15,326 km so far.
Note: for those of you keeping track, we have adjusted our total distance today to reflect an error we found, where one ride was added twice.
When we set off this morning, we knew the ride would put all the work we have done on this trip to the test. We have climbed so many mountains I have lost count, but we knew today’s ride was going to be different.
We are headed to Gunung Bromo (it means Mount Bromo), an active volcano. The ride takes us up a winding road that climbs an ancient dormant volcano. The first 20 km of our 45 km ride today were relatively flat. After that, we had to climb up 2000 m over roughly 25 km.
That’s some steep shit.
The sun was blazing down on us as we began to climb, and before long we were soaked in sweat. The road switched back, and switched back, and we climbed some more. And we sweated some more.
There were very few other vehicles on the road today, which made a nice change. Some big dump trucks were seemingly carting loads of dirt back and forth, and there were the ubiquitous scooters, like a swarm of mosquitos buzzing around us, but very few private cars use this route up the mountain. It got so hot we took our helmets off, feeling a sense of security with the lack of traffic and our snail-like pace. I wet down my scarf and wore it as a turban to keep cool.
Part way up, we came to a detour sign, but some local boys told us we could still go along the main road. Past the detour there weren’t any trucks at all, just the occasional scooter. There was a section of the road that was being repaired, and a small sliver had been left passable for us and the local pedestrians.
All along the road, women were using machetes to harvest what looked to us like wild grass. Maybe it was feed for their animals. Many men were carrying huge loads of it on scooters down the mountain.
A few enterprising people, presumably unable to afford a scooter, had built three-wheeled carts, made entirely of wood, apart from the wheels. The seat was a few inches off the ground and there was a flat space behind the driver to pile the grass. What they didn’t have was brakes or an engine. They just pointed these things downhill and away they went.
Jane’s note: Yes, while the women did the backbreaking muscle work of harvesting and piling the grasses, the men rode up and down the hill on scooters and go-karts. People are the same everywhere.
As we got above about 800 m, we entered the clouds, which swirled around us, keeping the heat down.
We were working so hard we kept sweating, but the air was so wet and thick, that none of our sweat could evaporate. I think this is the first time on the trip I could watch as Jane’s sweat dripped in regular intervals onto the asphalt.
Poverty got more and more extreme the higher we went up the mountain. Houses got smaller, teeth turned blacker, and children were at home instead of at school.
Everyone up here seems to be a farmer, and the steep ravines that once were forests have been cleared for farming. We saw cabbages, carrots, corn, potatoes, onions, and coffee being grown. The vegetables were planted on inclines so steep they appeared to be going straight up. I have never seen anything like it.
When we got to Wonokitri, two local guys were waiting for us and offered to help us find a homestay. One of the them had ridden past us as we climbed, and presumably he tipped off his English-speaking friend that we were on the way.
Prices in this town – where the only accommodation is a handful of homestays or the $100+ per night hotel – were extortionate, at least in relative terms. Rooms were twice as expensive as they were in the lowlands, and a quarter as welcoming. We ended up looking at three places before we chose the most expensive, but also least squalid, of the options. In the end we had a very basic kitchen, lounge area, bathroom (squat toilet and no hot water), and two bedrooms all to ourselves for 450,000 Rp, about $38.
It was cold enough tonight that we had to huddle under all the blankets in our homestay, trying to remove the damp chill from our bodies, before resting up for the final leg of the climb tomorrow.
Soundtrack: Rheostatics, Whale Music | The New Pornographers, Challengers | Atoms For Peace, Amok | Chris T-T, The 253 | Make Some Noise, a Beastie Boys playlist on Spotify | Amazing Ladies playlist on Spotify ♥