Wild Young Minds: Adventures in the East part 2: Bromo & Gunung Ijen

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Adventures in the East part 2: Bromo & Gunung Ijen

I've often wished my parents had moved to another country when I was young, so that I could grow up in a different place. I can already hear you say that I shouldn't complain, my country is a fine country, we have a good social system, we are relatively wealthy, we don't have any crazy political system or attacks (let's pray it stays this way), in other words, the Dutch shouldn't be spoiled. Of course we are. We complain about the rain and we complain about the cold, but what I complain about most, is: our lack of nature. No mountains, no waterfalls and no volcanoes. So when I heard about a 3-day trip to Mount Bromo and Gunung Ijen, I didn't hesitate for a single moment: I was going to see my first volcano and I was going to see my second one too.

My travel buddy Mees had decided he wanted to surf first, and climb Mount Rinjani instead of Bromo, so we said goodbye and after five days, I was on my own again. Not that I minded that much, when you're travelling solo, you meet people instantly. So I chatted with a worker at the hostel for a bit, and went to sleep pretty early, since I wasn't going to have a lot of sleep the next couple of days. My tour included transport to the volcanoes, so at 8.30 in the morning our driver picked me up from the hostel and I stepped into the van I was going to spend many, many hours in that week. 

Our group consisted of about 10 people, mostly couples, two female friends, two guys who travelled solo too, and me. Our journey was going pretty well - we stopped a couple of times, to pee and to eat - until suddenly the driver told us to get out. I soon found out that this is typically Indonesia. What followed was an hour of standing in the heat, looking at Indonesian fellows with worried looks on their faces, not knowing what was going to happen.
The Greyhound taught me to take it easy, though, since I'd experienced many silimar moments when I was travelling through the USA. You just have to accept the fact that you're gonna arrive hours later than planned. I could never do so in the Netherlands. I'd curse the NS, I'd be frustrated as hell and I'd not be able to sit down and relax. I was now. I chatted with my tour mates, mostly with the two solo travellers, since the couples weren't that easy to come into contact with. I don't mean to generalize, but I've experienced this more often. When you're travelling with your lover, it's comfortable to stick together and talk to each other, especially if your mother tongue is French or German. It's easy to say I would never be this way, but well, you never know. Anyway, I made friends soon enough and when we finally arrived in the small town near the Bromo vulcano, we agreed to look for food together, despite the fact that it was 11.30 pm already.

That proved to be harder than we thought. Two hours before, the driver had stopped and told us to buy dinner at a small supermarket. Fuck it, I thought, I'm not gonna have cookies for dinner when I have to wake up at 3.30 in the morning (yes, really!). I did buy crackers, but I still wasn't planning on having this for dinner. Neither did Bernat and Vincent, so we told the driver we wanted to have some real dinner. The driver took this very seriously - of course he did, we were hungry - and knocked on the doors of every restaurant, yelling stuff and making noise. 
Eventually a woman opened the door, looking all sleepy and grumpy. ''No! Go back to sleep!'', we said, ''we're so sorry!'' And we were, but well, she was awake already and we really were hungry, so we stepped inside and experienced one of the weirdest dinners ever. It was more of a candy shop than a restaurant, there was Indonesian milk, chocolate and crisps everywhere and flies were flying around. We could choose between nasi goreng and a banana pancake, and since I don't eat meat, I went for the pancake. That day, my breakfast was a banana pancake and my dinner was a banana pancake too. Could be worse! In the middle of our fancy dinner, the driver and his buddy came in and they decided to order some sort of fish. The fish smelled like sulphur - for those who don't know what this smells like, it's a very very strong version of rotten eggs - and Bernat and Vincent couldn't finish their dinner. I could finish my dinner, but I couldn't stop laughing, because this situation was just too absurd.
That night, we slept for about three and a half hours, before driving to a viewpoint from where we could see the volcano. It was extremely cold and since I wasn't expecting this kind of weather in Indonesia, I hadn't brought any sweaters. I thought I could survive with three layers of shirts and my thin coat (my friends from San Francisco will probably recognize this stubbornness, which is actually more of a foolishness) but I could not. So I rented a warm jacket for a euro and found a spot to see the sunrise. We had to wait for at least 45 minutes until the sun finally rose and when it did, it was hidden behind many clouds. Seriously. Waking up at 3.30 without any breakfast and not even being able to see Mount Bromo? It proved to be less bad, cause we did see some nice views later on and part of the trip was that we could also walk up to the volcano and look inside it. Pretty damn magical.

After taking many photos, we walked back, ignoring all the Indonesians with horses. I understand the system, they want to make money and they want to help old - or young - people who aren't in such a good condition, but I felt extremely sorry for the horses. They looked tired, unhappy and I just didn't agree with this system. Not that anyone would care about my opinion, though, so I walked back and started talking about breakfasts with Bernat and Vincent. I shouldn't have done so, since this made me very hungry again and when we received the breakfast (which was included) I was slightly disappointed. White bread, American cheese and an egg. I finished it anyway, and prepared myself for another six hours in the van.

That evening, we arrived at our second accomodation. This one was a lot better than the first one, since it also had a swimming pool and a jacuzzi. We had some dinner, chatted for a bit and around 9 I went to sleep. Despite all the chants outside - it was Ramadan after all - I fell asleep straight away and woke up at 12.30 pm, when we had to leave for the Ijen volcano.

This was probably the hardest thing I had to do this entire trip - waking up when I usually go to sleep, climbing for about three hours and not being able to breath normally, since the smell of sulphur was everywhere. When we were getting close to the blue fire, though, I instantly forgot how bad I was feeling. We were constantly bumping into workers, who carried 80 kilos of sulphur on their backs. They weren't strong, young men. No, they were old, skinny guys who did this three times a day. Isn't there any other system to do this, we all thought. It was painful to watch. The workers earn less than 8 dollars a day and once they're out of the crater, they still have to carry the sulphur about three kilometers to get paid. Horrible... Arriving at the bottom of the crater, we forgot this for a minute, however. We'd arrived at the blue fire.

You can only see the blue fire when you arrive before sunrise and it's just mindblowing. The blue fire is ignited sulphuric gas, which arises from cracks at temperatures up to 600 degrees. Apparently there are two places with blue fires in the world: in Iceland and in Indonesia. After we stayed at the blue fire for a bit, we continued to the turquoise-colored crater, which was insanely beautiful too.

After a long hike back, our driver brought us to the harbor, where we could take the ferry to Bali. Though I'd experienced three intense but beautiful days, I was longing for relaxation, sun and the beach too. Which place is better than Bali, then? My first hours in Bali were not that relaxed, however. We were in a crowded bus with no airconditioning for the first five hours, arrived at a bus station that was 20 kilometres from Denpasar, where taxis costed crazy amounts of money (compared to normal Indonesian prices) and my phone was not working at all.

When Bernat and I finally arrived in Denpasar, we spent 1,5 hours in a Chinese restaurant with wifi and in those 1,5 hours all I managed was booking a hostel. My uber app wasn't working and I had no clue how to find public transportation to my hostel. Bernat was heading in a different direction, so when he left, I decided I had to find a taxi myself. I negotiated a bit - paid way too much anyway of course - and stepped into a taxi with two guys. At that moment, feeling extremely exhausted, I didn't care anymore. I thought: when this turns into a horrible situation, it's completely my own fault, but well. Luckily it didn't. It did take the drivers ages to find my hostel, but when they did, I ran to the shower and took of my shoes. I was in Bali.

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