Climbing Mount Bromo

When we landed in rural East Java, Indonesia, we were a bit culture shocked. There were six of us (fresh out of University in Canada), batting our virgin eyes – eyes that had never seen past the borders of our North American homeland, or at the very most, past the walls of the Caribbean resorts we visited during winter vacations. Long from the packaged tourism vacations we had experienced and from our Western world of comforts and familiarities we winded up the mountain roads to Mt. Bromo in Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park.

The trek to Mt. Bromo, an active volcano dubbed by The Lonely Planet as one of the top ten climbs without a porter, was an adventure in itself. Getting there required a 10 hour drive through the twisting roads of rural Java in a crammed mini-bus. We practiced blind faith in our Javanese driver (mostly regarding his wild driving skills) and we arrived, alive, to our first taste of very modest, budget accommodations. We were located high up in the mountains and above the clouds in the village of Cemoro Lawang and we were some of the only visitors in the town. This was one of the first moments in our lives where we felt like a minority, plunked down in a totally different culture.

Our brains soaked in every detail of difference between what we left back home and where we were, learning and discovering everything that we could.

The next morning, we set out to climb Mt. Bromo at 4:00 AM, as we planned a perfectly timed ascent to allow us to watch the sunrise from the summit. Off we went in the the pitch black, straining our eyes to navigate, and started our walk across the 5 km plain en route to the base of the mountain. Using our remaining senses in the darkness, we realized we were totally alone; there was not a park ranger, a hiker, or another human for that matter, for miles. Finally, after feeling like we were completely lost in the dark, we found a slope with some footprints carved out. We began to climb. We hiked for about 45 minutes before the sky lightened ever so slightly, enough to see that we were literally blazing our own path — up the wrong mountain. 

We later found out that the mountain we were climbing was called Mount Batok and was about twice the size of Bromo, which, with the touch of light, we were able to see next door. As the sun started to make its way above the horizon, we could see a handful of other travelers and park rangers making their way across the plain, en route to Bromo.

Hurriedly, we started our climb down Batok, wanting desperately to make it to the top of Bromo to see the sunrise; this was, after all, the reason we woke so early and began our trek in the dark. Somewhere during the descent, however-either when our fellow travelers debated climbing Mt. Batok, or when a pair of sunglasses was dropped into the deep crevasses which caused a halt in our descent- we all realized that it didn’t really matter where we saw the sun rise that morning. 

We were in Indonesia. It was absolutely beautiful and for that, we were grateful.

We did make our way to the base of Mt. Batok and then over to Mt. Bromo. Looking up at the clearly paved, marked trail, it was clear that it was going to be an easier, more care-free climb. Or so we thought. As we ascended, we heard a bellowing rumble, followed by the sound of air being sucked through a tunnel (a tunnel the size of a volcano!). Cue: Mount Bromo puffing volcanic ash. Massive clouds of ash blew out from the top of the active volcano. We were shocked.

Despite worrying about our safety, or whether or not we were even allowed to continue climbing, we journeyed on. We had come all the way to Bromo to climb to the top, we couldn’t be stopped. We kept hiking until we reached the edge of the volcano. The ash was still in the air. Due to the dangers of climbing the puffing volcano, no other hikers were allowed to start the climb; yet, somehow, despite our wrong turn in the morning and with luck on our side, we had made it.

At the top, we revelled in the glory of our surroundings. The early morning sun illuminated the mountains in an orange tone that was absolutely beautiful. There were no railings between us and the drop into the opening of the volcano (still puffing ash). We stood there and simply nodded at each other, "Yep, we will never be settling for a package tourism deal, ever again."