Belly Of The Earth

By Stephen Ewashkiw | June 28, 2014

15,385 km so far.

Crossing the Tengger Caldera, which contains within its walls four newer volcano cones and the Sand Sea, felt like we were on another planet.

The other worldly Tengger Caldera at Mount Bromo.

The other worldly Tengger Caldera at Mount Bromo.

The caldera is 10 km in diameter, and its base is covered entirely in black sand and ash that has been spit out by Bromo and the other volcanos in the vicinity.

There is very little vegetation growing in the caldera, adding to the distant-planet sensation.

A Land Cruiser crosses the Sand Sea. Mount Batok, Mount Bromo look on.

A Land Cruiser crosses the Sand Sea. Mount Batok, Mount Bromo look on.

A few patches of long grass, and a couple of trees are the only living things we spotted…

Grasses of the Tengger Caldera.

Grasses of the Tengger Caldera.

…apart from hundreds of tourists in Toyota Land Cruisers…

mount bromo jeeps in black sand

Here come the Land Cruisers, at Mount Bromo.

…and local Tenggerese people on their horses.

man on horse in black sand at mount bromo

Riding the Sand Sea at Mount Bromo.

Postcards From The Edge

At the base of the volcanoes Bromo and Batok sits the Poten temple, a Hindu temple dedicated to Brahma, for whom Bromo is named. I was able to wander through the temple because I was chanting, but it is usually closed to tourists. Yogi bonus!

yoga post mount bromo indonesia

A little hand balance in honour of the earth, at Mount Bromo.

It is a simple space, probably because it could easily be destroyed whenever Bromo decides to erupt, and keeping it simple means rebuilding is easier.

There are 241 stairs up to the crater edge, overlooking the sulphur- and smoke-belching mouth of Bromo.

Stairs to the rim of Mount Bromo.

Stairs to the rim of Mount Bromo.

Because we skipped the traditional sunrise visit, the tourist numbers weren’t too high.

This meant we didn’t risk being pushed off the edge by an over-tired, oxygen-deprived Javanese tourist. One interesting thing about the tourists here is almost everyone is Indonesia. We saw maybe a total of 5 other Westerners at Bromo, and even here, people were surreptitiously trying to snap pictures of us.

Mount Bromo selfie, with actual volcanic smoke in the background.

Mount Bromo selfie, with actual volcanic smoke in the background.

We are both fascinated by volcanoes, making this an extra-special stop. Out of this gaping mouth the stuff of life, the keys to Earth, are belched, spitting them onto the planet’s surface to begin their slow journey back into the core.

A man gathers offering flowers in the cone of Mount Bromo.

A man gathers offering flowers in the cone of Mount Bromo.

It is a spectacular place. The crater was too deep to offer us views of red-hot lava, so we had to make do with a yellow dusting of sulphur, 50 shades of grey ash, and an ever-changing smoke plume rising from the mouth.

The views across the massive caldera from the lip of Bromo were not bad either.

Supersonic Cyclists

After waiting around for restaurants to open for lunch, which was mildly annoying, it was time to complete our mountain ride. Remember, the summit is only half way.

Back down the mountain we flew at the speed of light, or close enough. This sort of ride is what the climbing of the past two days is all about. It was nearly 40 km downhill, hardly having to pedal the entire time, the distance flying past.

The road surface could have been better, but it also could have been much worse, and these days I’ll settle for not bad, since it seems to be the best available option.

Cyclist’s note: The first 10 km or so are pretty wild. Very steep and poorly surfaced, so you get the life shaken right out of you. After that things improve and you can let go of the brakes and enjoy the feel of the wind whistling through your helmet.

Before we knew it we were on the edge of Probolinggo, where we planned on spending the night. We have been discussing our options for getting to Bali, which is only about 200 km away now. The trouble is, it is 200 km along the north coast road, which is our old nemesis Highway 1.

Decision Time

When we rode past the bus station we decided to stop in and see if they could take us and our bikes, how much it would cost, and how long it would take. It turned out there was a bus leaving in 90 minutes heading to Banyuwangi, where we need to catch the ferry to Bali. For 75,000 Rp each ($6.25) we could be there by 10pm.

We hadn’t planned on taking the bus today but this all seemed too good to be true. We had to take the wheels off the bikes to fit them under the bus, and while I was doing that Jane went out to buy snacks for the bus ride, and hit up an ATM for some cash.

A while later the bus driver showed up, and decided our bikes wouldn’t fit on the bus after all. I went to look at the bus and see if I could figure it out.

Let me tell you about the bus. The windshield was shattered, just hanging on, the frame of the bus was rusted through, the seats were padded, but the upholstery was worn away and the foam exposed and ripped to pieces. It did, miraculously, have air-conditioning.

I figured out that our bikes could fit on the bus, which from everything we could gather was going to be empty, since everyone else on Java was celebrating the start of Ramadan tonight. When I came back to tell Jane about all this, the ticket agent told me the drivers now wanted 250,000 Rp.

I had already decided there was no way we were getting in their four-wheeled death trap, and this sealed the deal.

Annoyed at having wasted an hour of our lives at the bus station, we put our bikes back together, and left.

Perhaps we should have hired a horse to take us to Banyuwangi.

Perhaps we should have hired a horse to take us to Banyuwangi.

We found a well maintained, well run guest house on the west side of town called Rumah Wahidin (GPS: 7.75143°S 113.21121°E), and are both very happy to be sleeping here tonight, rather than trying not to freak out for 5 hours on the bus of death.

If Not Bus, Then Train?

Having not learned our lesson about trains in Indonesia yet, we decided to check out the situation at the Probolinggo train station while we were out getting dinner. The ticket agent told me we had to send our bikes with the shipping company, who were open and in the same building, so we went to talk to them.

They told us they could get our bikes to Banyuwangi tomorrow for 200,000 Rp. This was more than we expected, or wanted, to pay, so we hemmed and hawed. As I went back in to negotiate, 200,000 Rp turned into 200,000 Rp each. They then negotiated themselves back to 250K total.

It seems this is how you negotiate in Indonesia. Start low and then wheedle out whatever extra you can after the deal has already been sealed.

We reluctantly agreed, they took our bikes, and we went back to the ticket office and bought executive class train tickets. After the near death-bus experience, we wanted to ensure a comfortable ride tomorrow. Sorted.

Or so we thought.

After we left the station, one of the men came looking for us, and found us walking around the main square. He had forgotten that tomorrow was Sunday. The shipping company would not be able to ship our bikes until Monday. The trouble is, we can ride our bikes there by Monday, and not have to pay more than 500,000 Rp in train and shipping fees. Luckily, we managed to get all our money back.

There goes another hour of our lives.

If Not Train, Then Bike

I guess Brahma, or Allah, or more accurately, the fact that the bus was shitty, and the train cargo people incompetent, decided that we will make the 2-day ride to Bali after all. This is actually what we would prefer to do, if there was a quieter, smoother, back road. Sadly this isn’t an option and we will be on Highway 1 the entire 200 km to Bali.

Wish us luck.

Soundtrack: ESG, A South Bronx Story | Chris T-T, Panic Attack At Sainsbury’s  

Want to see the route map? View it on Ride With GPS.

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