"Bromo?" "Bromo?" "Bromo!" A chorus goes up from the touts as we approach the minibus stand. "How much is it?" we ask in perfect Bahasa Indonesia. "25 thousand" "Oooh, that's too expensive. The usual price is 15" "Ahh, you'll bankrupt me!" says the driver. This dialogue is almost word for word from our scripted conversation from our language course notes. There's a couple of local tourists stood to one side. We ask them quietly what they're paying, but they too have been quoted the higher rate, so they're waiting to see if the driver will drop his price. We wait with them, and are joined by Francesco and Matteo, the two Italian brothers we've already met. After an early lunch and the appearance of more local punters the minibus is about to leave. We are offered twenty thousand. We take it, and are about to drive off when the driver notices the other two guys hanging back. Eventually they too agree a price and finally we're off up into the hills and are soon climbing up a good road through farmland on the edges of a huge volcanic caldera. At the top is a small village where we are turfed out. We have a magnificent view overlooking the 'sea of sands' - a vast pit full of volcanic sand in the middle of which sits a small perfectly coned volcano and another flatter crumbled cone which is belching smoke. This latter is Mount Bromo. But we are stood on the edge of what was a much larger volcano, about 6 kilometres across. Volcanos within volcanos. After the larger one had blown its top, new ones emerged in the ashes. It's a fabulous view. But the best view, we are told, is from the high point around the rim and we can go there by jeep early next morning for sunrise. Of course, there's the small consideration of a fee.
With the Italians we join the two Indonesian guys and two young Indonesian women in search for a cheap hotel and all take rooms in a simple losmen (guesthouse). Whilst the Indonesians are keen to take a jeep the next day, we decide to take the path that climbs up the ridge. Francesco and Matteo are keen too so we arrange to set off about 4 am in the dark. There are still a couple of hours of daylight so Gayle and I wander down onto the 'sea of sands'. It's only a half hour walk across to the foot of Bromo and we are soon peering over the edge into the pit of the volcano. A continuous cloud of sulphurous fumes are streaming out of the centre. Enough to put us off boiled eggs for a month. On the way back we are offered horse rides, jeep rides, motorcycle rides. "Jalan jalan" we say, just walking. But after a while there's only so many "jalan jalans" we can utter and we end up ignoring them. As the sun drops so does the temperature and there's a strange feeling of relief as we actually begin to feel cold. And colder. We're so happy to have our sleeping bags. The locals are walking around the village with towels and shawls and hats and scarves. Down below it's probably about 24C at night.
Although Bromo is quite small, it is also quite big. Big business. We haven't seen many tourists around so the next morning comes as a bit of a shock. After a good walk up the ridge we come out onto a road that is lined with old Toyota jeeps. Hundreds of them. At the viewpoint at the top there is a mass of tourists, all wrapped up against the cold. We are probably the only four people who are toasty warm. As luck has it, the sun immediately appears on the horizon, and the crowd emits a united "Ooooooh" as it lurches eastwards to the barrier to get that all important photo. About an hour later they've all gone. We can see where as down below on the sands the jeeps reappear in a cloud of dust to eject their passengers at Bromo's foot. Peace at last. And fabulous views. On the edges of the wider crater the land is green, thick with vegetation and fields of crops. Within it's a dry and fairly barren place. In the distance are other volcanic peaks sticking up above the clouds. Bromo's smoke drifts benignly across the panorama.
Later we retrace our steps down to the hot lowlands and spend a sultry night in a motel-style place near to the bus stand. It's a charming little place that looks like they'd rent rooms by the hour. But it's convenient for us - tomorrow we need an early start to Bali.