It is a personal battle for me to choose between beaches and mountains. Soothing sounds of the waves crashing vs the awe-inspiring views from hilltops and peaks. Having been on beach vacations the past few weekends, I decided to get a taste of ‘mountainous’ terrain. But no touristy snow capped Himalayas or Alps (sorry for calling you touristy, you are ever so beautiful..but you are touristy nonetheless). I decided to see a volcano. It is not hard to visit a volcano from Singapore. Especially when the pacific ring of fire is just a 2-3 hour flight away. Indonesia, the land of beautiful beaches and fiery volcanoes. After surfing on tripadvisor and blog hopping, I settled on visiting Mount Ijen and Mount Bromo, with the plan of covering both in a span of 3 full days.
Both Ijen & Bromo are active volcanoes in the Java island of Indonesia. 5 minutes of viewing their images on google and I wanted to get there.
“Ok, which is the closest airport to these volcanoes? ”
Googled for a bit
Its Surabaya. Step 1 check. Next step, how to go from Surabaya to Ijen and Bromo? After searching a lot, I decided to do what I always do. Contact a travel agency. Yes yes, I sold out. Remember, I do not have a week to explore and soak in the culture. All I have is 3 days in which I wanted to pack in 2 volcanoes. I googled a lot for travel agencies offering bromo and ijen tours. I emailed them. Among the many who replied, one of them was Sunrise Holidays. Their website is shady. I was reluctant to even open that possibly malwared email. But I did, and am glad I did, open the email. Sunrise holidays had the best offer. For S$160, I get a dedicated guide and a driver (thats two dedicated people for 3 days) AND they take care of accommodation for 2 nights! The other agencies were ALL charging nearly double that. I was IN. I replied back to them saying that I was on board. They replied back asking me to transfer the FULL amount in Indonesian Rupiah beforehand. SCAM ALERT. Ah Fuck. I was not going to wire this amount to an agency with a shady looking website.
“But $180 for driver, guide and accommodation for 3 days!”, I reasoned with my logical side.
A few minutes later, I had an idea. I emailed back saying that I would pay only 1/7th of the $280, or $40 to them. The rest I would pay in cash when I arrived in Surabaya (EDIT: My bad, I meant $280 per head and not $160)
They immediately agreed. I immediately transferred the 40 bucks. They immediately confirmed the receipt.
“Fuck. I just got scammed”
So, I emailed this guide asking for more details about the trip. They sent me the same itinerary they had when I first contacted them. Ah well, it was only 45 bucks and this Sunrise Tours was mentioned by Lonely Planet as well, I remembered.
The Itinerary was (literally quoting from these guys):
SURABAYA – IJEN – BROMO – SURABAYA (3 DAYS 2 NIGHTS)
Day 1 SURABAYA – SEMPOL
Our driver will pick you up in Surabaya. After meeting service, we will drive to Sempol, the closest village to Mount Ijen. It takes approximately 8 hours drive from Surabaya (depends on the traffic)
Overnight : Arabika/ Catimor Homestay
Day 2 IJEN CRATER – TOSARI
At 01.00 AM we start the trip to Paltuding (the entrance point). From Paltuding, we start trekking to the top of Ijen to see the crater and it will take about 1, 5 hours or more. From the top of the crater, we can see beautiful milky way. To see the blue fire, you need to go down to the crater. After the day is brighter, you can see the one-kilometer-wide-acid crater. After we finish the entire program in Ijen, we drive about 7 hours to go to Tosari.
Overnight : Ancala Inn Hotel Bromo
Day 3 BROMO SUNRISE TOUR – SURABAYA
Early in the morning at 03.30 am, we will start our tour to Mt. Pananjakan (the highest viewpoint) to see the spectacular process of sunrise, also the beautiful sceney of Mt. Bromo, Mt. Batok and Mt. Semeru. After we see the process of sunrise, we continue our trip to the crater of Bromo via sea of sand. The distance from the parking area of the jeep and Bromo Crater is 800m. To reach the top of the mountain, you can walk for 30 minutes or ride the horse back. After we arrive on the slope of Bromo we should climb the stair and there are 249 steps to see the Bromo active crater. From Mt Bromo we will drive back to the homestay to have breakfast and drive to Malang. It takes around 3 hours drive from Tosari to Surabaya Airport.
2 Persons : IDR 2.800.000/ person
– Private car with AC
– English Speaking Guide
– 2 Nights Accommodation (Twin/ Double Room) & Breakfast
– Entrance Fee
– Jeep in Bromo
– Toll & Parking Fee
– Horse Riding in Bromo
– Personal Expenses
If you are interested with this tour, we suggest you to take morning flight to Surabaya, because from Surabaya to Ijen it takes atound 8 hours drive.
Please contact us if you need our further assistance and we are kindly looking forward to hearing from you soon.
I WAS IN. This is a cheap deal if you are living in Singapore. Only when the tour started did I realise how super valuable and cost saving this trip was.
I asked my friend to join and now there were two of us going for this trip.
Next, I surfed hipmunk .com and booked Valuair flights for departure on Friday morning and return on Sunday night. Total cost of booking flights was around $180. If you are going to do the Ijen-Bromo tour, make sure you reach Surabaya during the day, latest by 2pm. This is because getting to Ijen from Surabaya takes 7-8 hours even though it is only 350km.
Ok, it was D-Day. Boarded the flight to Surabaya from Singapore at Changi Airport. Valuair is run by Jetstar. So, no hassles. Simple, routine 2 hour flight. Not many crying babies, mainly Indonesians heading back for the weekend. Cool. Landed on time. Headed to the Visa-on-Arrival counter. 25 USD and it took only 5 minutes. Went for immigration. Foreigners have a dedicated queue for clearing the immigration. Superb. Done. Collected the bag, handed the immigration form to the customs officer and I was out.
Our guide, Mr. Halan, was waiting outside with my name on a placard. We met, shook hands and headed to the car. A white Toyota Qualis with tinted windows pulled up. The A/C inside was welcome respite from the heat. Our driver, Mr. Mohammed informed us that it would take us 8 hours to reach the homestay near Mount Ijen. And the trip began.
For the first 3 hours, we were weaving in and out of towns, occasionally stopping for a piss and food break. After this is when things got picturesque. The drive from Surabaya to Ijen is along the coastline of the Bali Sea in east Java. After leaving Probolinggo, we ventured on an hour long drive across the beautiful coastline and saw some amazing pristine beaches and of course..the sunset.
After sunset, the drive started uphill. The roads got narrower and the terrain steeper. There was suddenly a nip in the air. The temperature had dropped by at least 10 degrees compared to the town and city areas. Brrrr! Around 9pm, we reached the Arabika home stay all set for the journey ahead!
It was at this time we were informed that our trek for 1am was cancelled due to heavy volcanic activity around Mount Ijen. This meant that we would not be able to see the majestic blue flames. This also meant that if the volcano erupted, we’d be toast. Anyway, were informed that the trek would start at 5am and were asked to be at the reception and ready to check out at 4am.
At 4am we check out and waited at the foyer and had breakfast. Kaya bread sandwich and a boiled egg with choice of black coffee and tea. It was slightly chilly. Perfect.
Halan arrived with Mohammed and we were off to Mount Ijen! It was a 30min drive uphill on a rocky road. We could make out silhouettes of towering peaks above us. Truly intimidating in the dark. The car stopped at a rest point from where we had to trek up to the volcano crater. Cars cannot go further from this point. We wasted no time and began the trek. Apparently it was only 3 kilometers. Halan told us that it would take us about 1.5 hours. What! I usually cover a 3km walk in 20mins. But as we trekked we realised why. This was no ordinary trek path…
It was uphill. Steep. More than 55 degress in most places. Along the way we were greeted by Sulphur miners who worked from pre-dawn to dusk to extract unadulterated sulphur from the volcano crater. Badass! As the sun rose, we took in the beauty of the panoramic view around us.
We came to a rest stop midway. My thighs were burning. I was amazed to learn that the sulphur miners would carry more than 90kg of sulphur rocks up and down the volcano everyday! Thats 200 pounds on your back while going downhill a treacherous path! For just about a dollar a day. Sad :-/ Shames me that I earn more for making pixels on a computer screen change. But such is life and this is a travel log, so no more philosophising.
Along the way, our guide high-fived a few miners and chatted with them. Apparently, being a tour guide pays much more than mining sulphur so the miners were all requesting with Halan to refer them to some travel agency.
The view kept getting better. We reached a plateau and decided to take some pics. The skies were quite clear..this was because most of the clouds were below us. It was an oddly satisfying feeling. We were above the clouds. I think it was drizzling below us. This was May so there were still a few clouds here and there. According to Halan, in the month of August there are absolutely no cloud formations during the day and the view from where we were standing stretches right up to the Bali sea. Wow! Think I am going to come back in August just for the view.
Onwards, the final 500 meters to the crater. The sun had risen, there were a few tourists hiking and most obvious of all was the stink of hydrogen sulphide gas. For those unaware, hydrogen sulphide smells like 10 day old rotten eggs. Horrible. It was difficult to breathe. As we reached the rim of the volcano, the smell wasn’t the only thing assaulting our senses.
Standing on the rim of the volcano, I was speechless. This is the first time I am seeing an active volcano. Breathing, bubbling, ALIVE. The scene was beautiful. The crater was massive. The soil was chrome yellowish gray. There were tourists here and there but they were just specks in the vast rim of the volcano.
The view of the crater was even more breathtaking. A greenish blue acidic lake surrounded by many yellow sulphurous cracks venting volcanic gases at a breathtaking speed. The entire view was surreal. Pictures do not do it any justice. The plume of sulphurous gas smoke was rising high and at times appeared to be coming toward us, but it always seemed to veer away at the last minute.
As I stared closer at the vents near the acid lake, I squinted my eyes to reveal something astonishing. There were miners moving about the sulphur deposits with pickaxes! They looked so tiny! The volcano was indeed massive. It made miners look like specks. This was an intimidating optical illusion. The rim of the crater was so large that it looked like it was merely 200 meters away. However, it must’ve been at least a mile off. Scary! I can easily imagine a regional catastrophe if this volcano blew up.
As the day progressed, we sat and walked around the volcano for an hour and decided that it was time to head back. Now to trek downhill on a steep slope.
Pro Tip: When going downhill, run, don’t walk. We sprinted down the slopes passing satisfied tourists and weary miners. After 30mins of sprinting peppered by a break or two (one break where I peed down the valley as there were no urinals for more than 30 miles…glorious). we reached the parking spot where Mohammed was waiting for us. We decided to get some breakfast from the canteen. Mee Rebus, omelettes and some coffee. All vegetarian fare.
To Bromo now.
The car ride to Bromo was uneventful. We reached the Hotel in 3.5 hours. This place is quite famous among tourists, so we had clean rooms with fresh linen. It was still 4pm, so we decided to get a buzz on. Some local Bintang beer and a Nasi Goreng kept me in high spirits. The view of Mt. Bromo from the bar at the Bromo Permai hotel was breathtaking.
Next morning at 3:30am, our jeep was ready to go to the Mt Pananjakan top to see the highly rated sunrise across to Mt. Bromo. The 30 minute ride was bumpy and dusty. Soon enough, we were nearing the top of the viewpoint but had to alight before that due to a traffic jam. Yes, Mt Bromo is that touristy. So we started walking and took a short break at a coffee stall when Halan told us that the UEFA Champions League final between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid was entering stoppage time. I had totally forgotten! Due to the time difference, I thought it was on Monday morning Singapore time..and not Sunday morning. Anyways we left after Bale scored as we wanted to see the Milky Way in all its glory before sunrise. Halan waited back to complete the game.
And onto the disappointment of the trip. The sunrise viewing area was overcrowded with people using their smartphones to click photos of the dark sky. Most of the people had bright torches as well. You can forget about seeing the Milky Way in such brightness. Humans. Sigh. Nevertheless, we could still see more stars in the sky than you can on even the clearest day in Singapore. So we waited for the sun to rise. Let me cut it short by saying that the sky was cloudy and the sunrise was SO-SO. Mainly because you have to camp since midnight to get the best viewing spot. Else, all you see is a swarm of people getting their newest facebook profile pic. Sigh again.
We were a little let down but were looking forward to climbing Mt Bromo and check out the crater. So our jeep took us to the base camp. We got off and I thought we were on the Moon. This plain field was called the sea of sand. The grayish-brownish sand stretched for miles on all sides. On one side was Mount Bromo, just a mile away, and the other side you could see lush green mountains. Desolation on one side and greenery on the other. Beautiful.
The terrain leading to Mt Bromo was devoid of plant life. Just rocks and sands. there were ridges on the side of the volcano where it was clear that hundreds of years ago lava flew freely through it. The only man made structure was an ancient Hindu temple at the foothill of the volcano. Apparently, shamans still pray to the pagan gods and leave offerings at the volcano to pacify it. This would later be confirmed when we saw religious items and fruits coated in brown gunge at the top of Bromo. Halan would later tell us that there was an eruption in 2010 which threw molten rocks more than 3 miles into the distance and partly destroyed the temple.
There are two ways to get to the top of Mt. Bromo. By trekking it or on horseback. We decided to trek it. I would strongly recommend a horseback ride if you are super tired or have arthritis. The 30minute trek up was a joy. It felt like I was on the surface of some desolate planet hiking up to a virgin volcano to see its beauty.
We reached on top and realised that the rim of the volcano was narrow! With the mouth on one side and a 100 meter near vertical drop on the other, we were glad for the railing that was up there. There was a distinct smell of volcanic gases and a constant flow of fumes billowing from the mouth of the volcano. The view of the sea of sand from up there was worth every damn penny I paid to come there, and then some. The alien feel and desolation of the view was mesmerising. The rim of volcano was narrow and the railings ended after 50meters. After that, you had to balance and hope that your fall wouldn’t either break your head or fry your body. We tried going around the volcano on the path with no railing but came back after a short while after deciding that the view was the same and that it was not worth the risk. Bonus points if you go on the path with no railing and trek down the steep sleep to the sea of sand. There were a bunch of local school kids who were confidently running across the non-railing path to interview foreigners for their school project. After spending 10 minutes answering questions about my childhood, we decided to head back.
We headed back to the jeep and back to the hotel. Our shoes were black and we sneezed brown mucus. If you sensitive to dust particles, just get a face mask and you should be fine. The breakfast at the hotel was good. We ate, we pondered, browsed through photos and updated our facebook statuses.
It was time to head back. I tipped $30 each to Halan and Mohammed for their services and we headed straight to Surabaya to board our flight to Singapore and back to work.