Two volcano sunrises, about 200 km away from each other, in 24 hours? No problem!


After Yogyakarta, our next destination was the famous Mount Bromo. We had read many things about Mount Bromo and the arduous (anstrengend/mühsam) journey to Cemoro Lawang, the village located close to the foot of the volcano. It seemed like getting there would be quite an adventure and an exact guide (Leitfaden) didn’t seem to exist online. We’d read was that you somehow, with a few trains, had to get to a transit town called Probolinggo at the base of the mountain range and from there somewhere you’d find a public bus, which would only depart when full (meaning you could be sat there for hours and never actually leave!). Furthermore, we read, on the way you should be careful of scams. There would be people entering the bus trying to sell you additional “tickets”, telling you that without it you cannot enter the village or even leave the bus station itself. There were warnings about the bus drivers being involved in all the rip-off’s and that once you’ve boarded a bus you have paid for, you should NEVER get off.

Luckily, at our lovely hotel reception, we found a leaflet (Broschüre) for a bus running all the way from Yogyakarta to Cemoro Lawang. The only catch (Haken) was that the journey would take 12 hours in total! Despite being less than inviting, we decided one door-to-door mode of transport was probably preferable (bevorzugt) to having to negotiate (verhandeln) the various scams and maybe-they-will-maybe-they-wont-be-on-time trains services so we booked and steeled ourselves (mental auf etw vorbereiten) for our departure the next morning.

Within a few minutes of the bus departing at 7am, we wondered whether we’d possibly made a mistake – at least in terms of safety! By then we were used to the ‘innovative’ style of driving in Indonesia but this driver was on another level entirely. With an overtaking technique of “pull out, then look for oncoming traffic” (er hat angefangen zu überholen und dann geschaut, ob jmd kommt), we were treated to a succession (Serie) of hair-raising near-misses (hair raising=Haare raufend) as our driver fought (kämpfte) for any gap in the road up ahead. Multiple times, he’d overtake a stream of three or four cars (often on a blind corner) and have to swerve in (ausweichen) at the last second to avoid a head-on with a vehicle coming the other way (sometimes a motorcycle, sometimes a lorry(LKW)). If he didn’t quite manage to overtake the stream of cars he was attempting to overtake then he’d just drift back into the left-hand lane and whichever vehicle was currently there would have to brake (bremsen) to avoid (verhindern) a collision (Zusammenstoß).

In addition to the reckless overtaking (rücksichtsloses Überholen), he’d be beeping his horn (hupen) constantly for other drivers to just get out of his way regardless (ohne Rücksicht auf etw) of if they actually had anywhere to go or if they were just following the car in front. On second thoughts, maybe he was just being courteous (höflich) by letting other road users know he was there.

You may be thinking that this behaviour (Verhalten) was only confined (begrenzt) to the busy city streets of Yogyakarta but you’d be wrong. As we may have alluded (anspielen) to before, Indonesia has a rather large traffic problem so the entire ten hour ride to Probolinggo was a death-defying (todesmütig) experience with shattered nerves by the end. Tessa barely even slept because she was so scared – that’s how bad it was!!!

On the journey were three others which, bonded (verbunden) by our harrowing  (geauenhaft) experience, we became friends with. Kirsa from Germany and Simon & Anna from South Tirol in Italy (interestingly, South Tirol is German speaking so they were fluent in German but not so in Italian).

Having booked that bus we thought that maybe we wouldn’t have to encounter (begegnen) the famous scams in Probolinggo. Well, that was wishful thinking. As we got to the town, our driver stopped along a street outside an unmarked building and a man entered informing us that we’ll have to get off so he can give us some ‘information’ (about what we had no idea) and then change to a different bus. Kirsa, Anna and Simon had also read about the Probolinggo scams and so all five of us steadfastly (standhaft) refused (weigern) to leave the bus. “We have paid for this bus to take us all the way”, we argued (argumentieren). At this, he got quite angry and again told us to leave the bus. Again, we refused. He got the message and left the bus only for our own driver to then tell us to get off the bus and wait for another one! As a threat (Drohung), he told us that he was now driving the bus back to Yogyakarta and that we could either get off now or go back with him! Again, we refused and after he sat with his pals (Freunde) for ten minutes and smoked a couple of cigarettes, he climbed back in the seat and carried on driving us. Unbelievable!

However, the fun was not over yet! Ten minutes down the road, the driver pulled into a, seemingly random (zufällig/wahllos/willkürlich), driveway (Auffahrt) and told us again to “get off the bus”. A man came out of the house and got his car from the garage so, after double- and triple-checking that he wasn’t going to try and charge us any more, we transferred our bags to his car and climbed in for the remaining two hours of our journey to Cemoro Lawang.

After having to pay a 10,000 rupiah (£0.60, 0.71€) fee at a ‘checkpoint’ halfway up the mountain (just a bunch of men standing in the road), we arrived at our hostel accommodation for the night and after a quick but surprisingly tasty dinner at the adjoining (benachbart) restaurant, we got our heads down for a few well-deserved (verdient) hours sleep before a 3am start to see the Bromo sunrise.

At 3:30am, we joined Kirsa, Anna and Simon and made our way to the viewpoint overlooking Bromo and the ‘Sea of Sand’. Our early start was rewarded (belohbt) with a spectacular (spektakulär) sunrise over Mount Bromo crater. Avoiding, the large crowds of jeep-lead tour groups (and 50,000 rupiah ‘park entry fee’), we watched the sun rise and an amazing misty blanket (neblige Decke) roll across the plain (Flachland) in front of us (see pictures).

After the sun had risen, we traced a path down through the farmers fields and through the ‘Sea of Sand’ to the foot of Mount Bromo. To get to the crater rim you had to walk some quite steep steps but the effort was definitely worthwhile. A spectacular view awaits (wartet) at the top of the still active volcano burbling (blubbern) away with black smoke pouring into the sky. A first for both of us.

Well pleased with our morning’s efforts, we all headed back to the hostel just in time for the decent buffet breakfast.

After packing our bags, we wandered down the street to the public bus stop (the one we’d decided to forego (umgehen) on the way up) for transport back to our favourite town of Probolinggo where we’d catch a train on to Banyuwangi in the far east of Java from where we were going to climb Mount Ijen early the next morning.

The public bus will only depart when full OR if the entire fare of 525,000 rupiah is paid. The magic number for our bus was 15 people (35,000 each) and only five minutes after we arrived, we had our quota and were set to be on our way. As the bags were being loaded, another three people came running down the road. Rather than asking the passengers to wait for the next public bus, the driver no doubt (one Zweifel) saw an opportunity (Gelegenheit) to make a bit more cash on the side and bundled these three extra people in. As we’ve mentioned before, Indonesian bus travel doesn’t allow for bags anyway so we already had bags all over our laps with zero legroom. This meant that two of the three new people had to half stand-half crouch (ducken) in the doorway of the bus. The entire bus then tried to haggle (verhandeln) the fare down a bit considering the increased discomfort (erhöhte Unannehmlichkeiten-auf gut Deutsch: es war sau unbequem und engg) but the driver was having none of it (kam für ihn nicht in Frage) and insisted (auf etw bestehen) that we all pay full fare and pay him NOW (he didn’t seem to understand when we argued that a reduced 30,000 each would equal 540,000 so still more than his required total) (er hatte sogar irgendwann dann gesagt, dass wenn wir nicht alle den vollen Preis bezahlen müssen 3 Leute aussteigen. Er hat einfach nicht verstanden, dass er Gewinn machen würde wenn wir alle mitfahren aber weniger zahlen) . After arguing that he should have bloody well (verdammt nochmal) taken the money from us before we got on the bloody bus as we were now cramped in (eingequetscht) and some had their wallets in bags strapped to the roof, he finally relented (nachgeben) and said we could pay once the journey was over.

Our train wasn’t for another four hours and Kirsa, Anna and Simon had a twelve hour wait for theirs so, after arriving in Probolinggo – with legs still just about working – we sought (suchen) a café to have a drink and while away some time (Zeit vertrödeln). It turned out that Probolinggo is good for one thing and that’s coffee and fruit shakes! Enjoying our tasty beverages (Getränke), we played a few games of German card game Schwarzer Peter (where you have to pass cards round and avoid the ‘Peter the black cat’ card) before Tessa and I said our goodbyes and headed to the train station for our four hour journey to Banyuwangi.

Arriving at 10pm, we checked into our incredibly (unglaublich) basic room at Karang Asem Inn opposite one of Banyuwangi’s three train stations. The room had no sink in the bathroom and a fucking Chelsea duvet cover on the bed(!!!) but was adequate (ausreichend) for our single night.

After just two hours of sleep, our alarm woke us at midnight (Mitternacht) for our arranged ride up to Mount Ijen, two hours in-land, and then a two hour hike to the crater rim before sunrise.

Mount Ijen is a busy sulphur mine (Sulfur Mine) and is famous for the ‘blue fire’ which is visible in darkness (Dunkelheit) from the depths (Tiefen) of the mine where the sulphur is produced (produziert) by heated pipes (erhizte Rohre) in the rocks. As the terrain is rather rough, the sulphur is still mined and transported down the mountain by-hand. Hundreds of men wheel their wheelbarrow (Schubkarren) -like trolleys up the mountain path to the crater rim, walk down the rocky path to the mine and then carry a staggering (erstaunliche) 90kg in baskets on their shoulders (Schultern) back up to the rim where they wheel it down the mountain to be processed. Each man will do this, on average, twice a day. Their reward for this back-breaking labour is approximately 75,000 rupiah (£4.50, 5.30€) per day which, by local standards, is a good wage. The strength and endurance of these men is absolutely amazing.

With toxic fumes (giftiger Rauch) in the air, we were given a gas mask by the hostel owner which we had to wear at certain points (depending on the wind) to avoid being semi-choked but we had no protection for our eyes which stung fiercely at times. Many of the miners just use damp cloths (feuchte Tücher) to cover their mouthes and, unsurprisingly, many encounter respiratory problems (Atemprobleme) later in life.

On our way up, we were befriended by one of the miners who proceeded to try and explain his day and the hike up the mountain to us. He led us carefully down into the mine and showed us around, including the spooky lake at the bottom of the crater and even broke off a bit of sulphur to give to us as a souvenir. Before climbing back up to the crater rim for the sunrise, we gave him some money, hoping that he could afford to have a day off some time soon from the incredible labour.

Unfortunately, just as we reached the crater rim again, the clouds rolled in and spoiled (vernichten) any hopes we had of a second spectacular sunrise in as many days. However, on the two-hour walk down we were treated to some amazing views of the surrounding green hills and mountains which more than made up for missing the sun break.

Arriving back at the hostel at 6:30am, we snatched three hours sleep before our short train across town to Banyuwangi port and our ferry to the Australian Costa del Sol aka Bali.