May 11, 2014

Riding onto the Ash Plains of the Bromo Caldera. Java

I needed to get to the volcanic caldera at Bromo, in the far east of Java. There were plenty of tours, but I had talked to others who had been cheated, abandoned at out of the way hotels far from Bromo, and generally suffered in cramped conditions on arranged mini buses out of both Jakarta and Jogjakarta. The closest city to Bromo, Probolinggo, has a particularly nasty reputation as the place to be ripped off in, and I wanted to avoid it. So I set up my own, more manic, trip to the caldera.

I traveled to Malang from Jogjakarta. The train took about eight hours, and as ever on Indonesian Railways, it was a cheap and luxurious experience in First Class. Paying only about 30,000 Rupiah (US3) more than economy class, I watched the country go by while updating my blog using the electrical outlet provided. The leather seats are easy to fall asleep in, and the carriage is wonderfully quiet compared to the blaring films and music in economy. Food is offered every hour, with freshly cooked dishes brought to your seat. It really is the only way to travel long distance in Java.

Malang has some of the best preserved Dutch colonial buildings in Java. I had planned to hang around, but it just looked like another crowded, modern city, with the odd Dutch building surrounded by more modern architectural monstrosities. It just did not give out that welcoming feeling that I had experienced in Jogjakarta. I would love to be proved wrong by someone who loves Malang! It was only a stop-off on the way to Bromo National Park, so I decided to go a day earlier. Renting a bike could not have been easier,  for 75,000 Rupiah a day (US$ 7.5) I rented a Bebek, a 125cc motorbike. It was pretty new, easy to ride, and perfect for the climb up to Bromo.

Riding the bike in heavy traffic was initially daunting, but it is decidedly less crazy when you are in the midst of it.  I headed to Tumpang approximately 20km from Malang.Turning left here at the Mosque onto the road to Bromo, I left the urban world behind. I passed the occasional car and bike but mostly I was on my own. The ride was beautiful and easy, climbing slowly up the mountain side, past green terraces and into the descending mists. I just stuck the bike in third gear and enjoyed the magnificent views while feeling the wind in my face.

It took just an hour to reach the National Park gate and pay the 75,500 Rupiah (US$7.50) admission price. And then it got interesting. Up until now the road had been surfaced and easy to ride, here it had disintegrated to a mixture of broken paving and mud, and was washed out in a few places. It was a slow ride down into the 'Green Valley', using my boots on the ground to steady the bike. This is the rarely seen back of the caldera, where the extinct volcanoes of Bromo are covered in swathes of vegetation. It was a beautiful contrast to the 'Seas of sand' ash plains, which all Bromo visitors see, and well worth a visit.

It took close to two hours to reach the ash plains, and to be able to ride at speed again. There is nothing quite like riding fast over the volcanic ash, sending up a plume behind you, and then wobbling as the ash gets too deep. I somehow avoided falling off, and stopped in front of a volcano venting clouds of sulphur which was swirling onto the ash around me. I had arrived at Bromo.

Far Flung Travel Tips

* If you want to follow the route I traveled. Rent a bike in Malang at Gabe Rent or phone 0341-6607533. Easy to deal with, and great bikes at a very reasonable price. No need to bargain.

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