Well, it was seriously time to makes some tracks, and put some miles under our heels. We had been in Central Java for a few weeks, and we were starting to need some beach time again. So we decided a two day bus journey plus some ferry time was needed to get some miles under our belt, with Bali being our goal.
We rolled through miles of rice paddies, with the landscape getting more and more hilly. Not much to say about being stuck in bus for twelve hours, except you just deal with it. When we stopped for the night, the air was much cooler. We had a little tour meeting, signed some paperwork, and transferred into a beat up old jalopy of a bus, with bare bench seats. In this very stellar vehicle we started going up the mountain. It was dark already, but it was only like eight at night. We passed a lot of houses as we switch backed our way up the mountain. And I found it so interesting, because the houses have tile interiors in so many of them, and the front is open to the world. So in more than half the houses you could see people doing ordinary things, open for any one to see. There would be a family curled up in the rug on the floor watching tv, or bunch of men smoking and drinking tea, in another house some Muslim girls were texting while mom was giving them dinner. Just little snippets of everyday life that we drove past. Felt like we were watching tv, live, Javenese Martha Stewart channel.
Well we arrived to our little slice of heaven on the mountain, Yoshi’s Place. The style of this place was eclectic for sure, with rough timber furniture, chicken sculptures, and fun paintings, but it all worked, right down to the freezing cold showers. It was pitch black on the mountain, and the stars were so gorgeous. An early night after an exhausting day was in order.
BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP…..
What the hell! Ohhhhhh, yeah, time to wake up. Grrrrrrrr. Twice in one week waking up to an alarm clock, so freaking wrong. Is this a holiday like everyone seems to think it is, or work. The IPad says its 3:30 in the damn morning. Ugh. I put my boots on and stumble out the door. I can see my breath, in the tropics! I need sleep, but instead I am climbing into a Chinese jeep wrangler immitation, ahh, but it was close enough to my old jeep that I felt like I was home. Now we were going much higher into the mountains on a rutted dirt road. On the way up we pass two girls hiking up, they must have started at two AM. We stop in a cloud of dust to the smell of horse manure. Now there is a big crowd of us hiking in the dark, very few of us with torches. There were also a small herd of horses awaiting any lazy tourists who were not up for the climb. Huffing and puffing, we passed the majority of tourists to get to the lead of the pack, going up very steep switchbacks. After about forty five minutes were reached a summit, and waiting for us were a bunch of Indonesian gauchos, with coffee on the fire for Yvonne. We picked a nice spot a few feet down the ridge, and allowed the crowd to gather behind us as we parked it on a rock. We could tell there was a vast space in front of us, but beyond that it was black. Some stars peaked out, but shed little light.
Then the sky in the east began to slowly lighten. It’s funny, sitting up there, taking a million pictures, hoping that one turns in to that amazing shot that everyone talks about, but truthfully most look exactly the same. As the hints of oranges, pink, and purples began to lighten the sky, a massive silhouette appears with three humps. The biggest hump has a cloud over the top of it. Over the course of minutes, the shape turns into three cones, across a very flat and lifeless plane. What we are looking at from the side of the crater is a massive extinct caldera, with three volcanos in it. We are actually sitting on the rim of the original volcano. The sun rise is just gorgeous and we just enjoyed the quite moment, with a gaggle of tourist. Without realizing it we were sitting on a cliff thousands of feet above the plain below. Good thing we did not wander to far from the crowd in the dark.
Along the same ridge we were on, but across the valley, was a little town sitting right on the edge of the original Tengager caldera too. Tell me that would not freak you out a bit. The plain at the bottom was completely barren, ten killometers in diameter with no signs of life except for the jeeps driving across it. In the far back ground rising three times higher above the other volcanos, with smoke puffing out in spurts is Gunong Semaru, Java’s bighest volcano and most active. Then the middle volcano with a wide crater and smoke slowly bellowing out was Bromo. Then the two next to it are near perfect cones, Kursi and Batok, but with no crater because they are not active. In a straight row early mornings light it is a truly amazing site.
Well we scooted back down the mountain, hopped back in our jeep, and drove down to the plain below and parked in the valley. We hiked across the desert, turning down rides from the grouchos and their horses. These grouchos, which I know are the Argentinian Cowboys, but the discription fits here in Java too, are the real deal. They are mountain men who live in the area, making a few extra bob giving tourist rides on their grizzled steeds. I was really enamored with them, their faces were darkly bronzed, their skin dry and wrinkled, but with a twinkle in their squinted eyes. Their clothes were very similar to what I saw the Quechua wear in the Peruvian Andies, home spun wool hats and ponchos. We turned down the rides, but admired the strength of people who live in such harsh conditions.
So we hiked to the base of Mt. Bromo, and there was a very conveniently placed concrete staircase going up to the crater. Well this was the easiest volcano climb yet. At the top of the crater was a small railing going for about 100 feet. There was a small trail going around the edge of the crater about 15,000 feet in diameter. The crater steeply dropped down to the bottom, which was obscured by sulfurous smoke pouring out. It’s amazing how lovely a volcano can be, with the colors of the rock changing from gray to yellowish green.
Everytime I stand on the rim of a volcano, I think to my self how stupid it is to do so. I am literally standing on the barrel of a loaded gun, playing Russian Roulette. There is no scientific purpose for me to be there, no great gain in knowledge for me learn, hell I am not even earning money from stupid tourists like the groucho’s. In fact, I am paying to risk my life to look into the heart of the earth and challenging her to wipe me off the face of it. What can I say, even though it scares me, I love it.
I remember the first live volcano I climbed with Wayne Krause in Guatemala in the nineties I had the same exact feeling. It was a five hour hard climb up loose shale and rock with armed guards as protection. One of the guides asked me to put my hand in a hole on the rim and feel how hot it was. Next thing I know a series of explosions go off in the hole making me jump practically out of me skin. The guide had put a bunch of black cat firecrackers in the hole, and the heat was hot enough to set them off. They all had a good laugh at the whiteness of my face. Well better than dying from a real explosion, all good fun on the paying tourist.
Well back to the rim of good ole Bromo. I decided to walk along the razors edge, beyond the guard railing. It was a steep slope going up to the rim of the crater, ending in a sandy crest, then dropping even more steeply to the bottom. There was no level path, you actually are walking along the ledge. I walked half way around the crater this way, and it was an amazing feeling. The wind was constantly blowing you towards the crater, waiting for one big gust to send you tumbling.
When I returned to the railing there were two men climbing on the inside of the crater. Picking up flower offerings that had been tossed to the fire gods, for resale I assume. Here they were risking their life on a very steep, crumbly, edge for what could only amount to ten to twenty cents in resold flowers. Insane.
Well that was it for our exciting midway trip. It was back onto the rustic bus, to be transferred to a large piece of crap bus, that was over crowded, too hot, and worse than what we had been on before. I was excited there was a bathroom, when I notice there is a bench blocking the door, and they sold that seat too. Non functioning toilet. I was surprised no one sold a ticket to sit on the toilet it was so crowded. Well after six hours on that bus we drove on a ferry and crossed over to Bali. At the ferry landing there were a bunch of local boys climbed up the mooring ropes and wanted to regal us with their aeronautic skills by jumping off the ferry. For money of course. No bites from us, but they clearly loved doing it anyway, showing off for the tourists. So they were flopping off, practically three stories down to the water, and then swimming to the docks to climb up. Even when the ferry was leaving they jumped off, which is crazy dangerous, with the chance of being sucked into the propellers. The last one had to swim a good distance to get back to the dock too.
With fond feelings we cast off from Java, with the soft silhouette of a huge volcano looming over us. Very appropriate I feel.
Ahh Bali, what can I say. It was hate at first sight. We had read tourist complaints about scams on tourists with this two day trip, and we soon learned why. We arrived at midnight at a bus station that was supposed to be Denpensar, but when we got there all the cab drivers told us it was not. The bus driver kicked us off the bus with no explanation. The cabbies said it was the new station, and wanted ridiculously high fees to take us anywhere, including the old station. They would drive us an hour away for 30 dollars, or five minutes for 25. They would not show on the map where we were either. Everyone on the bus was confused, all forty of us. Eventually everyone paired off paying the high cost of cab to go where they needed. What choice did we have, it was midnight and we were exhausted after two days on the road. Well, the Benciks have a reputation for a temper, and I have spent a life time controlling that, unlike other members of my family. But I was furious. I argued, used logic, threats, and persistence. Poor Yvonne had to deal with it all. We were the last there, and I was getting nowhere. They were lying to our faces and we were cornered with no choice but to sleep on the floor of the station. Price was the same, close or far, so we broke down and chose our goal for the next day, a good hour and a half away according to the driver. But at least then we would be there. So off we went, I got them to drop five bucks because there were no more fares to be had, though the first driver refused to go. I stayed up the entire drive and was practically shaking I was so pissed, but at least we got there. We woke the owner of a Kerby’s beach bungalows and took the airconditioned front room, even negotiated a discount. I have no idea how I managed this. Well after two bintangs I was calm enough to get some sleep, wondering how exactly we had gotten so far in so little time.