tour guide, Tony, who loved English football and “smoked like Bromo,” as he said. We went for some good local food and some Bintangs.

The following morning I made my way up the windy roads of Probolingo to the village that sits at the edge of Mount Bromo. As we climbed higher, we entered the clouds and the temperature began to drop. It was getting proper cold! The villages we drove through were small farming villages, nestled on the hills of lush green mountains. I felt as if I’d been transported back to medieval rural France. That’s the only way I can describe the villages themselves. Little one story brick homes sat at the edge of the farmland and smoke from fires blew out the chimneys. I almost expected a Frenchman carrying a pheasant and a baguette to be walking down the road. Yet, we were in the middle of Indonesia.

I checked into Yoshie’s lodge for the night, an eccentric and colorful guesthouse. Home was a little basic bamboo room, but in the courtyard was a working hot shower! The following morning, I had a 4am wake-up call, as I was heading up to Penanjakan to watch the sunrise. Here, you can see Bromo and Mt. Semeru, both of which are smoking in the distance.

We got to the mountain with some time to spare, enough time for a cup of coffee to warm up and a chat with some Indonesian students from Jakarta. (It’s always nice to meet people traveling in their own country, and I saw a lot of this in Java). From here, we made our way to the viewpoint, which to my surprise was a short flight of steps- such a nice change from the hour long treks I have become accustomed to on this trip.

The sunrise was a bit cloudy, and therefore not very colorful, but the clouds did eventually give way to the volcanoes in the distance, and shortly after sunrise, we made our way by 4-WD down to the “Sea of Sand,” which is the barren land surrounding Mount Bromo. From here, we were able to hike up to the top of the volcano (via 400 steps). You can actually peek down to the hole in the earth and watch as smoke billows out- a sight I had never seen before! I also managed to walk about half way around the entire caldera, a moment where I definitely had to pinch myself to assure myself it was real.

Mount Bromo is obviously an active volcano and last erupted in 2004, killing 2. Mount Semeru is also active and at this point in time, is not open to visitors, due to its high level of activity.

I headed back to Yoshie’s for some breakfast and packed up to make my way to Ijen. I believed Ijen to be right next to Bromo. That’s how it looked on the map anyways, but it turned out to be a 6 hour-drive. Still, we passed through some beautiful villages, coasted along next to the ocean for a good portion of the drive and then finished up with a drive through a coffee plantation. In fact, I stayed at Arabica guesthouse which sits on a coffee plantation. Needless to say, there were endless cups of free coffee here, which helped for yet another early wake up call.

At 4am the following morning, we were on our way to see Lake Ijen. This is a volcanic crater, now filled with water, that sits next to another active volcano, that pumps out so much sulfur you have to cover your mouth and nose at times because of the strong smell. But given the natural elements, the color of the lake is beautiful, almost like a glowing soft green color.

We hiked about 3 kilometers from the park entry to the top of the caldera, where unfortunately, due to the direction of the winds, we weren’t afforded very good views of the lake, but after about another hour’s hike down, we were standing lake side and were able to avoid the sulfur stream and get a good look at the size and beauty of the lake. The temperature of the lake felt like a hot tub and you could see little bubbles climbing up to the surface.

We were also able to watch the men harvest the sulfur. Big metal tube like structures, literally lead to a furnace like building, where sulfur billows out. It eventually hardens and forms a dark yellow crystalline object (which looks like an entire candle has melted down). The men then break up these pieces of sulfur and put it into baskets which they carry up the side of the volcano. These must weigh upwards of 200 lbs, yet one basket may only yield them about 6,000 rupiah ($.60). (The product is used as a preservative in dried fruits, as well as in makeup.) Sometimes I don’t know how these men do this hike with an additional 200 pounds, in flip flops, most of the time while puffing away on a cigarette!

After hiking back up from the lake, we were able to get some better views of Lake Ijen. Then, it was time for the ride back to Probolingo followed by a 3-hour wait for my luxury minivan to Yogyakarta. Well, it was far from that. The van was from 1980, had no AC and it sounded as if the wheels were going to drop off. The promised 7-hour journey took around ten hours, probably due to the fact that the driver pulled over every 3o minutes to try to figure out what was rattling underneath the van.

Still, we did not breakdown!! And we arrived in Yogyakarta around 5am, just steps away from the guesthouse I had scoped out before arriving. Luckily there was a spare room, where I would spend most of that day, recovering from my journey and one too many 4am wake up calls.

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