Bromo: A nighttime volcano hike

Mount Bromo seemed like a great destination on the way from Yogyakarta to Bali. Seeing a volcano is something I always wanted to do. Seeing a volcano in the enormous sand-filled crater of yet another volcano? Even better!

Similar to all trips planned around Yogyakarta, our hostel and the Dutch family owning it proved to be greatly helpful and arranged everything necessary at a reasonable price. We would start our trip with a small bus, then stay overnight in the only hostel available next to Mount Bromo, get up really early to experience the sunrise at the mountain, and move on during the day to the coast, where we would take a ferry to get to Bali in the evening.

Quite excited, we packed our backpacks and boarded the first tiny bus with our new acquaintances from the hostel. The shared adventures of the days before had formed us into a familiar and funny crowd. The bus seemed reasonably comfortable – it was possible to even stretch our legs very slightly in the back seat. As always, the driver would not be so boring to just take the main roads, but happily moved from sandy side road to the division next to the main lane that is covered with large stones and makes us jump around in the back of the bus. We pass through beautiful landscapes and rice fields. Suddenly, there is a squeaking metal sound coming from the side of the bus, and we seem to have lost balance somehow. The girl on the right side of the car slightly screams and jumps up.
Only the driver is totally unimpressed. He stopped at the side of the road to make a quick call. “We lost a tire”, he explained, as if it was the most usual thing in the world. We needed to stop for some minutes and leave the car, to stand around in the heat at the edge of a rice field. We started taking pictures, laughing, posing and trying to hide in the shadow of some baby trees.

After spending around one hour in the sun, we continued on our path. The drive ended at our final destination when it was getting dark. We switched our bus for a yet older and seemingly unstable two-cart wagon that took us steep uphill. What I remember most is continuously sliding backwards on the leather-like seating while trying to keep the balance. We shared this wagon with our hostel travel friends as well as with a photographer and his assistant from Myanmar, with which we had an interesting discussion about the current situation in his country – in 2011, it was not that likely to see travelers from Myanmar around the area.

Finally and quite exhausted, we made it to our hotel. We got an explanation of the area and the details of the Bromo tour. We would go in jeeps to different viewing points, stopping everywhere for some minutes to take pictures. Doing anything else was not advised. We dared to ask whether we could also hike up the volcano by ourselves. Yes, there is a way to cross the large crater and go up the small volcano, but it is not advised, dangerous, we will miss all the beautiful picture opportunities. They gave up on us as we insisted going on foot, and agreed to drop us at the edge of the crater in an annoyed tone of voice.

Our room was – in one word – disgusting. The whole ceiling was covered with mold, fallen ceiling pieces spread across the bedding; the shower was colored with a brown and black crust. Still, it was the only hotel available, and we had to get up at 4am. I was never so happy to have my sleeping bag with me, and slept perfectly well in it.

Following the very short night was an early exhausted morning. However, the exhaustion soon made way for excitement as we boarded the jeep, all four of us equipped with flashlights and all-weather clothing. The jeep driver dispassionately dropped us off in the middle of nowhere – so much so that we were wondering whether he actually took us to the right location. The pitch-black darkness didn’t really make it easy for us to figure out where to go, but our eyes slowly got used to the darkness and spotted a road to follow that led up to the edge of the sandy crater.

There were some paths marked, and we started following them. Slightly blinded by the other’s forehead flashlights, we wandered through the darkness, having lots of fun. Occasionally, we missed the path and were unsure where to go. Slowly, the sky became a little bit lighter, and we finally spotted the shape of a volcano, just a bit off our current path. We started to move in this direction, and soon after stood at the edge of a staircase leading up the volcano. I went first and climbed up the stairs, had to take one big step in the end – and was standing right in front of the volcano abyss in the morning twilight. The smell, already increasing while climbing up, was now at its full exposure. Afraid of height, my legs started shaking a little and froze in view of the immediate decline right in front of me. Trying to breathe slowly, I finally got my senses back, and could move to the side to make some space for everyone else.

Apart from us, there were only three other people on top of the volcano. The horizon slowly started to glow with increasing light, but the sun was not visible yet. We were sitting on top of the volcano, gazing down, awaiting the rising sun. Slowly, the sun appeared, turning the whole scene into bright orange light, and warming our faces. Some more people appeared at the top. We all took pictures, jumped around, smiled, and enjoyed the moment. We were around 10 people, in absolute silence, taking in the scene to the fullest. Right next to us, the second volcano with its beautiful structure was glowing in red tones in the morning light. In the far distance, we made out the jeeps on their way uphill, and saw an indistinguishable crowd that lit up the surroundings with the flashes of their cameras. We were not jealous of their view.

After we enjoyed the moment for a while, we had a quick morning snack, and decided that the volcano deserved a sacrifice from our part. Jokingly, we threw a tangerine into the abyss, and then all stood silently while watching it fall down for a long time, stopping, and falling again. My vertigo came back a little, but I couldn’t resist taking pictures in front of the abyss with everyone else.

We finished our tour with a slow walk back through the crater desert. From a distance, we observed a big load of jeeps arriving at our previous spot. People were crowding up at the stairs, up to the top of the volcano.

The only person we met on our way was the lonesome rider of a donkey, offering us a ride for money. We were not sure how the four of us should fit on the donkey, and gracefully declined. Our ride back took place in a funny small bus, lined by a group of school children marching in practice for a parade.

After finding our way back, we spent the rest of the morning in the garden of our hostel, which was amazingly pretty despite the shabby rooms.

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