After an unhurried climb through the green hills of the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, the minibus chartered in Probolinggo by four Brits and a baby finally reaches its destination of Cemoro Lawang.
Cemoro Lawang is a small village sited at nearly 2,200m above sea level, the reason we are overnighting here is that it is the closest village to Mount Bromo, an active volcano that we intend to climb the next day.
The village is spectacularly perched on the lip of a large caldera inside which lie a series of active and dormant volcanoes. The view from the caldera lip is stunning: An almost perfectly conical Mount Batok rises from a bleak plain of ash and dust whilst sat slightly aback and to the left of it, the ferocious Bromo sits broodingly, its entire upper cone blown away as the result of previous activity.
The last of Bromo’s eruprions took place between November 2010 and January 2011 resulting in a no-go zone of 3km being imposed around the area until late April this year.
Bromo still spews smoke and sulphuric gases from it’s fiery belly, and it is the chance to peer down deep into an active volcano that draws foolhardy souls such as ourselves to view it’s inner crater.
Men in ponchos sporting uncommon headwear offer us the opportunity to visit the crater on horseback. The whole ensemble provides an atmosphere that would not be out-of-place in the Andes. I listen out for the sound of pan pipes, but thankfully, I assume they are all contracted to selling their formulaic CD’s across European city centres and as such have left the Bromo region to it’s own devices.
The plain that spreads out a few hundred metres below the 10km wide greater caldera walls is known as “the sea of sand” and was out-of-bounds for much of the early part of this year.
The freshness of Bromo’s igneous yield means that every so often it’s dusty surface is whipped into a frenzy by swirling winds, and the pair of volcanoes disappear into a haze of dust only to reappear a few minutes later as the squalls settle.
The contrast with the lushness of the surrounding valleys and gorges is immense, and one is left with the impression that we are about to step into an otherworldly, almost post-apocalyptic scene where it would not be that unsurprising to sight Mel Gibson appearing from the dust storm in full Mad Max attire as the Amazonian figure of Tina Turner booms out a chorus of “We don’t need another hero”.
Basking in some glorious late afternoon sunshine, we set out exploring ramshackle alleyways and a stepped series of small-holdings each lined with rows of onions or possibly garlic.
Again, “The Boy” provides a fantastic lingua franca and we engage with the mountain folk in broken English and even more broken Bahasa. Having a baby in a back positioned sling is highly recommended as a traveller, it really does set you apart from the crowd and opens doors that would otherwise remain firmly closed.
As the sun dips low in the reddening sky, we are treated to a spectacular sunset beyond the caldera as the temperature dives significantly whilst locals reach for thick hats and ponchos to protect against the chill mountain air.
Already wrapped in what warm clothes we can muster, we dine early and hit the hay way before my usual bedtime as we need to be up and running for a 4am jeep ride in time for sunrise.
I set my alarm for “stupid o’clock” and try to force myself to sleep.
In what turns out to be a futile effort, I lay awake in the cold austere room until what seemed like near midnight.
Finally I nodded off….