Awe-inspiring, breathtaking, otherworldly, thrilling… Just a few of the words that come to mind when thinking back on the scene from our sunrise viewing spot overlooking one of the most active volcanoes in Indonesia, Mount Bromo. Named after the Hindu god of creation, this majestic spectacle stands at 2,392-meters above sea level, and sits amongst a large mass of fine volcanic ash known as The Sea of Sand. In the distance, we can see another active and even taller volcano, 3,676-meter tall Mount Semeru and once the morning fog clears, we have a complete view of what makes up the magnificent Bromo Tenger Semeru National Park.
After that first glimpse, it was easy to see why this is one of the most scenic and visited attractions in Indonesia.
It was an intense start to our trip, nearly missing flights because of Bali traffic- then flight delays causing a late arrival to Java and showing up very late at night to a power outage in the village where we had planned to stay. Discouragement could have easily taken over but our excitement levels were too high… So after a 3-hour drive from the airport, we miraculously found our homestay, had a warm welcome from the nicest family, and just like that- we were settled and in good hands.
With no time to waste, we woke up the next morning at 3am, bundled up in our warmest clothes, and hopped in our pastel yellow Land Cruiser with our host and driver, Rudi. We made our way up the winding mountain roads through starlit skies to the base of the National Park where we were greeted by a busy scene of local warungs and tourists. We sat for a quick moment and enjoyed a little coffee and fried banana breakfast. After a short and easy (but freezing) hike up to the King Kong lookout point, we realized we were not nearly alone and needed to find a better area to properly see the volcanoes. A tiny dirt path emerged off the main walkway and with the moon lighting our way, we hiked straight up to a semi-secret spot with a fraction of people. The sun was starting to rise, but the clouds were not on our side and we realized we were fully closed-in to the fog. As the wind blew condensation from the trees like freezing rain drizzles, most tourists retreated down the mountain for shelter and warmth. We waited patiently a while longer on our own with high hopes but finally gave up as well. Then…as we were about halfway down to the base, the clouds began to clear and we quickly turned the car around and ran back up the dirt path to our spot to find clear views of the clouds climbing down the front of the peaks like vapor waterfalls and the bright blue sky we’d been waiting for. A little plume of smoke billowed from Bromo and the warmth of the sun felt like heaven after the harsh weather we endured just before.
After a quick lunch at our homestay and a well-deserved nap, we were determined to head back up to see Bromo up close and personally in all its fierceness. The landscape surrounding the volcano is called the Sea of Sand for obvious reasons to the naked eye…but the sand is actually super fine, metallic, volcanic ash. Some areas look like another planet, the moon perhaps, so desolate and dusty, while others have fields of rust colored dry plants with steep mountainous backdrops…a scene unlike any other we’d ever witnessed. When we arrived at the base of Bromo, we were greeted by guides who were eager to take us up to the crater by horseback, but we were quick to agree that we’d rather walk up ourselves. 253 dusty steps later we reached the top and a sight that made me contemplate life, death and everything in between. Staring down into the deepest, darkest of depths was powerful to say the least. And then there was this indescribable noise that echoed from inside of the crater, a kind of low pitched whistle that eerily howled as sulphurous smoke slowly rose and stung our eyes and noses. An overall feeling of humility stopped me in my steps and awakened a strong feeling of planetary wonder. Fear was not an option as we hiked along the ridge to catch a glimpse of every possible angle. As I threw my flower offering into the abyss, I said a little thank you to the god of creation for allowing us this extraordinary experience while the volcano stayed in its sweet state of slumber.
On our final day, we decided to try one last time to see the highly anticipated sunrise from King Kong. Tired was an understatement, so we stopped at one of the little shops that lined the entrance to the hike up and sipped instant cappuccinos. It was 4:30 in the morning and we were warming our hands by a rusty bucket of burning charcoal while the Scorpions live album played in the background. We chuckled to ourselves and exchanged smiles with the locals who seemed to enjoy that time of day more than most.
As we climbed once again up the dirt path to our secluded viewing spot, we felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the clear sky, and when the sun made its way above the mountains across from us, the most epic light emerged and lit the volcanic smoke in brilliant shades of pinks, oranges and reds. Many different layers and forms of clouds made for a vibrant and unique sunrise and the lack of sleep and freezing toes and fingers felt like a small price to pay for such a raw and beautiful view. Even after seeing every angle possible over the last few days, the distant landscape had captivated us again. Our mission was complete and our reward was earned. Bromo, we’ll be back.