One of the realities of running a travel blog is that you can’t update every day. The last 48 hours I’ve been incommunicado and it has been a pretty interesting 48 hours. I didn’t get a lot of sleep, managed to drive down the funeral route of a former president, saw a volcano and almost died in a shower explosion.
My adventure started in Yogyakarta at about 8am on Monday. I wanted to get to Bali and the popular (sort of) way to get there from Jogya (as it is known) is to take a bus and stop at Mount Bromo on the way. The bus was an eight passenger van with myself, two Austrian guys, and three people I think where Indonesian. I’m not sure. One of the guys had a book written in Japanese, but he never said a word.
If you have been watching the news, you know the big thing in Indonesia right now is the death of former president Suharto. As it turns out, his funeral was being held in Surakarta (aka Solo) which was where we had to drive through to get to Bromo. When we drove through Solo, the streets were lined with people waiting for the funeral procession to pass. There were quite a few people who came out. Moreover, the entire time we were driving through Java, there were Indonesian flags in front of almost every house flying at half staff.
When we stopped for lunch, every waitress at the restaurant was glued to the TV watching the funeral. I still for the life of me cannot figure out what most people in Indonesia think of this guy. I asked a few Indonesians what they thought and they all sort of avoided the question. They didn’t say anything bad or anything good. The only thing I can say for certain is that the opinion of him in Bali and Java are very different. I haven’t seen nearly as many flags at half staff in Bali as I did in Java. Very few here in fact.
Travel by car through Java is slow. Very slow. It reminded me very much of taking the bus through Luzon in the Philippines. There are only two lane roads, the roads go through the center of every town, and there are houses and villages hugging the roads everywhere. Every few minutes the bus is passing trucks and motorcycles in ways which would seem suicidal on an American highway. A few times, we had to hit the brakes because we were coming head on with another truck which couldn’t get back into its lane.
Java has a lot of people. 120 million people live on the island which is half the population of Indonesia and more than the entire population of Japan. Despite the size, there doesn’t seem to be a transportation system designed to handle that level of population. The physical roads are in fine condition. It isn’t as if the roads are falling apart, they just don’t seem to be designed to be major transportation arteries. I read about a plan to link Java and Sumatra by bridge sometime in the next 50 years. It would be the longest bridge in the world. Would it would be very cool, I think a trans-Java highway connecting each end of the island would be a better use of money. A single four lane, divided, controlled access highway from the ports connecting Bali and Sumatra and all big cities in between would probably be one of the single biggest infrastructure projects that would help the economy of Java.
The van eventually arrived in Probolinggo where we changed vehicles for the trip to Cemara Lawang, a village sitting right at the rim of the caldera. We were told how cold it was going to be, given a pitch to buy a ticket for a jeep ride rather than walk, and warned about how early we’d have to get up.
Cemara Lawang seems to have made itself a niche in the Yogyakarta to Bali stop over market. Most people seem to stay there just one night on the way to or from Bali.
I woke up at 3:30am to get ready to see Bromo at sunrise. I was prepare for cold weather as we were pretty high in elevation. I also had all my camera gear ready including my tripod. We were going to a lookout point to see the entire caldera then would drive down into the caldera to walk to the brim of the Bromo’s crater.
It turns out that there was a helluva lot more walking than was sold to us. Not that big of a deal as I was prepared for walking, but they made it sound like we were just going to drive up to the top.
When we got to the top, there was a heavy fog which prevented us from seeing Mount Semeru, the highest point in Java. Semeru is also active and has steam coming out from the peak. (I should also note that during my entire time in Yogyakarta, I never got to see Mount Merapi clearly because of clouds. When we left the city, I was finally able to see the peak and the plume coming out for about 15 minutes. Then the clouds covered it up again.)
I don’t think the photos I got from the view point of Bromo will be as good as some I’ve seen due to the clouds. I haven’t even looked at them yet and they are still on my camera. I assure you some will show up as a daily photo soon. We also hiked up to the view point with some German early 20 something hipsters who smoked and complained the entire time. It is nice to see that not all the bad tourists are Americans.
The drive down into Bromo was interesting as well. We transferred to jeeps and drove across the black sand/ash inside the caldera. At the base there were tons of men with horses trying to sell you horse rides to the steps of Bromo for 20,000 rupiah (about $2). I passed because I couldn’t take photos that well on horseback. The scene with all these men on horseback inside a volcano was sort of surreal.
My near death experience with the shower came here. They place I was staying had only one shower with hot water. It was a small gas water heater that heated the water as it came out. No water tank. As the water starts to flow, the flame is lit. However, when I turned on the water, the flame didn’t start but the gas started flow. I turned off the water and started it again after I smelled gas and there was a big ball of fire in the show. Sort of like what you’d see when you light a gas grill a few seconds after the gas starts. It was very odd to be standing naked in an enclosed space with a big ball of fire. Nothing important was burned.
The inside of Bromo was like being inside Kilauea in Hawaii. Lots of sulfur covered rocks, lot of evidence of mud flows and a never ending steam plume coming out from the top.
My the time I was done with the volcano, it was only 8am.
We drove back to Probolinggo and waited for the bus to take us to Denpasar, Bali. It was supposed to show up at noon but didn’t arrive until 1:30pm. I spent the time sweating and talking to local kids who came over to practice their English.
The trip to the ferry was one of the most boring experiences I’ve ever had. I didn’t put nearly enough music on my iPod, had nothing to read, and my battery was low on my laptop. There were five girls from Slovenia on the bus and I can’t say I’ve met any Slovenians on my trip yet.
We arrived in Denpasar at 12:30am. I had no room booked so I told the taxi driver to just take me some place good and reasonably cheap. This isn’t the busy season, tourism in general is down since the 2002 bombings, and it was a Tuesday, so I figured finding a room wouldn’t be hard. I was right. Got a great place near the beach for a pretty reasonable rate.
I haven’t a clue what I’ll be doing in Bali yet, other than use it as a jumping off point to go to Komodo. I’m going to do laundry today and other things and maybe get up a few photos.
I might shoot some video near the beach as well.