Java, Cemoro Lawang

The Bromo Tengger National Park is a pain to get to and from so we did a little research online and mulled the idea of using one of the many tour companies that offered overnight trips there. As with anything booked online in Indonesia the prices quoted were outrageous; between 5 and 6 million rupiah ($380 to $450 USD) for less than 24 hours at Bromo on a rushed tour package. Bugger that, we thought, we’ll do it ourselves.

Trains in Indonesia (ticket booking fiasco aside) are very efficient and well managed; we left on time and arrived in Probolinggo on time exactly 2 hours later. It was then a royal shit-fight to try and get transport up the mountain to Cemoro Lawang (Bromo base camp) as everyone and his dog was trying to sell us overpriced taxis, tours and accommodation. The yellow tuk-tuk at the railway station took us to a tour peddler instead of the actual bus station.

We eventually chartered a minivan (450k) and shared costs with two other backpackers heading that way, the driver obviously wanted to stop at his buddy’s restaurant to sell us double priced food so we insisted he stopped at the first Alfamart (Indo Seven-Elevens) for some snacks.

Accommodation is also a sting at Cemoro Lawang; basic rooms with no amenities, only two occupancy, and sometimes a shared bathroom can cost almost 40 bucks a night. We skipped on the hotels and found a homestay (Yog Homestay) that had a family room for 350k (about $25). No need for fridges or a/c up here at 2,217 meters, it was freezing, and the visibility was down to about 20 meters since the village was now shrouded in low cloud and chilly mist.

I was expecting a buzzing little mountain town full of travellers but Cemoro Lawang was actually more like a quiet farming hamlet with a cluster of tiny local warungs (all selling nasi goreng or mie goreng), a few homestays and the odd hotel.

The following morning we headed across the caldera to Mount Bromo for sunrise.

After what was probably the best day of the trip we were in for a long haul on this one.

At a chilly and dark 03.30 we were on the move again, this time up to the viewpoint for the spectacular sunrise. We decided on a jeep for the ride as the kids probably wouldn’t have made the 6km trek up the side of the giant caldera. Our particular jeep didnt have any lights which made for some precarious driving up the dirt track with me hanging out of the window with a frozen hand and a torch to navigate with.

The vehicles could only go so far and the rest was done on foot, after a quick stop for a coffee at a little local tent halfway up. We reached the first viewpoint as the sky started to lighten and slashes of orange began to glow in the east. Bromo below us was still shrouded in an eerie darkness.

The show that commenced was simply magical as the first rays of light of the day illuminated the caldera and cast an golden-orange tinge over the ash plume reaching ever skywards from the brooding Bromo.

Bromo to Yogyakarta
We were on the clock today as we would be commencing a journey that few others have achieved; Bromo to Yogyakarta in a day. We knew there was a train leaving Surabaya for Jogja at 13.00, we didn’t know if we would be on it. The epic journey started with a scramble back down the mountain to our jeep which took us back to the homestay. Bags packed we checked out and headed down the hill to try and negotiate with the van bandits for a ride back to Probolinggo which was achieved for 400k and taken at breakneck speeds.

At Probolinggo bus station an hour or so later we were herded onto a public bus for Surabaya and promptly over charged so off we got in search of the real express bus for Surabaya, which was round the corner and half the price. They’ll stop at nothing in Indonesia to extract an extra dollar or two from the uninitiated.

Two hours later and at almost midday we arrived at the Surabaya bus terminal and grabbed a taxi straight for Gubeng Station in the hope that there wouldn’t be a repeat of the ticket booking fiasco we had a few days ago. The station was a seething throng of people and queues so I went straight to the shortest one and asked about getting on the next train to Yogyakarta which was leaving in less than an hour. The good news was that there were seats – the bad news was that they were economy, we had little choice if we were going to avoid another night in Surabaya.

After 5 butt busting sweltering hours on a train across Java we rolled into Yogyakarta as dusk was falling, grabbed the nearest cab, (I couldn’t care less about being over charged again at this stage in the day) and headed for our hotel for some well deserved rest following 15 hours solid travelling.