I cannot recall that in recent years I ever got up in the middle of the night with the sole aim of watching the sunrise. Perhaps this is a good project to undertake once the lockdown has ended. Go, enjoy your freedom, and breathe deeply.
While on my month-long backpacking trip through Indonesia, however, I got up in the middle of the night twice in one week, and it was overwhelming. The first time was intending to visit Borobudur, the largest Buddhist temple in the world, located near Yogyakarta. The second time was to see the spectacular stratovolcano Mount Bromo, which rises 7,641 feet above sea level.
It was no easy task to travel from the colorful Yogya, my previous whereabouts, to Cemoro Lawang, a village at the foot of Mount Bromo. I took the train headed towards Malang at 1:38 in the middle of the night. Thankfully, the place next to me was empty, and I could stretch out and sleep through almost the whole of the eight-hour journey.
Once in Malang, I realized that I was nowhere near my goal and that I had to travel further to Probolinggo. After lengthy deliberations back and forth accompanied by nerve-racking delays, I found a shaky minibus that would take me to my desired destination – Cemoro Lawang.
It took a total of twelve hours before the driver finally let me out in Cemoro Lawang. And now I faced a new challenge – to find an inexpensive homestay. Booking an accommodation ahead of time is for amateurs. I walk through the mountain village lugging two backpacks – the heavier one with 15 Kg on my back and a lighter one – only 7 kg – in front, looking for a place to lie down for the next few hours. I didn’t plan on sleeping for too long. At 2:30 in the morning, Team Bromo was to set out for the best hike of my life, or at least on this trip.
Having walked around the village five times, I was approached by an elderly local in a torn jeans jacket, who convinced me to sleep at a small homestay. Despite the musty smell, I couldn’t complain, as the night only cost me four euros and there was enough space for myself and my companions, who reached the accommodation a couple of hours later. Together, we quickly surveyed the neighborhood.
After a nasi goreng, a local fried rice dish, we all laid down at around 9 PM, hoping to get at least a few hours’ sleep. I had bought myself a Mount Bromo cap for a euro so that I would look like a real tourist, and I was all set for the adventure. A brief sense of remorse set in when the alarm blared at 2 AM, and I realized that I quickly had to abandon my warm bed.
We were all ready and prepared to start a hike that would plunge us into the darkest corners and take us over steep hills and through a sea of sand. The first goal was a vantage point far removed from tourists, who usually take jeep rides up the mountain. To get there, we had to walk for around 10 kilometers. The enjoyment gradually gave way to stress, when, much to our surprise, the group leader of Team Bromo turned out to be a marathon runner. I truly gave my all to keep up, but when I started seeing double at some point, I had to ask the group for a short break. At least this provided me with the opportunity to briefly glance at the breathtaking sky. It then became clear to me that our excursion was worth all the effort.
After around two-and-a-half hours into our hike, we arrived at a lookout point. We made ourselves comfortable with about fifty other travelers. We could finally sit and have a clear view of one of the most active volcanoes on Java. A chill wind blew around our ears, and the sun slowly crept over the crater rim. This picturesque view seemed surreal. It did not take long until the sun rose the rest of the way over the rim and shed a dreamlike light over the landscape. This was one of those moments on a journey that leads you to question “normal” life. How could we continue with the daily grind of going to work and living in the haze of the big city while there were so many undiscovered adventures waiting out there for us?
Of course, the experience wasn’t nearly as romantic as one might imagine it after the fact. The was no classical Hollywood moment with background music and slow-motion effects allowing the viewer to soak in every last detail. Surrounded by other tourists and continuously circled by cameras, one had to search long for a quiet moment. Nonetheless, we enjoyed the sunrise to the full, and I carefully attempted to store as many details as possible in my internal photo album to revive them at a later date.
Full of euphoria and without effort, we all spontaneously decided to view the crater of Mount Bromo. Nothing could deter our Team Bromo, and we immediately set off.
We faced a further eight strenuous kilometers, yet we were brimming with vigor and positive emotions. A joint adventure like this is similar to a team-building activity – but only better. Every minute we exchanged intimate details of our lives back home, shared concerns and forged plans for our return to Europe. Meanwhile, we had to clamber back down the hard climbed mountain and then trek in the blazing sun over a sea of sand to Mount Bromo. The sweat flowed, and fatigue slowly set in. At that point, I could have done without my Mount Bromo cap, but at least it protected the top of my head from sunburn. One should always look on the positive side.
When we reached the volcano, a further 241 steps were awaiting us, although it felt like thousands as we climbed them. Upon arrival at the crater, all thought of our efforts to get there vanished. This was the first volcano that I ever saw in my life, and I was overwhelmed. Hot steam was seething out of the crater, and this had a meditative effect. I was torn away from this tranquil mood by the other visitors, who wanted to snap countless photos with us and then thanked us for our willingness to pose with them. Fully absorbed with new impressions and utterly exhausted, we happily marched back to our lodgings. It was an experience I will never forget.