On to Bromo! But first I had to get to the bus station. I opted with a taxi this time around and got there without a hitch. I just had to stop at the atm beforehand. 1st card doesn’t work. 2nd card doesn’t work. I went to the other atm… shit. Both cards are getting declined. I’m hoping its because these atms are from smaller banks, so I hopped on an ojek to take me to the atms of a bigger bank. Still nothing! I already used one of the cards at the airport in Surabaya and it worked fine, so now I’m really confused. Now I have no choice but to go back to the guesthouse and figure out what is going on. Fortunately this ojek knew exactly where my place was. I called my banks emergency number and sure enough, they put a hold on it. Thailand is fine, Malaysia is fine, but apparently they don't like Indonesia so much! I walked over to the nearest ATM and after putting in the amount I heard that sweet sweet mechanical whirring noise of money being counted. Whew. Minor crisis averted.
Round 2! I took another taxi back to the bus station and boarded the bus to Probolingo. From Probolingo it would be another hour or more up the mountain to a little village at the foot of Bromo. There is no regular bus up to this village, its normally just tourists and they wait for a minibus to fill up before going. Unfortunately its low (rainy) season and its later in the afternoon. I was told there was another person also waiting to get up to Bromo. It turned out to be a girl from Austria who was also traveling by herself. Her name was Hanny. She was athletic looking, very white, looked to be about my age, and spoke in a fairly thick German accent. As I would soon find out, she was an intense bargainer, which was necessary as she was also intensely frugal!
Normally when you travel in Asia you have to accept the fact that as person with white skin they are going to charge you more than they would a local, even with the haggling. In Indonesia its called the bule (foreigner) tax. The vast majority of people are willing to accept this, as it only amounts to a few cents or a few dollars here and there. Of course you should still bargain as much as you can, but usually you’re still going to pay a bit more than what a local would pay. There is a small subset of travellers who get very annoyed by this and are constantly fighting the battle to get the absolute lowest possible price, even if it is for nonsensically small amounts of USD or Euros. I normally do not travel with these people because they are normally a colossal pain in the ass. Hanny was one of those travelers.
They told us the bus costs 500,000 rupiah ($35) in total, split by however many passengers, which in our case was 2. We waited about an hour and nobody else showed up. We tried to talk them down from 500,000, which is pretty steep for only two people. After a while we got them down to 400. Still too much. It was a standoff for a while, but eventually they agreed to 300,000, a little over $10 a person. This was fine with me, but Hanny was not having it. She threatened to hitchhike. I wasn’t sure if she was using it as a bluff, but sure enough there she goes down the street asking random people if they’re heading to cemoro lawang. They went down to 250. She still wanted to hitchhike!
Now I’ve hitchhiked before in certain scenarios when there is no public transportation available, but she wanted to hitchhike as it was getting dark, to a small ass village up in the mountains that few people would be driving to, rather than pay less than $10 to share this minibus. I told her that I’m pretty sure they’re as low as they’re gonna go, as they only finally caved on the 300 after we walked down the street trying to hitchhike! She still wasn’t sure. She explained that is so much money for the Javanese locals here, as she would repeat many many times. “120,000 OK?!” She tried pitifully to shave off another 5,000 rupiah (35 cents) off the price. They laughed and said 120,000 for you but 130,000 for the man. I was like OK fine, lets go! She reluctantly agreed, looking absolutely crushed. You might have thought someone shot her dog. In the end we both paid 125,000. We put in our bags and headed up.
We checked into the Lava Guesthouse, expecting to find dorms, but they only had normal bedrooms, so we decided to share one, naturally, as that would be the cheaper option! We said we wanted two beds, but when we opened up the door, lo and behold, just one bed. “I’m ok with it if you’re okay with it” she said. It was fine by me. Now you might think sharing a bed with a girl you just met was a giant green light, but she then proceeded to tell me about her boyfriend back home, who she plans on marrying. So yeah. We were saving money though! $6 a night!
We got to bed early that night, with our alarms set for 3:30 to start hiking up to catch the sunrise over Bromo. As far as I could tell, we were the only people walking. Jeeps full of people were passing us occasionally. After a while the road turned to rocky steps and upward into the darkness we went. Eventually we got to first viewpoint, which was where we waited (and waited and waited) for the sun to rise. The sky got lighter, but it was becoming more and more apparent that there would not be any sunrise. Or even any view of Bromo! Too everyone’s dismay, it was a total whiteout. We even waited for an extra hour or two, and at some points the clouds would clear for just a few seconds and you could catch a glimpse of the volcano, but that was it, just those flew fleeting seconds. Kind of a bummer.
We headed down and the views got a bit better, as the clouds only seemed to cling to the mountaintops. We decided we would try to do the sunrise again tomorrow. We went and took naps and then had some time to explore the village. It had a nice countryside, with healthy looking crops growing everywhere. We decided to head down to the sea of sands, which has cool Game of Thrones-esque name, but it’s basically just the flatlands around the volcanic crater. We had heard that tourists aren’t allowed down there, but there were no guards at the gate, so we proceeded down.
Our goal was to get to the Hindu temple at the base of Bromo. The scenery down there was quite unique. Sand flats gave way to the smoldering crater in the distance. The colors were all quite gray and lifeless, giving it an eerie post-apocalyptic feel. About 20 minutes into our journey we heard a siren coming from the direction of town. The park police! Crap! They caught us. “Get in the truck!” they ordered. “Too dangerous” Hanny tried to protest, but by the tones of their voices they meant business. So we reluctantly got in and they drove us back up into town and made us promise not to go down again. We did get a free lift out of deal…
Later on at the hotel we had our usual Indonesian dinner and got ready for another 3:30 am start. When we woke we could see the stars up in the sky, which was a good sign. Unfortunately the higher we got the foggier the air became. We were able to see the sun come up through the mist, but a line of clouds seemed to constantly obscure the view of Bromo. The visibility everywhere else was good though! We waited another hour to see if it would clear up, and it did for maybe 2 seconds! We waited a bit longer than decided it was time to get back down. 0/2 on the sunrises, pretty weak! But what can you do? Maybe the next volcanic crater would be better...
Next up the volcanic crater at Mt. Ijen