Saturday, February 28, 2015

2/6/15 Day 386 No Fees for Free: Waking Up with Mount Bromo

It was hard to believe it was 3 in the morning and time to start dragging ourselves up a volcano, we pulled on as much warmth as we could find in the depth of our backpacks and turned on our headlamps before setting off. The climb began next to the Cemara Indah Hotel where the avoid the National Park Ticket Office route begins. It is very simple to avoid the fees, you simply veer before you walk through the entryway, anyone taking a vehicle drives up and around a different way to the top ensuring they pass through and pay their 150,000 rupiah park fees. We followed the farm roads by moonlight and the glow of our headlamps to Mount Penanjakan where the best viewpoints are. We had no difficulty following the path and arrived in less than two hours even in the frigid temperatures. The terrain was not especially difficult, essentially a steep road that eventually funnels into a more narrow path leading up to the first viewpoint accessible only by foot and a very steep path further up to the last viewpoint, we settled ourselves half way between the two for sunrise where we met a German girl and her guide. Luckily for us this viewpoint is not the same place where the hordes of sleepy eyed volcano visitors step out of their jeep safety nets for the view. While waiting for the sun to summit we were told the legend of Bromo. It all started way back when the Princess and Prince couldn't conceive they prayed to the gods at the crater of Bromo, the gods agreed to give them children under one condition, they must sacrifice their last child into the crater for their gratitude. Shortly after agreeing they were blessed with many children, 25 even, but the mother didn't want to throw her last child in, until the gods threatened to drown the whole region in lava. Reluctantly they gave in and every year since there is a festival known as the Kasodo festival where locals throw many offering in to the crater to appease the gods. After watching the sun completely evaporate the clouds and splash the sky with color we were led by our newly acquired guide, by invitation of our new German friend down the secret horse track to see the volcano up close and personal. The track looked no wider than a bunny trail upon first entry but widened alongside the plots of cabbage and onions to follow the farmers while avoiding the park entrance fee for a third successful time. Walking across the sea of sand we kicked at black pumice and volcanic stone that at some point was ejected form the crater and watched as the lazy horse owners who had slept in trotted to find a client, anyone who might want a horseback ride to the crater. It seems we have found every single jeep that made the trek up, all parked and waiting for their passengers to return, it sure makes us glad we didn't go all the way to the highest point it would have been choked with people! The walk up Bromo has been made dull by the concrete staircase taking all of the hard work out of the climb. Inside the crater rim sulfurous smoke billows out. It was only 9:00 in the morning and we had already hiked more than 3 kilometers uphill in the dark, seen the sunrise over the marvelous scenery, and climbed up to Bromos rim to breathe in some sulphur. Looking forward to the hot shower our homestay was equipped with we walked back to town, triumphantly backwards through the park entrance pay gate, smiling and waving to the guards only to find that there is no water or power back at our place, oh well on to the next. We pack our bags and find the bemo in town that is heading for Probolinggo. It turns out the van can seat 15 and we had to wait two hours until it was full enough to head down, but it only cost us 35,000 for the 90 minute drive. 

Dragon fruit breakfast

Just to the left of the fog sits Cemoro Lewang
Mount Batok in front, with sulphurous smoke billowing from Mount Bromo

Morning mist 

Jeep party

Looking down into Bromo

Stately Mount Batok
Cemoro Lewang Mount Penanjakan

2/5/15 Day 385 The Road Less Travelled to Cemoro Lewang & Mount Bromo, Indonesia

We could have taken the easy way to Cemoro Lewang by public bus but there's no challenge to that, so we took the scenic route. We decided to go the least common route, barely traversed by tourists, from the center of Malang where we hailed a blue minibus (the colors generally are specific to an area or district) off one of the bigger streets, any combination of letters including an A should take you to Arjosari Bus Terminal, for 3,000 rupiah. From there a green minibus labeled TA will deliver you to Tumpang 20+ kilometers closer to Bromo. Here's where backpacker patience comes into play, we spent two hours bargaining up and down the streets looking for a palatable price for three up to the closest village to Bromo, Cemoro Lewang. For jeeps most people were charging, or more accurately overcharging 600,000 rupiahs to the top while motorbikes (ojeks) wanted 150,000 for each of us. We worked very hard to haggle down to 100,000 each and with fresh air in the tires and drivers ready to go we sped off towards the National Park. The finesse of our ojek drivers was incredible, the terrain is 4WD material and between the muddy ruts left by the jeeps, the sandy valleys spewed from the volcano and the pothole filled concrete great care must be taken to avoid spilling us, he drivers and our heavy packs draped over the handlebars to whatever ground lay beneath us. The drive up until the small village of Ngadas is typical Indonesia, small villages, terrible roads and careless motorbikes, but as we rounded one of the bends the most amazing hillside terraced farm plots came into view. Absolutely spellbinding the rest of the way as the farm plots turned into a rolling hilly savannah, safe even from the most lacking Indonesian waste management. We turned another bend and a bad feeling crept up into my throat, our ojeks slowed down as we approached the National Park Office. We had read that the new fees are ridiculous and that some guides will trick you into overpaying, also that if you enter the park by foot you do not have to pay the fees. With all of this is mind we stopped and mulled over our situation as the rangers smirked waiting for us to hand over the bogus fees, meanwhile two separate motorbikes carrying locals whizzed by without stopping. We pointed accusingly asking why they didn't pay and the guards just shrugged explaining that they were locals. While the locals are not required to pay the unreasonable 150,000 rupiah fee we are faced with, they do have a nominal fee of 30,000 to get into the park and with that the three of us grabbed our bags and started trekking up the hill, if they don't pay, we don't pay we offered calmly but loudly. It took no more than a confounded few second for our ojek drivers to shake off what had just happened and start on their bikes after us yelling "ojek ojek!" Leaving the guards still scratching their heads alone with no money to coat the inside of their pockets and no one remaining to complain to either. We told our ojek drivers that we hadn't been driven to our destination and they gladly let each of us pay days on the back of their bikes  towards the volcano. During the ride Kevin's driver over the roar of his bike said "tiket mahal," (expensive ticket) which must be why they allowed us to cross the threshold, they knew we were being ripped off and seemed to think it was hilarious that we stuck it to the man. The rest of the scenery was immaculate, just as we started to grasp the beauty of the green hillside the sea of sand came into view and in turn Mount Bromo and Mount Batok we had arrived. Our drivers delivered us to Cemoro Lewang right into the arms of a homestay for 150,000 rupiah for the night for the three of us and with a hot shower, score! We found some dinner and hit bed early anticipating an early awakening to see the volcano for sunrise. 

Here we go
Random huge sound system blaring Indian music as we passed
Lush terraced plots

Constantly skidding and catching with his feet my driver was definitely experienced
The gorgeous savanna

Entering the Sea of Sand surrounding Mount Bromo

Julie and her driver
Kevin chumming it up with his driver
Finally arrived, legs sore from being on a bike for nearly two hours but stoked nonetheless

Friday, February 27, 2015

2/4/15 Day 384 The Tidiest City: Malang, Indonesia

After the train arrived in Malang it finally dawned on us that it was 4:30 in the morning, and sleep was no longer on the agenda; unlike our journey to Yogyakarta where we arrived at the train station after the sun had already surfaced in the morning and we had acquired some sleep on the seats that were 1/3 bigger. I can't even begin to imagine how many times I tried to shove, squeeze and stretch my body into a position where Kevin and I could comfortably(ish) share our seat and a snooze. Luckily we had a hostel in mind, dragging our bodies and packs through the streets of Malang we managed to tuck ourselves into the dorm at Kampong Tourist a beautiful 4th story high hostel overlooking, volcanoes to the east and west. For 99,000 rupiah Kevin and I had a double bed in the dorm, i have never even seen discounted doubles, it makes sense though maybe we would stay in hostels more often if they existed elsewhere. The place is brilliant with a great view, functioning wifi and hot showers to boot! We manage to get up and moving in time to catch the bird market, one of the great attractions of quiet relaxed Malang. The streets are filled with beautiful bird cages full of parrots, chickens, ducklings, parakeets and owlets all chirping wildly. The shopkeepers are very kind and even let us pet some of the gerbils, puppies and bunnies who are clearly in need of some loving. The remainder of our critter visits are cut short though as the threatening clouds begin to slosh rain across our feathery friends along the street. The men scramble to get their birds under cover while we dash to find cover for ourselves. The city of Malang is very tidy and well swept, the center rotunda and walking street have beautiful landscaping and I think it is safe to say it is the cleanest city I have seen yet in Indonesia and makes for an authentically pleasant village for a few nights recovery. 

Sunrise over Mount Bromo, from our hostel deck in Malang
Here are the bunks inside Kampong Tourist Hostel, Kampong=village in Bahasa
Sidewalk nap

Beautiful black and orange parrots

Gerbil face smash
Adorable or cruel, I'm on the fence on this one

Julie found a puppy
Traditional masks of Java
Kota means city center
We drive a hard bargain for apples, but in the end we could only come to 20,000 rupiah per kilo (<2$)

Traditional village of Malang
Pineapple delivery 

I woke up in time for sunrise and was disappointed to find cloud cover
Luckily the clouds were no match for the sun
And I was rewarded with a beautiful start to the day