The steaming crater of Mount Bromo an active volcano rising from the Sea of Sand in the Tennger massif in East Java, Indonesia on Mallory on Travel adventure travel, photography, travel Iain_Mallory_Indo15638

Encounter with a Volcano – Mount Bromo, Indonesia

Never having been described as an early bird, friends may struggle to find a believable reason for me dragging myself from a warm, infinitely comfortable bed at the Java Banana Lodge, Indonesia at 2 am. However, the opportunity to finally get up close and personal with the smoking, active crater of a volcano was even more inviting than any resting place. Mount Bromo, possibly one of the best known of the country’s volcanoes was the early morning quarry.

The steaming crater of Mount Bromo an active volcano rising from the Sea of Sands in the Tennger massif in East Java, Indonesia on Mallory on Travel adventure travel, photography, travel Iain_Mallory_Indo8229

The steaming crater of Mt Bromo

The reason for the early start was supposedly to get the jump on other early risers and have a choice of spots to set up cameras and witness the spectacular sunrise over the smoking volcano. Tourism in Indonesia however, is seldom a solitary pursuit, and as we were soon to discover, the rising sun over Mount Bromo is also one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions.

Jeeps for the Mount Bromo tour in East Java, Indonesia on Mallory on Travel adventure travel, photography, travel Iain_Mallory_Indo8217

Start your engines!

Our group split into smaller jeep sized parties, climbing into the small convoy of multi-coloured off-road vehicles which soon joined a much larger convoy of jeeps and motorcycles racing, dodging and jostling for advantage in the dash to the summit. It is a seemingly chaotic procession, with the smaller motorcycles weaving between the more cumbersome jeeps, carrying their passengers slightly closer to the top than the larger vehicles allow.

They are tested to the limits of their mechanical abilities, not always passing the test as some over heat or break down by the side of the road, their distraught owners attempting on the spot repairs, as a stranded motorcycle is losing money. Occasionally, they are beyond simple repair, and have to be recovered, usually precariously balanced across the back of another motorcycle.

We were dropped several hundred metres from the top, requiring a short hike, passing roadside merchants and a few low key places to eat before finally reaching the view point at the peak.

It seemed unlikely we’d have the place to ourselves but finding several hundred people already there was a less than pleasant surprise, Indonesia certainly believes in mass tourism. Most of the prime positions had already been taken, but most of us still managed to find an acceptable place to set up a tripod and wait in anticipation of the Mount Bromo sunrise. In the meantime, a steady stream of people continued to arrive, until almost every space was taken.

Motorcycle taxi tour on Mount Bromo in the Tennger massif of East Java, Indonesia on Mallory on Travel adventure travel, photography, travel Iain_Mallory_Indo8218

Getting ahead

Contemplating the beauty of solitude in nature seemed unlikely, though possibly our insignificance seemed even more pertinent!

As the shroud of darkness began to slip, the cold light of morning started to take hold, but unfortunately, we were to be disappointed. Mount Bromo and the surrounding peaks were to remain hidden beneath a blanket of thick cloud. We waited patiently, expectantly, hopefully, but apart from the occasional break, providing a tantalising glimpse of the hulking shape of the volcanic mountain, it remained hidden.

The headlights of jeeps could also be seen moving far below on the plain known as the “Sea of Sand” beneath the heavy cloak of cloud.

People chatted amicably, cheerfully even, but the atmosphere was understandably heavy with disappointment. Eventually, people began to drift away, grabbing a coffee and a grilled corn before hiking back to their numbered jeep.

Fortune smiled upon us however, the sun beginning the shine, burning away the layers of cloud, until only wispy strands remained, floating around the base and crater, mixing with the smoke billowing from within. We may have missed the sunrise, but the view of the conical mount which almost shields the smoking Bromo rising from the Sea of Sand, still provided an impressive spectacle.

We paused as long as possible, soaking up the alien scene before us, apart from the ever present jeeps, it could easily be the landscape of the moon, possibly even the well-known “Sea of Tranquillity“.

The hidden crater of Mount Bromo under cloud cover, an active volcano rising from the Sea of Sands in the Tennger massif in East Java, Indonesia on Mallory on Travel adventure travel, photography, travel Iain_Mallory_Indo15569

Under the clouds

Another short jeep versus motorcycle race down to the plain and next stop the crater of Mount Bromo itself. Watching riders on scooters attempting to take their ill-suited two wheeled vehicles across the plain, sliding and falling in the soft sand was strangely entertaining.

The intended mode of transport across the “Sea of Sand” to the summit steps was horses, but on seeing the condition of some of the poor creatures, several of us decided to take Shank’s pony instead.

Merchant at Mount Bromo under cloud cover, an active volcano rising from the Sea of Sands in the Tennger massif in East Java, Indonesia on Mallory on Travel adventure travel, photography, travel Iain_Mallory_Indo8246

Merchant in the Sea of Sand

This turned out to be a pleasant enough stroll across the sandy plain, with plenty more ‘pilgrims‘ slowly making their way on foot to the steps which lead to the crater. There are also more merchants selling water, refreshments and handmade sacrificial objects to throw into the smoking caldera.

Horse wrangler on the Sea of Sand plain at Mount Bromo an active volcano in the Tennger massif in East Java, Indonesia on Mallory on Travel adventure travel, photography, travel Iain_Mallory_Indo15662

The Sea of Sand

Progress to the crater was slow, as a long line of visitors steadily made their way to the top of the steps to get a view of Mount Bromo, the stench of sulphur reaching noses long before the summit is reached. Once there the stench becomes almost overpowering, most visitors covering their faces and snatching a few quick photos before beginning the descent.

The steaming crater of Mount Bromo an active volcano rising from the Sea of Sand in the Tennger massif in East Java, Indonesia on Mallory on Travel adventure travel, photography, travel Iain_Mallory_Indo8234

Gas cloud

This was my first view of a truly active volcano, causing me to pause, dwelling on my good fortune and the impressive power that nature possesses. It was a sobering moment, despite the ingenuity of humankind, our innate ability and need to advance we are still largely powerless, insignificant against the might of nature. A volcano exemplifies the extraordinary and often brutal, irresistible force of nature.

The steaming crater of Mount Bromo an active volcano rising from the Sea of Sand in the Tennger massif in East Java, Indonesia on Mallory on Travel adventure travel, photography, travel Iain_Mallory_Indo15668

Edge of the caldera

The spiraling steam billowed from the caldera like a small, but growing cloud, the air heavy with the stench of rotten eggs and hundreds of visitors, both foreign and Indonesian milling around the crater.

There wasn’t much peace and quiet, but I was still very grateful for the rudely early start and had totally forgotten about that infinitely comfortable bed!

Motorcycle taxi tour on Mount Bromo in the Tennger massif of East Java, Indonesia on Mallory on Travel adventure travel, photography, travel Iain_Mallory_Indo15684

Trail riding Bromo style

Mount Bromo began to erupt again in 2004, but has also erupted in 2010, 2011 and volcanic activity increased once more, resulting in the ejection of ash in November 2015, a month after our visit…… what do you think, a visit too early or perfect timing?

The steaming crater of Mount Bromo an active volcano rising from the Sea of Sand in the Tennger massif in East Java, Indonesia on Mallory on Travel adventure travel, photography, travel Iain_Mallory_Indo15638

Bromo at last

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Comments 2

  1. Simon

    How interesting. I went to Indonesia several times, but never managed to visit Mount Bromo. After reading about your experience (and similar ones related by others) I doubt I’ll ever meet Mont Bromo.
    The place is certainly beautiful, but I have a hard time imagining a wonderful natural scenery with loads of jeeps and motorbikes riding up and down, exhaust fumes, noise and hundreds of people fidgeting to have a look. That’s not my idea of nature, which to me is synonym of quietness.
    Unfortunately, the over exploitation of the local attractions (especially the natural ones) is recurrent in the developing countries. And while I can understand that they try to get as much as possible from their resources, they sadly overlook the fact that this kind of tourism is the best way to spoil them quickly.

    1. Post
      Author
      Iain Mallory

      Thank you Simon, I certainly understand your point of view and can see where you’re coming from. I’d also prefer to enjoy the beauty of nature and the mountains with some serenity to be able to really appreciate them.

      It’s not generally how Indonesia does tourism however, with the exception of the Komodo Islands perhaps. All of the main tourist attractions were generally swarming with people, sunrise, sunset and in between at temples or volcanoes.

      Although some peace and quiet would have been appreciated at Mount Bromo, to be honest the jeep ride and hike to get there is part of the adventure, including the race/hike to the crater.

      It’s certainly won’t be everybody’s cup of tea and I wouldn’t want to have to go through this every time I visited a beautiful natural sight, but it does appeal in a different way.

      Maybe one day we can both visit and be lucky enough to find it without the crowds 🙂

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