Wrapped in several thin body layers (I have brought no cold weather gear), sporting a £2 hat purchased the previous evening and wearing socks for the first time in
almost two months, I am still able to sense the cold of early morning as I wearily join the 0.5 and a still sleeping boy in the rear of our Jeep.
We follow a trail of headlights through the dusty darkness and eventually disembark at the base of a pathway that will, we are told, lead to a fine viewpoint.
Still in the shadow of night and half asleep, we coat-tail a row of earlier risers as they climb twenty minutes or so along firstly a path so thick with ash and dust that footprints are clearly left in ones wake, then secondly a series of over two hundred steps.
The scene reminds me of the fable as to why the townsfolk of Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales refer to their neighbours in Aberdare as “Snakes”. During industrial troubles in the Merthyr steel industry when the labour force of the town refused to work, men from Aberdare were accused of creeping over the valley under the cover of darkness to fulfill the striking mens obligations.
A line of lamp lights snaked across the hillsides, giving rise to a term of abuse that has lasted centuries. Though a distant observer would witness a similar sight, there is no underhand motive this morning, we are all here to hopefully observe a brilliant sunrise.
As we reach the viewpoint, night is giving way to the first tentative flickers of dawn behind a ridge to our East.
Slowly, day reveals itself. The deep blue which suspends a crescent moon being swallowed by a widening band of orange.
As it does, turning in a Southerly direction and wading through a thick line of snack vendors, so an amazing picture postcard view appears beneath and in front of us.
Softened by a pale purple hue, the entire vista of Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park spreads as far as the eye can see.
The sea of sand swirls from the base of the ridge we have climbed, stretching from one side of Bromo, past Batok and away into the distance behind the pair of mountains. Set much further aback, the mighty Semeru, at 3,676m the highest point on Java, pokes its pointed cone upwards into the lightening sky.
The view is jaw-droppingly brilliant. We take numerous photographs as the day seeps its way upwards and illuminates the scene.
Paul and Laura, our companions on this part of the trip discovered that by attempting to charge their camera last night they were also obliged to switch on the main bedroom light due to a poorly designed switch position. As a result, they are relying on me to capture the moment for them.
I set my camera down on a concrete bollard that presents the only means of achieving longer exposure times without use of a tripod. It is right next to the crater edge, and as I do so, Semeru blasts out a significant plume of smoke.
Semeru has been in a state of near-constant eruption since 1967 and I am convinced that I am the first on this occasion to notice the small yet powerfully explosive episode.
I shoot a few pictures and then call across to the 0.5 who, along with most others has yet to notice the event. I fail to catch her attention as she poses with “The Boy” for the now traditional spectacle upstaging photo shoot.
As she sips upon a hot coffee served by one of the ridge top vendors, I succeed in motioning to Paul, who with an exclaim of “Wow!” takes in his first sight of the eruption before beckoning the others to join us on the crater edge.
Several people jostle in front of my position which irks me somewhat, but with either a polite excuse me (or on occasion a more persuasive nudge and mean glance combo), they take the hint and abandon their land grab for our small piece of premium real estate.
As the plume rises it gradually dissipates and in doing so form a near perfect figure “7” which the 0.5 interprets as being a sign of good luck to come.
I feel lucky already having witnessed this event.
As night turns into day, we descend the ridge past masked horsemen and their rides. Everything is gloriously framed by a tropical sun rising through thin mountain air, and we stop halfway down to absorb the serenity of a scene which only now is starting to once again become punctured by propositions of a horse ride, a jeep ride, or more ambitiously, a hat and a pair of gloves now that morning is starting to provide warmth to the motley crew of early risers.
Back in the Jeep, we drive down to the sea of sand through a dust cloud created by the pace setting swarm of 4×4’s. A long row of off-roaders park some distance from the base of Bromo and between us and the smoking crater, an austere Hindu temple acts as a point of reference for the walk to follow.
I am informed that the area is inhabited by the Tenggerese people. The Tenggerese are one of the few Hindu communities left on Java, and though a superstitious folk, they are not shy of offering tourists the opportunity to appease Bromo via a small (paid for) offering.
We cross the sea of sand, each of us by now thick with dust in every visible orifice and crack (and even in some orifices that are not revealed for modesty’s sake) and are passed as we do by numerous horses and a not inconsiderable number of trailbikes.
The moonscape panorama is awe-inspiring and as dust clouds are kicked up, so riders appear on silhouetted ridges or atop of ashen sand dunes.
The climb to the Bromo crater is slow and involves several hundred steps, some buried almost entirely beneath ash. As we reach the top of the moving human chain, the might of Bromo swallows the foreground, and partly cast in shadow, we are able to peer deep into it’s smoking pit.
The crater ridge is unprotected and I could easily see how it would be possible to loose ones footing only to slip and fall to a fiery death below.
We take nervous strides around the crater as being the Bromo equivalent of rush hour, we anticipate being barged by fellow climbers. The scene is dramatic, but we are not keen to go to far, what with a 13-month old on board and little in the way of fireproof clothing to protect us.
The crater path is extremely narrow and we realise that one misplaced footstep, however unlikely, would be fatal.
After a few strides we wisely decide to call a halt to our walk.
Instead, for a small sum of rupiah, the 0.5 purchases a hand woven, broom-like offering from a masked opportunist and after making a wish, tosses it out into the vastness of the crater. We watch silently as it tumbles and falls into the dark smoky belly below.
Satisfied with two lucky omens in one day, we descend back to the sea of sand where after initially falling off her mount, the 0.5 trots off on horseback across the
dusty plain, leaving me to traipse alone with the boy hitched behind and peering round my shoulder as he sees his mum disappear into the dusty distance.
It is no later than perhaps 8am by the time I reach the Jeep, but already this had been one of the most memorable days of my life.
To view more photos please visit my flickr set.