A wise man recently gave me sage advice: before visiting a place of natural beauty, avoid all images of it. Postcards are idealistic portrayals, taken from impossible angles in optimal conditions, and colour-manipulated to “perfection”. After seeing these images your mind will cling to expectations of visual greatness, and in reality you will most likely be met with the bitter taste of disappointment. This concept is new to me, but since visiting Mount Bromo it’s a philosophy I will whole-heartedly adopt in the future.
If staring into the earth’s bubbling core is on your bucket list, Indonesia is the place. Beneath this endless string of islands, two colossally large crustal plates are forced together causing huge magma eruptions from 100km below the surface. It’s all science to me, but essentially this energetic and perpetual tectonic activity is the reason Indonesia is peppered with so many living, breathing volcanoes. Frequently they huff, spit, erupt and flow, which certainly gets the world’s geologists and lava enthusiasts excited.
Mount Bromo is by no means Indonesia’s largest or most explosive volcano, but its appeal lies in its positioning. Sitting cosily beside two neighbouring volcanoes, Bromo rises up from a vast crater of grey ash. Just outside the crater edge stands a fourth peak, watching over its three little sisters and across the eerie, lunaresque backdrop – a popular spot for welcoming the first rays of a new day. It is a place of deep religious significance for Hindus and a site of great mythical intrigue. Because of the dramatic, moon-like setting and the high concentration of active volcanoes in the area, this National Park is hailed to be one of the most beautiful sights in the world. Unfortunately, I cannot corroborate this; my experience was far from picture-perfect.
It’s not a walk in the park accessing Mount Bromo. It took 18 uncomfortable hours of broken buses and failed connections to reach the entry point; a small village with only one passable option for accommodation, and even that turned out to be a disappointment. At that altitude it’s common for the clouds to close in around you and obscure the views, but as we arrived light precipitation intensified into heavy rainfall and we could only cling to the misguided hope that by the next morning it would clear, allowing us a spectacular sunrise over the peaks (note from my previous blog our poor track record with such things). We paid triple our budget for a damp, stinking room in which even the bed was not dry. Being enormously unprepared for these wet, cold conditions we had only a handful of useful garments, so we layered up and spent a miserable night shivering between clammy sheets, until 3.30am when the alarm woke us.
Piling into a jeep with a few other tired faces, we ascended the steep volcanic slopes. It was treacherous weather for off-road driving. In darkness we bounced along rough tracks, the driver skilfully circumnavigating floods and small landslides. For some time at the viewing platform we huddled under a small shelter, without a single glimpse of Bromo and its sisters puffing away. This wasn’t just rain; it was an all-encompassing fog of a density that would put San Francisco to shame. Friends have shared with us stories of ethereal beauty and spiritual serenity watching the sun rise over spectacular Bromo, but our own experience was an epic failure.
With disappointment we admitted defeat, clambered back into the jeep and were driven into the basin of the crater, at which point the experience became surprisingly more enjoyable. With nothing but grey ash for as far as the eye could see, we set foot onto a spooky panorama, reminiscent of images of the moon. In the colourless, empty expanse of volcanic desert a single Hindu temple stood proud; the only sign of human life. The previous day’s misguided optimism about the elements was replaced by acceptance – if we still wanted to hike to the summit, it meant doing so in pelting rain. And so, dressed in fluorescent green head-to-toe ponchos, we scrambled up the side of the ash mountain to peer into the smouldering guts of the volcano itself – an incredible moment. Ironically, it wasn’t until we were soaked to the bone that we appreciated the experience for what it was, not what we hoped it would be. And that’s when we began to laugh at ourselves; two bright green plastic figures, exhausted at the top of a much-anticipated volcano, gripping onto each other for support in the violent wind, getting slapped hard in the face by nature and loving every drenching second of it.