We set off at midnight from Malang to watch the sun rise over Mount Bromo, an active volcano in East Java. It sits in a ‘sea of sand’ and is part of a national park. The last eruption was in 2011.
There were four of us travelling in (what looked like) a vintage Toyota Jeep. It was good to have some additional company. Since our overland trip ended, we’ve not socialised with other people – travellers or locals – as much as I hoped we would.
Not far out of Malang, we started climbing steadily. We were heading for Mount Penanjakan which is just over 2700m high. En route, in the middle of the national park, we stopped to stand and stare at the stars. There was barely any light pollution and they looked fantastic. Mark even saw a shooting star. We could see the Southern Cross in the sky. It’s been about 10 years since I last saw it, and it was like seeing a familiar friend again.
We hopped back in the jeep and set off. In order to reach the sand sea we had to do a bit of off-roading, beginning with a very steep descent. In the dark it was quite an experience, exhilarating yet slightly nerve wracking. The ‘road’ down to the flat sand was very steep, with many dips and rocks. On our return later in the day we were to see people attempt it on vespa scooters and other little bikes. I’ve no idea how, or if, they made it as we even had to tow a little truck that had got stuck in the sand. We saw a number of bikes were getting stuck with passengers walking.
After the sand sea we were back on the road again and climbing steadily. At speed. We got to the viewing area on Mount Penanjakan at about 2am and were the first to arrive. Sunrise begins around 4.30am. The driver hopped out and said: “you should get some sleep”. Very odd, I thought. I realise now we arrive early to avoid the crowds, it turns out hundreds of people can turn up, and there’s only one road in. I can confirm that it is nigh on impossible to get to sleep on a narrow bench seat in the back of a jeep. It’s also quite nippy at over 2500m at 3am.
Numerous bikes and other 4×4 vehicles arrive pretty much nonstop from about 3am. And they’re not quiet. By the time I hopped out of the jeep at 4am the area was packed with vehicles and people. The roadside shops selling hats, gloves, food and hot drinks had rolled up their shutters. I understood now why we came so early. Our driver suggested a ‘double jacket’. I thought this was a warming drink, perhaps a variation of coffee in the tall skinny soy macchiato fashion, but it turns out it means…”I strongly advise you hire an additional coat for the princely sum of 25 pence. Be in no doubt, it’s chilly up there.” So we all took this advice and ‘double jacketed’.
Now, if you’ve ever wondered where coats that are rejected by charity shops in the UK end up, then I have the answer for you. They are here, being hired by people who need to ‘double jacket’. And mighty fetching they are too. Rest assured, none of us felt the urge to pilfer them. En route to the viewpoint we stopped for battered bananas and skewered fried potatoes. Later, I was to learn that these were fried in a large pan, on a gas burner, on the floor, right outside the toilets. Health and Safety would have a field day if we were at home!
The viewing area was pretty packed and we had been given a tip by a fellow traveller to move lower, which we did. You don’t get the view as the sun peeks up over the horizon, but I think you get a better view of the surrounding area, and it was less of a zoo. From here you get a great view of Mount Bromo, Mount Semeru, and the smouldering crater.
When the sun was up, I moved to the upper platform to take some more photos, but it was quite crowded, so instead I turned and took this photo. This is about a quarter of the people behind me, and there were plenty more in front, but don’t let that put you off!
Watching the sun rise and seeing the scenery slowly appear was a fantastic experience. Sadly my photos don’t do it justice as I don’t have a tripod, so many pictures of the sun were a bit blurred.
When the sun was up it was off for yet more bananas and potatoes (well, for me anyway) then down to the ‘sand sea’, for breakfast and playing with cameras.
Then it was off to the caldera – we walked up but could have taken a horse. The price for a horse taxi drops considerably the longer you keep walking. The temperature was getting pretty hot by now – even though it was only about 8am. The caldera had no guard rails (can you imagine this in Europe?!) and I got a bit uncomfortable up there, but it was worth it.
Even getting up at midnight and having only a few hours sleep this trip was worth it. We had a fantastic day and I thoroughly recommend the experience.
What was included: We left at midnight and returned 12 hours later. The trip included breakfast, time on the Sea of Sand and time to climb to the caldera, a trip to a waterfall and to view Candi Jago.
Price: It cost 600,000 Diddles, which is about £33/$50 USD. That price was based on four of us in the jeep, it’s more if there’s less of you.
Tips: It is worth getting there early and considering the lower platform. The price of a horse is very negotiable. You can walk down from the crater on the sand if you walk further along as the steps down can be crowded. I thought those taking a horse down the slope looked in a lot of discomfort – it’s steep!