We flew from Bali to Surybaya on Java and then took two public buses to get to Malang. Java is much more developed than Flores and it felt strange to see concrete buildings and roads full of shops again. From Malang we went on an incredible trip to the volcanoes of Gunung Bromo and Gunung Ijen. It was a very early start, leaving our hotel at 1am in a jeep and then a few hours drive, mostly on unmade roads, to reach Bromo. As we neared the Tengger Crater we joined many other jeeps and raced across the ‘sand sea’ (a vast bed of volcanic dust from the surrounding volcanoes). We went to a viewpoint, along with lots of other (mostly local) tourists and watched a spectacular ethereal sunrise across the crater.
The Bromo sunrise was the first time we’d met Indonesian tourists- and the smiles and friendly calls of ‘Hello Mister’ (to both Alex and Kate!) that we’d experienced from locals across Indonesia were also supplemented by constant requests for photos. At the big tourists sites many people come to visit from more remote corners of Java and often haven’t seen Westerners in the flesh before. We joked with the others on our trip that grabbing a person and excitedly asking for a photo based on their skin colour might be considered slightly racist elsewhere; but we didn’t mind and will probably now be in countless random Indonesian photo albums!
After the sunrise we returned to our jeeps and drove across the sand sea to the foot of Gunung Bromo. Along with the others on our trip, Frank, Jessica and Simon, we walked through the sand and up the side of the volcano, dodging local Tengger people giving horse rides on the way. Whilst there were some steps, we decided to avoid the queue for the main thoroughfare and instead climbed up the volcanic ash covered slopes. It was hard work as we climbed, walking two steps up and then sliding a step back each time, but the views from the top were worth it. We stood right on the edge, staring down into the sheer drop and the sulphurous guts of the steaming volcano. There were no safety barriers where we were, so we made sure we were very careful with our footing!
After switching from a jeep to a car and taking a long drive East, we stayed the night at a Coffee Plantation. We then had another 1am start to reach Gunung Ijen. Ijen is apparently one of the few places in the world that you can see blue flames at night created by the sulphur in the volcano. We did a steep 3km trek up the volcano in the dark and then started our cautious descent into the crater. The sulphur was strong so we wore gas masks as we descended steeply down a rocky path. As we reached the bottom, we saw the incredible blue flames and sulphurous gases steaming from the volcano. We stayed and watched the blue flames until the sun came up and revealed a picturesque turquoise crater lake
On our way in and out of the crater we passed countless sulphur miners who collect sulphur from the volcano by hand and then carry baskets full of sulphur weighing 90kg- nearly one and half times their own body weight- 200m back up the steep crater. They have no protection against the dangerous gases except cotton scarves tied around their mouths and earn about £3 per load. Here’s a link to an interesting BBC clip showing the miners and the path we walked down https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=8UBk8f7Bgj0
We spent the next 7-8 hours in the car catching up on sleep and returned to Malang in time for a celebratory drink in the opulent Hotel Tuju and a well deserved rest. The next morning we travelled to Blitar by getting a mikrolet to the bus terminal and a hot crowded bus with no air conditioning from there. We were serenaded by numerous buskers of varying talent and those with less talent seemed to try and make up for it in volume; so Alex didn’t get much sleep on that trip! For the uninitiated, bus travel in Java consists of fitting as many people and their bags, boxes, feather dusters, animals, etc. into a bus as possible (sitting and standing) and then adding an extra 10 or so more people for good measure. Once the bus sets off, the conductor then tries to collect fares from everybody even though there is literally no room to move. At most stops the passengers are joined by buskers (usually a full band consisting of singer, guitarist, bongos and tambourine) and hawkers selling food, drinks, wallets, or whatever and who also squeeze their way up and down the aisle numerous times!
From Blitar, we had hoped to see the active lava dome of the volcano Gunung Kelud, but it had a erupted a few months before, so instead we saw the desolate landscape of the recent eruption. Kelud had erupted with such ferocity that it sent ash 55,000 feet into the air and covered the surrounding area in volcanic dust, including the city of Yogjakarta, some 200km away. The eruption also closed most of the tourist attractions on Java and all of the airports in the region. On our way back we stopped off to visit the Hindu temple of Panataran and to see the grave and museum of Soekarno, the much loved founder of the Indonesian nation. From Blitar we continued on to Central Java…