What would you wake up at 3 am for? More specifically, what would you wake up for that involved walking, cold weather and the knowledge that you won’t make it back to bed until late that night? After traveling through Indonesia, I’ve come to realize that a tired body and heavy eyes can quickly be forgotten when you get to witness the fascinating spectacles of the early morning and sunrise.
But experiencing Mount Bromo does not come easily. There were no night buses, so we had to waste an entire day driving from one area of Indonesia to the small mountain village, Cemoro Lawang.
Before we arrived at the village however, we made a stop at a tour office that sways tourists into buying package tours. As budget travelers, we opted out of the tour and said we would find our own accommodation and transport to the volcano. Indonesian tourist hustlers, I have learned, do not go down easily.
“I’ll give you a good deal, but you must promise to not tell the others,” the man said when the others had retreated to the van. “Because I like you. You are my friend. You can have this price.” He looked around cautiously and wrote a number on the board. With such a performance, I reckon many tourists would have gone for it, but luckily we were seasoned travelers and the number on the board made us laugh out loud. Never take the first price, and usually in Indonesia, don’t take the second or the third price.
Sometimes it is just impossible to beat the system fully. We learned this when we arrived in Cemoro Lawang at 11 p.m. The village was silent. Everything was closed and we were lucky our driver knew of a hostel. We negotiated, but still ended up paying an outrageous price for the night. Well, we paid for a full night, but all we got to stay was a mere three hours. A short nap in the bed, no heat, a shower made for midgets and a 3 am wake-up call later, we checked out of our room and headed up the hill to get our jeep transport to the volcano. Arranging our own accommodation and jeep, however still proved to be cheaper than the package tours and was less than half the price of what the guy from the tour place tried to give us.
The uphill ride was bumpy and uncomfortable, but finally the jeep stopped in the darkness. The hill was overrun with a ton of the same type of jeep. Marching up with the rest of the crowd, a small shop answered our prayers with a small cup of instant coffee and a hat to protect our ears from the cold. As we continued walking, we passed people offering jackets for rent and barbequed corn on the cob. With an average temperature here ranging from between 3 and 20 degrees Celsius in the morning, these purchases were tempting. When we reached the top looking point, it was so crowded we simply couldn’t see. Navigating our way through the crowd, we climbed over the fence and carefully took a seat on the dirt hill. The light finally started to creep in, as a blue, orange, yellow sunrise blended into the sky and showing the first glimpse of the majestic, the magnificent, breathtaking Mount Bromo. Each peak and crater could be clearly seen in a most unbelievable way. As the light continued to brighten and change, so did the view. This volcano was incredible. A light smoke began to billow from the top of the volcano and from the depths of the crater. Standing among the dirt, people and the cameras, we watched in awe for hours; it was truly mesmerizing.
We could have stood there for hours, but the time for departure was drawing near. Spotting a familiar tourist, we were able to find our ride. As we made the ride back down, we reflected on what we had seen, and on the outrage that any environmental fanatic would have about these tours. Every day hundreds of fuel guzzling, fume-spewing jeeps drive up and down the hill in this national park. While the cold, dark walk up to the viewpoint would be grueling compared to the ease of a jeep ride, when it is nature you are going to view, it makes sense that nature is what you would protect on the way.
Environmentally hazardous or not, this tour won’t soon be stopped, as viewing Mount Bromo is one of the most popular attractions in Java. As this experience is only easily obtained through package tours, it rakes in tourism profit.
On the way back to the village, all the jeeps stopped in the middle of an open area of dusty land. This plain that Mount Bromo sits on is known as the “Sea of Sand” and has been a protected nature reserve since 1919. Here tourists pile out and make ready for the walk up to the crater. As you walk along, horses come galloping by, and as usual, for an escalated price, you can ride a guide horse up the crater yourself. While the ride is short, it does make for an exceptional experience and a great photo opportunity. However, just as environmental concerns aren’t important, neither is safety. Seeing a woman chucked off her horse and down the side of the hill into a ditch could easily change your mind. Dirt steps, of which many have dissolved into nothing but a sandy slope, lead up to the edge of the crater where hundreds of tourists stand taking pictures. No doubt they hope no one budges them too hard, as falling into this crater doesn’t appear unlikely. After a few photographs of the crater and a steep and crowded walk down, the jeep takes you back to the village and the tour of Mount Bromo ends. But the magic of seeing Mount Bromo stays with you much longer. My Mount Bromo companion remarked months after our trip that, “the most amazing thing I ever experienced was seeing the sunrise over Bromo.” Another traveler sitting alongside us in the dirt had been to see the sunrise over Bromo multiple times because he said “each time it was different and each time it was incredible.”
Whether you’re a penny pincher like us or prefer the luxuries of an easy trip, whether you hate early mornings or can’t take the cold, for this experience you must overlook it all. For this sunrise and view of such a beautiful, dramatic landscape, being broke, tired or cold is worth it. I promise, Mount Bromo is one sunrise worth getting up for.
Editor’s note: Jordan Coates is a native of Westmoreland County who is currently traveling Asia.