Cemoro Lewang, Indonesia
I actually managed to wake up at 03:00 to see the sunrise over Mount Bromo and the other volcanoes in the park, which just goes to show that “if you set your mind to it, you can accomplish anything” – I think Napoleon Bonaparte said that. I quickly got dressed, grabbed my gear, and set off in the dead of night to the viewpoint to watch the dawn’s early light. It was cool outside and the town and surrounding mountains were enveloped in clouds; it was very misty and water droplets were falling to the ground, slowly soaking the soil, plants, and early-bird hikers that were directly under the clouds. I followed the road up to the viewpoint, but eventually the road disappeared, eroded by time, and all that was left were a few gravelly patches; then this disappeared and there was a trail of steps to ascend up the mountain. After a series of steps, I came to the first viewing platform which was empty. Down below I could see all the tour buses and jeeps traveling with headlights through the National Park, on the flat surface of the large caldera in the “Sea of Sand”, driving to reach the main viewpoint. From this first viewing platform, the trail completely disappeared and I was forced to follow what few shoe prints remained in the soil; soon I determined that I had to climb up a rocky outcrop, which I did with flashlight in hand; once I had passed that obstacle, a faint trail appeared in the woods and I followed it up to the viewing platform. Due to the mist and the trail being overgrown with vegetation, my pants soon became soaked from rubbing off all the water that had been collected on the plants; also, thanks to the mist being collected on everything outside, when walking under a tree, I would be rained on from all the water droplets that had formed on its branches and were now falling to the Earth – so although a tree usually offers protection from the rain, in this scenario it was the worst place to be. Furthermore, the trail was badly eroded and had many spots and rocks along the way waiting to injure one’s ankle; luckily I had made it through unscathed, mostly thanks to my flashlight.
After about an hour and a half of hiking, I reached the viewing platform just under the main platform – which is where all crowds of the tourists from the buses and jeeps gather. I was about to go up to the main platform, but a group of French tourists advised me I should stay at this lower area with the wooden railing, away from the crowds (this advice is also given on the internet). I took there advice and camped out on the railing where not too long after I had arrived, the Russian devochka I had met yesterday – and who had stayed in the room next to mine at the “homestay” – arrived too, by motorbike. She told me that she had gotten an excellent price for her transportation and that the driver knew of an alternate route to the viewing platform that bypasses the National Park – making it so she did not have to pay the excessive entrance fee (230,000 rupiahs) for her and her driver. At the top we both had some coffee and waited for the sunrise, scheduled to occur at 05:15. The French couple I had hiked with along the caldera of Mount Bromo yesterday also came to this viewing platform to watch the sunrise. As it became light outside, we prayed for the clouds to disperse and open up a grand view for us to enjoy. This did not happen. As the day moved on and the clouds stayed put, many people began to leave. I decided to stick around until 06:30 in the hopes that the cloud coverage will have left us by then. It did not. So, disappointed at the lack of view, I packed away my camera and tripod and descended back down to Cemoro Lewang; on the positive side, I was now able to enjoy the trail in the light of day and it was now free of unseen spiderwebs thanks to all the hikers like myself passing through them earlier. The view never really got any better, but once I was back on the road, the farmland with its zig-zag patterns on the mountains looked beautiful in the morning sun – so I was able to enjoy that. When I reached the “homestay”, I showered and changed and packed my bags. I then went outside to wait for the minivan transport to fill up with enough passengers to give us all a reasonable price for our journey to Probolinggo – we ended up with ten passengers after I had waited an hour and we each paid 40,000 rupiahs. Once back in Probolinggo, I walked to the bus terminal and found the bus to take me to Banyuwangi, on the eastern coast of Java. Soon after, the bus departed and we were on our way, passing many farms and burning rubbish piles – I hadn’t mentioned this before in my journals, but most Indonesians burn their trash and they do it everywhere (in Jakarta, people were burning trash on the sidewalks and gutters) and we all get to breathe in those wonderful chemical-laced fumes as we pass by the smoldering garbage piles.
The bus journey took six hours instead of the quoted “four”, once again proving that you need to add two hours time on whatever time the bus operators give you in Indonesia. The bus terminal for Banyuwangi is right next to the shore, where you’re able to see the the northwestern shore of Bali. From the bus terminal, I decided to walk with my thirty-plus kilograms of luggage to the city center of Banyuwangi – this proved to be a big mistake and I should’ve just taken a taxi or bus in to the city. At first the walk was nice as the sun was setting and the bats were coming out to hunt admist the farms and jungles, but soon I ended up on a major road with too much traffic and no where for pedestrians to capably walk – once again the sidewalks (where they existed in solid form) were used for everything but walking on. After traveling for over two hours by foot, I stopped at a convenience store to purchase and drink some much needed fluids. Outside the store I talked with a young man whose family manages the store; he gave me excellent directions to a nearby hotel and even offered me a place to stay in his home; I respectfully declined his offer since I wanted wifi internet and privacy, but graciously accepted his map with directions. I then walked to the hotel, checked in, and took off my extra weight; I had gone about fifteen kilometers from the bus terminal to the hotel with all my bags – I was exhausted, but at least its good practice for when I reach Nepal and hike the Annapurna Circuit. I then talked with another man at the hotel who knew I wanted to go to Baluran National Park tomorrow and he gave me directions to the park as well as maximum prices I would have to pay for the transportation I would use (this proved very useful since – once again – many people think it’s okay to charge two prices, one for locals and one for foreigners, rather than keeping it fair and just for all). I thanked him and then left to find an ATM to draw some much needed cash for tomorrow – one great thing in Indonesia is that everytime I use an ATM I end up a millionaire. I then bought some drinks and snacks at another convenience store (many of the snacks have seaweed and fish flavors, so I decided to have some salty seaweed pringles to give it a try – verdict: “meh”). I then walked back to the hotel and got some much needed sleep after starting my day and ending my day hiking in the dark.