It was 4 am. Teeth chattering and body shaking, I traversed the uphill climb towards the view deck of Mt. Pananjakan with 2 European girls who are completing their South East Asian trip. I remember wearing every clean piece of cloth left on my backpack - five shirts total and one sports jacket, but still the unforgiving temperature left me freezing. Poor feet! Hiking an active volcano at roughly 5 degrees Celsius with flip flops (which is all I have that time) is not a good idea.
"Where are you going?" one of the girls asked as she saw me turning back. "I give up, I'm renting one of those winter jackets", I responded timidly. To my surprise, she hurriedly took off her white knitted jacket and handed it to me, "Here, you can use this." See, most of the time on our journeys we meet those kind strangers, so if we can't return their kindness right away, I hope we can pay it forward. Let those small acts of kindness travel down the years and touch another weary soul.
I was struggling to push my way into the crowd waiting in anticipation for the sunrise. Luckily, I found an excellent spot away from the crowd across the damaged fence. As the sun slowly emerged from the back of the mountains, the brilliant orange hues of the sun perfectly blended with the blue sky. I'm hearing shutter clicks everywhere in desperate attempt to capture the breathtaking moment.
And as the darkness fades away, one of the most beautiful sights my eyes have ever seen was slowly unveiled to us. Three volcanoes proudly sitting on fogs! I stood there in silence completely enthralled by the magnificent work of nature and secretly wishing that divine moment would last longer.
Mt. Bromo is an active volcano that lies in Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park in East Java, Indonesia. The massif is dotted with five volcanoes created by its unique volcanic activity: Mt. Batok, Mt. Kursi, Mt. Watangan, Mt. Widodaren and the most famous of them all - Mt. Bromo, which is named after a Hindu god.
After the impeccable sunrise tour by the view deck in Mt. Penanjakan, the 4x4 jeep brought us to the site of the park where we had to walk with throngs of tourists and ponies for hire to get up close and personal with Mt. Bromo. We were welcomed by the sight of a Hindu temple bizarrely built within the massif - the Pura Luhur Poten temple, which is made of black volcanic rocks with gates and structure redolent of Bali Temples. It is said that when the Majapahit empire fell, most Tenggereses (indigenous Indonesians living within the highlands) fled to Bali, while some stayed behind and built this great reminder of their culture. The Tenggereses climbs Mount Bromo once a year for the Kasada, an annual pilgrim to celebrate their ancestors.
I slowly trudge the cold sea of sands at the foot of the mountain known locally as Laut Pasir. Surprisingly, it doesn't look as easy as I thought it would be. But the mere sight of old tourists making their way to the top of the volcano was enough to drive me to continue the trek. Upon reaching the base, I looked down and found the view of the temple sitting on the sea of sand complemented by the mountains at the back (where we viewed the sunrise) more than spectacular. Like any other climb, it is self-rewarding to finally stand that high in an irregular ground surrounded by ponies and cowboys and faceless crowds. I had to climb another 250 steps though to make it to the caldera.
Up close with Mt. Bromo, I never imagined myself trekking an active volcano just to watch him spew steam from a big crack in the ground in my entire life. But that's what travel is all about, we discover amazing places and it teaches us new things, in fact great things.
Mt. Bromo and its entire park is a truly a monumental treasure and one of my most amazing adventures last year. But more than the scenery, it's that scrupulous significance of the volcanoes in the life of the Javanese and Tenggereses that deeply touched my soul -- how they continue to live in terror beside these active volcanoes that are constantly surging and erupting, destroying many lives and even burning their ancestors. Yet at the end of the day, they still pray to their gods and make offerings to appease the angry volcano. The Javanese and Tenggereses people believe that the volcanoes do not spew things out without any reason -- they erupt because the spirits have been angered. They believe that volcanoes bring justice and vengeance to the world.