Sunday, June 17, 2007

Stoned, and the Majestic Bromo

Is that..?

Talango Island
So, the usual uncomfortable minibus with less legroom than Ryanair and a load of very unwashed people squashed up against me. At the end, I ask how much, dreading the inevitable rip-off for foreigners. I offer 2,000, as this is what I had been lead to believe it should cost. No, he says, 5, holding his whole hand up, i.e. 5,000. No, I say, too much. But it's so damn difficult without any common language. Eventually turns out he wanted 4, so why was he holding his whole hand (and thumb) up? Cultural misunderstanding that HSBC adverts at Heathrow didn't help me with.

As I come out, I'm mobbed by the usual bunch of Hello Misters and Where are you (i.e. going)? It's pretty oppressive in this heat to have 10 guys all desperate to rip you off jump on you. I don't like it. I walk away, and buy some water by a shop. I can see the island, just across the water from here. Just then a small boat is leaving. I ask if they'll go across, and the shop keeper woman, who seems nice, says sure. Like an idiot, I don't agree the price in advance (occasionally I try out trust here for some reason), and so when getting off, they ask me for 10,000. Greedy sods, who abused the fact that I didn't know there was a proper ferry just round the corner, that costs 1,000 (though even when I try to take this later I have about 5 blokes trying to convince me it's more, thank goodness the price is written on their ticket stubbs). So we settle on 5,000, not bad for them given that they were coming across anyway. There's no such thing as a free ride here, everyone is trying to make money out of you, and it's starting to get to me.

So, LP says one can go snorkelling on this island. That may be, but as I discover, you'd have to bring your own gear, so one might as well state that one can go snorkelling anywhere where there is water. I walk round the coast, finding lots of fishing going on, but no inviting waters. It looks very pretty with lovely turquoise waters further out, but near the shore the water is cloudy and quite dirty. I wade a bit pulling trousers up to knees, but that's about it. Lots of hassle of course as I walk along the residential streets leading round the island, but eventually I find a secluded spot and get comfy on the rocks to read my book. After some time, a couple of kids go past me. One comes back a few seconds, hand out, presumably asking for money. I tell him firmly no. He disappears.

Several minutes later, I feel some sand and small stones come down from above - presumably the same kids peering over the top looking down on me. Slightly annoying to have the sand come down, but I ignore it. Moments later, a large rock lands on my chest, almost winding me, and thank god it didn't come down on my head! Little sh*ts! I jump up, but they've disappeared in the trees. I yell out. Nothing. So I wait for a bit, and one pokes his head out, then vanishes when he sees I'm watching. I'd never catch them, as to get up I'd have to walk around the bay a bit to get up. So I move on. Cheeky brats.

Still, probably good to move on, as I discover further round what looks like a nice beach. On getting closer though, just mud and fishing nets.

I carry on, and effectively end up hiking round the whole island in the roasting heat. A nice several hour walk, and I'm pretty exhausted when I get back to Sumenep. I decide instead of risking town restaurants, I'll order food at the hotel. I go for Mee Goreng in the restaurant, then change my mind and decide to eat it in my room to avoid the flies. I made the mistake of walking into the kitchen to change my order. The flies. Oh my goodness the flies! I felt sick. Swarms of them. Swarms. Where my food was being prepared!

I'm always prepared to try all the local stuff when travelling, and very rarely come a cropper. The one time that sticks out in my mind, when I had a nasty bout of the runs, when travelling, was in Malaysia with Chucky on the east coast. We ate breakfast at a café where the food was sitting in glass displays at the front with flies all over the place. I remember thinking at the time "we shouldn't be eating this stuff", and sure enough.. You can follow all the travellers rules about salads, ice etc, but if you have such an obvious breach of hygiene in front of you, walk away!

Next morning as I am leaving, the chap in the hotel tells me to "come back next time with your wife". Well firstly when I find one, and then only once I've exhausted the delights of Croydon and Utah, my friend. The 8am bus back is bloody slow, which is an issue, as I'm hoping to head all the way to Mount Bromo today, and there is a time limit - specifically the mini-buses for the last leg of the journey stop at about 5pm. It was implied when I bought the ticket for this bus that I would have to change, but apparently not the case as we arrive at Kamal, the ferry terminal, to cross to Surabaya. Did mean I spent the whole journey waiting to be prompted to move though, so no snoozing.

On to the World's Slowest Ferry ® for a walking pace (I exaggerate not) ride across the narrow channel to Surabaya's port. It must have taken about an hour. For what was 20 minutes the other way. Incredible. I think the explanation is that we had by chance picked the ferry with a 5HP engine, and it was going against the wind. Ridiculous. Past the becak riders, I've stopped being polite to the buggers now, and on to my P1 bus. To give you an idea of how many foreigners there are about:- As we go past a stop, a school-girl sitting with friends notices me. She turns to her friend points me out, with no subtlety, a fully extended arm with finger, so I pretend to look shocked to see them and point back in an exaggerated fashion, to howls of giggles. There just aren’t many Westerners about. Impressively my bowels are holding out despite the fly-infected food. How do the locals do it?

Back to the lovely Mandarin Oriental, and despite being in a rush, I decide that it would be prudent to have a quick bite to eat. That is to say, take quick afternoon tea. In the bathroom I washed my hands, then as I was about to leave, turned back and washed them again! Oh how I miss my anti-bacterial hand wash, the one that the Sydney Airport Security Monkeys confiscated because although there were about two teaspoonfuls of wash left, the bottle itself was more than the 100g limit! Bungling idiots, I shall hold this grudge forever. Indonesia is such a dirty country, all one sees all the time is people blowing their nose into their hands, then eating food with the same hands, and the whole "left hand only for wiping one's rear" thing doesn't hold. They do use it for that purpose, but eat with it too!.

Smoking Volcanoes at the End of a Stressful Day
Gunung Bromo is one of Java and indeed Indonesia's top tourist attractions, for locals and foreigners alike.

There are various approaches, but given that I'm out of season I'm heading via the conventional route, i.e. to Probolinggo, then up to Cemorro Lawang. The P1 bus from the hotel in Surabaya takes longer than expected, despite his F1 tactics like swerving on to the hard-shoulder to pass other vehicles, to reach the main bus terminal, which is 10km out of town. I was seated next to a chap who seemed to enjoy pointing out every large supermarket or shopping mall along the way, perhaps demonstrating Indonesia's progress. There I'm ambushed by touts, all yelling "hello mister" and "where are you?". This I ignore, but some grab my arm. This is unacceptable to me, and whenever it happens I stop, glare and tell them to not ever to do that again. This usually works, though I'm about to punch one guy later at Probollingo when even this doesn't work.

As I head into the terminal, the barrage continues. I resolve to take the train on any more trips if possible, this is awful. I ignore everyone, and take a gamble that I can buy a bus departure tax ticket (200r), then head straight out to buses. This works, and I walk quickly along, trying not too obviously to scan the scores of buses for one going to Probolinggo. I get to the right area, and am told that a certain bus is right for me, but I'm suspicious as it lists other places on the front. I ask if it's direct? Oh no, I'd have to change somewhere. No.

Minutes later I find the right bus. It's economy, which according to the people there only means that it doesn't have a toilet. More importantly, as I later realise, it means that the journey will take about twice as long, as not only does the bus stop regularly (this is fine), but it stops for extended periods as the driver and conductor stand at the back, flagging down other buses heading along the same road, to try to get transfer passengers. This can be for periods of twenty minutes at a time, and happens at least half a dozen times. I curse as I watch the clock tick.

Chap gets on, looks at me and gruffly says "Hello where do you come from" then without waiting for a response turns away and heads up the aisle. Good morning is the other phrase thrown in all the time for good measure. I smile.

The reason I was watching the time was that LP says the last minibuses from Probolinggo up to Bromo leave about 5pm. The conductor told me we would be there by 4:30pm, though this bears no correlation to reality - at this time we are not even half way , and we arrive approaching 6pm. Last minibus gone. Probolinggo has the worst reputation of any bus terminal in Java, quite an achievement here, dishonest abounds and it's really not a place I want to be. One chap grabs my arm, telling me he can help me, and will not let go despite my requests - as I said before I was about to hit him when he finally let go of me. The police officials tell me to wait at a certain spot in the terminal for the minibus, a blatant untruth too. Stress!

So I'm told the last minibus has gone, and the best offer I get is for a ride with a package tour the following morning at 7am. It's now 6pm. I'm completely fed up with this hassle all days, so I decide I'll hike. Yes, it's about 40-50km, but I've had enough of giving these b**stards my money. I walk along the street, which is like a dirt-track motorway until the bulk of it branches off. I'm now on the road to Bromo. According to LP it's 28km to Sukapura, another 7 to Ngadisari, then 3 to Cemoro Lawang. How wrong they are, but I don't know this yet.

I'm planning to hike through the night. Unfortunately I have full pack with me - everything - about 28kg, and I've strapped my day pack on to my backpack, which means I need to lean forward to balance. Not good for a long hike. Obviously every single person I walk past yells out to me, at a minimum hello mister, but particularly the groups will beckon me over, which I ignore. Firstly I don't take kindly to being yelled at, and secondly they won't be able to speak English and I'm not interested in wasting my time.

I stick my thumb out occasionally, just wondering if it'll work. I walk past large mosques, and think "I wonder if any Muslims will be kind enough to give me a lift". Just when I was thinking fairly unwholesome thoughts, a car stopped and reversed back to me. A lift? They were a couple from near Surabaya (well, I think there was more to it, but anyway) and were heading to Sukapura, would I like a lift? Sure!! I could hardly fit my backpack in the back seat it was so big, so I was squashed in the corner. And thank goodness for the lift, it's a serious drive, and I'm sure well over the 28km that LP suggests. Plus mostly uphill, quite steeply in parts.

Apparently he's a policeman, and heading into the office for some reason. They offer me some snacks, and I feel bad about not accepting, so I get a mouthful of what I think is oily tofu, from a plastic bag which implies it's from a street food place. Oh no, I'm in so much trouble!! Anyway, they drop me in Sukapura (I was secretly hoping they'd decide to drive me the extra couple of km up to the top), but it's clear they'd done the majority of the journey. According to LP it should be another 10km, with an hour's walk up to Ngadisari, so says the chap in the hotel I'm dropped in front of (why oh why didn't I just stay here?).

So I set off, but worryingly can see some lights up at the top of the hill, a very very long way away still. I persevere, whilst holding the thumb out when cars and trucks past. Several do with lots of space, the sods. I'd quite happily sit in the back of a truck even, and pay for it. A chap on a bike passes by and tells me it's still very far to go, and would I like to stay at his house, not far on? No thanks, I walk on. He comes back ten minutes later saying he's worried about me, and how about he at least gives me a lift up to where his house is. I suspiciously accept.

At his house, he offers again to let me stay, but I refuse, so he says if I pay for petrol, he'll drive me up. He says it's much further than 10 (or perhaps 8 now)km. He turns out to be very right. It must have been about 20km to Ngadisari, and further of course to Cemoro Lawang. Why does LP get this stuff so wrong so often? It's not life and death, but is important and does put people at risk. There I was trying to hike, thinking I had perhaps an hour left, when in fact it would have probably taken me the whole night if I were to walk it - even biking it at pace took about 40 minutes.

As it happens, even a motorbike ride was incredibly hard work, as I had my bag trying to pull me off the back, as it wouldn't sit properly, so I had to do a sort of sit-up action to not fall backwards. Imagine doing a sit-up with 28kg strapped to your back and holding that half-way position for about half an hour. Yes, it hurt. Harry (my rescuer's name) said he would show me round some hotels when we arrived. At the beginning I was suspicious, but by the end didn't care that he took me to a place run by his friends - it was on the LP list anyway (in fact there are only about 3 or 4 hotels so I couldn't go very wrong).

I buy him a beer, though he tells me afterwards that he doesn't really like it, so I have to help finish it! I feel I've earned this beer, what a day. My room at the Cemara Indah Hotel is costing 50,000 per night, their cheapest type of room, and goodness it's basic. I am strongly reminded of mountain lodges in Nepal. My room has a window with some material with holes in it as a kind of curtain. The walls are matted straw, probably covering very uneven walls judging by the strange shapes. There's a 25w bare light bulb, barely giving light to see the room, and a very uncomfortable bed. It'll do!

I feel happy, partially because the ordeal is over, but also, it's so cool up here! My room is positively cold, and I bring out my sleeping bag liner (slightly worried about hygiene!). The difference in temperature between Probolinggo and here is amazing - we're not that high, perhaps 2,000m. It feels like England! They even grow vegetables that would be happy in Kent in the fields, like cabbages and potatoes! It's a bit cloudy, but with the moonlight I can see Bromo smoking away down below, with Batok to its right. Can't see the big one, Semeru, behind because of clouds (or rather thunderstorms judging from the frequent flashes).

Smoking away in the dark

My travel speciality - Sunrise
So the thing to do here is see sunrise. There are a few spots to do this - from Penanjakan, a volcano which sits on the caldera rim round from us. It's two hours walk up in the dark, and sunrise is 5:20am, so that would be a 3:30am start. Ouch. Or Batok is popular, but the chap tells me it would be dangerous as we're still in the rainy season, there won't be anyone going up there and it could be slippery. Or of course Bromo itself, which is the one that appeals to me, about an hour's walk from here. To get to it, one descends the outer crater wall, then walks across the lunar-like barren landscape leading to Bromo itself, then up the edge of it before reaching a steep staircase leading to the top of the crater.

If one doesn't feel like walking it, there are buses, cars horses and bikes running people across. Sounds like a bit of a circus, and I've learnt a lesson for situations like this, when Adrian and I trooped up Poon Hill in Nepal, whilst my father enjoyed effectively the same view from his breakfast table an hour later! So I ignore the first two wake up knocks at 3:30am and 4:30am (thanks anyway guys), and get up at about 5:10am, out of my room, and watch from here. Very nice, thank you! Indeed LP says that the views from my hotel's restaurant are "sublime", and they're right.

It's obviously in the staff's interest to get you to use one of the expensive shuttle services, so they keep badgering me about it. Also one needs a permit from the authorities here to visit, which is issued from the local police office. Price has apparently gone up from 4,000 to 25,000 after a local and a Singaporean were killed last year on the volcano. Why this should affect the price could not be explained. Anyway, the guy in the hotel offers to issue me with the permit to save the effort of going to the police. Only afterwards do I realise he's probably given me someone else's permit - there are no name details etc on the permit. I'm tempted to drop him in it when I come across a check point, which irritatingly I never do!

So it's now mid-morning, and most of the morning trippers have left or are leaving Bromo. Just the time for me to head down then! Boots on, first proper use of them since Aconcagua with Jina. The slope down from the hotel, not the main one which leaves from elsewhere in the village) is incredibly steep and on mud, I wouldn't like to try it when wet!

Across the lunar landscape...


Bromo closer

Batok to the right

.. and up Bromo, past a bunch of shifty-looking locals who I assume are going to hassle me, but turn out to be workmen rebuilding the steps and railings up.

At the top, I peer over into the crater.

It's fairly big - I'd say it would take about 45 minutes to an hour to walk round the rim.

The rock is greyish, though at the bottom is a dark green where pure white smoke billows out of a small hole. It's strange to see this happen in total silence - one imagines that smoke like this would be associated with a noisy process. Of course, there there is just this, happening far underground. I wonder how far down the lava is? Clouds pass overhead, and the winds conspire to throw the plume back and forth, sometimes bringing it towards me, at which point I need to cover my face with my jumper and close my eyes - it's extremely pungent - not smelling at all pleasant, plus presumably the sulphur forms nice acids in one's eyes and throat. I watch a bird flying back and forth through the smoke and wonder if it ever chokes them?

Filling up

Looking back past the Hindu temple

And across to Batok

Bromo - The Legend So what's the story? It is said that the Tengger crater was originally dug out with just half a coconut shell by an ogre smitten with love for a princess. Apparently the mountain is appeased annually during the Kasada festival when local Tenggerese come to Bromo to throw offerings of vegetables, chickens and money into the crater of the volcano.

Fast exit

Up to the Lava Café, to be served by a really friendly bunch. If I were to return I'd probably check out accommodation here first. There's nothing wrong with the place I'm in, but they just seem nicer at Lava. Time for a good brunch, the first food since yesterday's lunch. I go for a nasi campur, but the girl serving says it's very small, so I order a gado gado salad too. When two enormous plates come out I am slightly less-than-impressed with her suggestion. Anyway, no issues quaffing most of it, I'm hungry!

Too much food

They also sell postcards, so I rattle a few of them off. No way of posting here though, apparently the hotels have a once-weekly collection, but I wouldn't trust my own hotel certainly.. might trust here at Lava.

Back to my hotel in the rain.

The clouds have really come down and it rains, and rains, with zero visibility. I seek shelter in my room, with the 25W bulb dimly illuminating everything. Suddenly a gush of water comes from the ceiling all over my LP. Yes, the ceiling leaks. Great. I daren't plug laptop in as the light bulb brightens and dims, flickering away with the bad power supply.

After a while I decide to head to the hotel restaurant, which on other days has the "sublime" view. It does have the feel of a Nepali lodge here! The staff are all watching a feature on the news about an outbreak of violence a town or two away. Nice.

So fries not being available, I go for the old cheese jaffle, some coffee and eventually a large (small out) Bintang beer. Big thunderstorms rumble around the crater outside the window, and the TV is unplugged.


I've been told tomorrow that there are minibuses out at 5:30am, possibly 6am, and 9am. I'd really like an intermediate one, as I've been told there are trains at 11am, or possibly 10:30am (second and third opinions are important in Indonesia), or late afternoon. So it looks like I'll have to take the 5:30am bus to be sure. Not taking another damn bike on the journey! Met a nice English chap in the restaurant area, also on long travels, but heading back to the UK soon.

Aside: Unsigned Music Tips
Having been listening to Radio One's Best of Unsigned Podcast lots recently, check out the following:
Aiden Smith - Pockets
Slowclub - 3 songs
Red Wings - My Love
The Lungs - Armageddon Out Of Here
YrImpossible - Bubblegum, Girl about Town
Screaming Mini - Dorothy Milet
Frogpocket - Underwood Ladykirk
DJ PRS - Cinematic

Up for quarter past 5, brush teeth, pack and down for the public minibus.

Shortly afterwards a chap who looks Scottish gets picked up. Turns out to be German. The bus fills up with school kids. Chat to lovely 7 year old next to me, who has some of the best English of any Indonesian I've spoken to. I give her my Eats, Shoots and Leaves, though it may be slightly over her head at that age.

The bus is doing the usual slow-driving technique and I chat to German Dirk about why they are doing this. He's getting wound up, and tells the driver that unless he speeds up, he's leaving the bus without paying. At this point, the Schumacker in the driver comes out, and he drives like an absolute crazed maniac (idiot in fact given that he's got school kids on board and we're driving through villages). The point proven, he slows down slightly, but we still get to Probolinggo in double time. From there, with no sign of any Express or AC buses leaving, we hop on an ACAS bus to Surabaya.

This bus gets stuck in jams as it heads past the Gempol area, where there is a mud flooding the entire district. Apparently drilling hit an underground mud lake a couple of years ago, which just keeps spurting mud out of the ground, nearly 130,000 cubic metres of mud a day according to the BBC, without end. Apparently it has covered over 400 hectares of land, and forced 10,000 people from their homes after submerging several villages.

Back at my beloved Majahpahit, I hit the spa as my room is not yet ready, for a good wash and swim. How refreshing. Spa, shower, swim in pool, shower again. So cleeeean! Across the road to faff about at the damn free internet. Nothing in life is free, and in this case the cost is time, an hour trying to connect and disconnect to their wireless network, though it's clear their DNS and DHCP is screwed. I eventually get round this by doing a bit of sniffing, then hard setting my own choice of IP. Not ideal.

Why do I want to get online? Because I want to locate a pizzeria I read about on the Lion Air flight over to Surabaya! Sounded good, and I've had enough of greasy Indonesian food for a meal or two! Searching about, it seems PizzaHut is my only option, so I decide instead I'll eat in my hotel, at Indigo, which is apparently regarded as one of the best restaurants in town, though to me it's where I eat breakfast. It's a very nice place. Pizza and a salad. Accompanied by a beer and a glass of Balinese rosé wine, which turns out to be not especially pleasant.

In need of another book to read, I find the very heavy (physically) Evolution's Captain. I complain to the book shop that all their novels are tedious self-help and management books, to no avail. I walk to the train station. Everywhere is wet, it's been raining. The mozzies are out in force. At the station, I manage to buy the last ticket to Jogjakarta on the 6:55am for the following morning, rather than the 7:30 I had wanted. Bloody early!

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