NOV 29 - DEC 3: OF AUSSIE GIRLS, MISSED BUSES & VOLCANOES
On the day of departure for Malang (allegedly a good way to get to Bromo) I finish getting all my pictures of Pangandaran downloaded. I am so far behind! But I also manage to get all my pictures burned to a CD, for the ridiculously reasonable price of $1. Good news indeed. Now I need to post it home. I will not delete the camera's flash cards until I have had confirmation it has been safely received. This proves to be a sound move!
AND WE ARE OFF
The three of us take a taxi to meet with two Australian girls who have booked this minibus to Malang, telling us it is the cheapest way and a good bet. We meet at a bar - the Bintang Cafe (Bintang is the top-selling beer here, brewed with assistance from Heineken I think). It is in the trendy Sosrowijayan area and its customers are almost exclusively Antipodean.
The minibus picks us up at 20:15 and we then proceed to pick up two other passengers (so much for the private charter) and midway through the trip park up for an hour at a bus depot, seemingly for the driver to have his R & R. It is 04:15 when we get to Malang and I guess I slept for no more than two hours during the journey. We get let into the Helios hotel, which the Aussies have also booked and which looks rather more expensive than we have been used to, although the German guide book says it is in the cheap category. We will see!
The girls say they will get up for breakfast at midday. I agree to meet the boys at 10:00.
NOV 30: DOUGHNUTS, DANGER AND MAKING PARTY
I get awoken at 07:15 by a member of the hotel staff bringing me breakfast. My Bahasa is still not good enough to tell him where he can put his breakfast but I indicate, as politely as I can, that I don't want it. Just what I need 2.5 hours after going to bed.
We get money from a bank which was advertising a competition in the window, one of the prizes being a new Mini. At least I think that was the gist (make you own mind up from the photo). Later we get our own breakfast at a small restaurant. This includes roti goreng (fried bread) which turns out to be a doughnut of sorts and so tasty I went back for another later in the day.
DANGER - BUILDERS AT WORK
As we walked across a small bridge back from the restaurant I looked down at the river below and saw a small boy walking towards me on the tow path. Suddenly several pieces of brick flew in my direction from above and landed on the tow path. Some builder was hammering a hole in a brick wall adjacent to the river, clearly with no thought to who might be below. The boy checked his stride, waited a moment and then scurried past the danger area. Where is Health & Safety when you want them?
KNIFFLE & WATN
To while away the afternoon, which is decidedly wet, the German boys try to teach me two games which they play constantly: Kniffle (which I am later told is effectively Yahtzee) and Watn. The latter is played with German playing cards which, like 'proper' playing cards, have four suits but only 32 cards. The suits are acorns, balloons, hearts and green stuff (you might have gathered I have not picked up the real suit names). They have 8 cards in each: Ace, King, O, U, 10, 9, 8 and 7. The rules are too complicated to relate, especially as I still don't really understand them all. Just as I thought I was okay they add another twist. Anyway it passes the time.
TONIGHT WE MAKE PARTY
The highlight (sic) of the day is a trip to friends of Aussie girls - two Aussie boys and another Aussie girl. All three are 'studying' in Malang and I am using the word as loosely as I can. The 'making party' consist of drinking as much very expensive alcohol as possible with a variety of drinking games, taking photos of everyone else in silly poses, looking very much the worse for wear, and then taking an age trying to determine how best to get to Bromo for volcano viewing. Given that I doubt the ability of a number of those present to organise themselves to get up in the morning when sober I felt this last hour or so rather pushed my patience. By now it was 02:00 and we then had to wake a becak driver and rouse another and risk travelling three to a becak back to the hotel, which I can tell you is not overly comfortable.
DEC 01: IN WHICH MR T TAKES BACK CONTROL AND WE MISS THE BUS!
One of the reasons for my recent grumpiness I feel sure, is that others were arranging stuff and not doing it very well. Today is a beautiful morning with bright blue sky and so I am keen to get out with the camera whilst it lasts. So I am up early. Everyone else is not. I am not going to rock the boat and one of the Aussies has good Bahasa so she should be able to help us at tourist information as yesterday we did not get very far: the people there (they seemed to be school girls) did not speak much English.
WHAT IS THE PENALTY FOR (WO)MANSLAUGHTER IN INDONESIA?
Just as I thought we were all ready to go the Aussies announce, cool as you like, their itinerary for the day. And it does not involve helping us. If I had known they were going to do their own thing then I would have gone out with my camera early and maybe met the boys somewhere. As it is, by the time we reach anything worth photographing the cloud has arrived. It starts to rain shortly after. Still, I am sure the girls will have 'the best time ever', said with a rising tone in that annoying manner where it sounds like someone is asking a question but they are not.
TRAVEL PLANS & MORE TRAVEL PLANS
We get better advice this time (who needs Bahasa speakers?) and determine we are going to head for Bromo via Probolinggo as I had originally planned. We have much less good news on the flights front. Travel agents are charging very high fees for flights to Singapore and are not even interested in my query about flights to Vientiane. We resolve to wait until we reach Bali (from which we will be departing by air).
WHEN IS FOOD INDONESIAN?
We meet up with the girls who are trying to decide where to eat. They don't fancy Indonesian today and want Western, so a friend of one directs us to a pretty pricey Dutch place opposite a McDonalds (yes they get everywhere). Here we boys order non-Indonesian which turns out to be tiny portions of average quality. And the girls? Well they have Indonesian. The drinks in the photo are from here.
As we leave the restaurant, Basti (who was particularly unimpressed with the food on offer) opines, deadpan, that it is not cheap travelling with these two. He is not wrong. The hotel rooms are $10, twice as much as we have been paying, although I have to confess the quality was also somewhat better. Interestingly the girls had managed to book themselves a room without aircon which came in at $7.50. Having not had aircon since Jakarta, a 'fan-only' room would have been fine. Okay, okay I know we are only talking about $2.50 but you kind of get sucked into this pattern of monitoring your expenditure and anyway it is the principle of the thing!
BROMO HERE WE COME: AND IT'S YET ANOTHER MINI ADVENTURE
From the hotel we have to take three buses to get to Bromo. First we have to catch local bus AL to the Arjosari terminal. Naturally we cannot take a taxi as that is far too easy. At the next crossroads several people offer help, largely contradictory but finally we pile onto a bus which we are assured goes to Arjosari. According to the tourist information map it does not look far. The bus is so small that there is barely room for one more passenger once we are on board with our packs. The ride takes far longer than we expected and we start to wonder if we are headed in the right direction: there are three terminals in Malang.
The bus stops somewhere that looks vaguely terminalish but the driver says nothing. I have my suspicions and as we start to move off I enquire if this is the terminal (you might recall Bahasa for 'terminal' is 'terminal', which is rather helpful. And yes it is Arjosari so we pile off quickly.
BUS NO 2 AND A DELAY TOO FAR
Within 5 minutes of leaving the baby bus we are on the daddy bus with a fare of $1.20 to Probolinggo. It is supposed to be a 2 hour journey but 1.25 hours in we hit a massive snarl up. This gives the hawkers and peddlars a great opportunity and at one time I think we had three people flogging stuff and a guitarist busking as well as loads of passengers standing to peer out of the window to see the reason for the hold up. It takes 30 minutes before we are on the move again and this is clearly a diversion judging by the way the bus has to squeeze through little village lanes, jungle growth pressing against the sides. The excited looks on the faces of small children as we pass supports that.
The following day we see a picture of the accident that caused the jam (and naturally I have included it in the photo file).
TO CHANCE IT OR NOT?
We finally get into Probolinggo over an hour late. It is at this point I note in my guidebook that buses to Bromo (or more accurately Cemoro Lawang) depart up to 17:00 'or later sometimes at peak season'. We are not at the terminal which we know to be 5km outside town. As best we can gather we are almost there and have stopped for fuel. A helpful passenger tells us Hotel Bromo is just metres along the road. Our guidebooks tell us this is a good hotel and central. That means we are some distance from the terminal. So we decide it is not worth the risk of going to the terminal, finding no bus and having to find somewhere to stay which might mean another ride back into town. So we get off and go to the 'Hotel Bromo'.
WHAT IS IN A NAME?
In answer to the question posed, quite a lot. It turns out this hotel is in fact the Bromo View Hotel which is in no guide book we have. Furthermore, judging from the reaction from the hotel staff I guess there are very few tourists who can ever claim to have set foot in here. It is good enough though, although it turns out that the road we are on makes the North Circular seem like a traffic-free zone. And according to the staff we are 5km form the terminal and they claim no buses or taxis run the route.
A VIRGIN EXPERIENCE
This journey was the first the German boys had taken on a 'public' bus. I promised them an experience and that is what they got. And they enjoyed it, being chatted up by school girls keen to improve their English and getting to meet the locals.
DEC 02: AND WE FINALLY GET TO CEMORO LAWANG
By 07:45 it is already 30c. We decide to walk to the bus terminal in spite of the heat (well actually the Germans challenged me). Now there is a claim that in London you are never more than X metres from a rat. Well, in SE Asia I think it fair to say the same applies with taxis. We had been walking barely 2 minutes (and I was already pretty sweaty) when a taxi flagged us down. We negotiated the fare down and moments later realised the 5km we had been told by the hotel was more like 500m!!
WHITE FACES EQUALS BROMO-BOUND
As soon as we arrived we were directed to the Bromo bus. We are, as ever, the only white faces and it is universally accepted that those in Probolinggo with a white face must be headed for Bromo.
BOOK EARLY TO AVOID DISAPPOINTMENT
Basti is talking to the driver who strongly recommends we book our bus to Bali now as it is the weekend and it will be full. This we do and the driver awaits our return. It is 34c on the bus so I am grateful for the breeze that starts as we move off.
ANOTHER CLOSE ENCOUNTER
It is quite full on the bus but I am not convinced that the guy sitting next to me needs to sit quite so close, nor that every time he wants to bring something to my attention does he need to touch me on the leg to do so. His attire would not put him out of place in a Village People tribute band. The bus stops quite early on for goodness knows what reason but as the driver gets out I decide to take that opportunity to stretch my legs and sit somewhere with more leg room on the bus. That's my story and I am sticking to it.
We are quite soon in thick cloud as we gain altitude but what scenery we can see is impressive. We finally arrive at Cemoro Indah hotel at 12:45 and get the most basic accommodation yet. The rooms contain just two small singles with 12 inches between each and a small table. And they are $5 a night. But when you see the view (which you will have done by now as I posted the pics before drafting this text) you cannot complain. I remember doing all the volcano stuff at school and being really interested in it but it does not prepare you for the reality. Quite stunning.
THUNDER & LIGHTNING
I decide to buy a woolly hat for the climb tomorrow. I don't really need it but this young lad has been waiting outside for hours in the cold and the rain (it is only 15c up here) with no customers so I felt sorry for him. The rain intensifies and there are rumbles of thunder in the distance. It is all quite atmospheric. That is until there is a flash in the corner of the room where we are watching a football match. The youngster nearest leaps out of his chair and a responsible adult quickly yanks the power cable out of the socket. No more footie then. There is an almighty clap of thunder.
I am told that the Indonesian for 'referee' is 'wasit' (my spelling).
It is an early night as tomorrow will be a very long day indeed. And I am so glad I brought my sleeping bag.
03 DEC: THE LONGEST DAY
Today we are up for more than 24 hours and it proves a pretty eventful day (and not all in a good way). We climb to Pananjakan 1 viewpoint to see the sunrise over Bromo, climb to the top of Bromo and endure another very long journey, to Denpasar on Bali.
PART 1 - LET'S GO SEE A VOLCANO
It's a 02:30 rise. We are climbing to a viewpoint to see the sun rise over Bromo, a common thing for tourists to do in SE Asia wherever there is a mountain of any size around. There are two viewpoints: Pananjakan 1 (the higher) and Pananjakan 2.
I should note that the whole area is generally referred to as 'Bromo' but Bromo is only one of three mountains now inside the massive caldera of the ancient Tengger volcano. Together with Semeru (some way further south), the whole form the Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park.
The good news is that the sky is clear and I see loads of stars for the first time (at least for the first time since I last banged my head getting off a bus). There are flashes of lightning in the distance and the moon is bright enough to see the brooding hulks of Bromo and Semeru in outline. It is pretty hard going but as the guide has a very pronounced limp and seems to be managing I mustn't complain. It is not long before the sweat has soaked my tee shirt and the Aussie woman with us has to give up. She and her husband will try to get to Pan 2.
We make Pan 2 in just under an hour and then it's another 45 mins to Pan 1. This would normally take 1 hour, an indication of the pace we were going at, as even the boys admitted it was tough going. I had to keep up as I was not going to have them taking the piss out of 'the old man'. Besides, the pride of my country was at stake too!
THERE ARE TOURISTS AND THERE ARE TRAVELLERS
None of us likes to think themselves a mere tourist these days but we all are really. However, when we reached the metalled road at the top I could not believe my eyes as 4x4 after 4x4 came screaming past us and the summit looked like a road outside a Hampstead private school. A small retail park had also grown up and the place was heaving. I do believe we were the only three who had walked to the top. Ah well, at least it allowed us to feel smug, one of my favourite feelings!
AND IT WAS ALL WORTH IT
The sky started to lighten well before 05:00. It was one of the many moments I wished I had brought a tripod but I found a bar to rest the camera on and the shots are not too bad. The view really was as spectacular as we had been led to believe, the canvass changing as the light did. We allowed ourselves the luxury of the two packets of chocolate chip cookies we had brought with us to celebrate. At 10c it was not as cold as we had been told but with soaked shirts it was just as well and I did start to feel a little chilly.
THE RETURN LEG
The walk back down was no less impressive. As we walked back the guide said it was 7km each way. I have my doubts given the time taken and altitude gained but there it is.
SAND SEA & BROMO
We tried to clean up, had breakfast and then set off to walk across the sand sea (the floor of the caldera), past the Hindu temple to Bromo and then up the 252 steps to the crater rim. The smell of sulpher was okay until the wind changed direction when it was totally overpowering and made the eyes sting. It was mercifully quiet at the rim. The 4x4 tourists had been and gone and we were the only ones there save for two old boys trying to flog offerings for us to toss into the crater. It was certainly a crater on a different scale from that at Dieng. We had to negotiate the locals trying to sell horse rides back (a la Petra) but they were not so pushy. At least I don't need to do a training run this week after all that! However I was now in possession of more dirty clothes to the point I had to split them into dirty and outright rank. I thought I'd share that with you.
PART 2 - ONWARD TO BALI AND ITS YET ANOTHER MINI ADVENTURE
You can fly to Bali (at a cost); take the train, then ferry then bus; or you can do it all on one bus. We chose this option and as mentioned above had already bought the tickets. Back at the hotel the park ranger told us he had received a call from the bus operator to say the bus was running an hour earlier than expected as it was the weekend. So we should take the earlier local bus. After elastic Indonesian time we now had elastic Indonesian truth: the ranger had simply lied to get us to fill the local bus enough that the operator would start the trip back to Probolinggo. Why did he not just ask us to help out?
The bus was pretty full within no time, although not as full as one going the other way which had school kids on the roof, hanging out of the doors and clinging to the side. Poor big German boys found once again that the local buses are designed for local people and not those with long legs.
We now had loads of time to kill in Probolinggo and so took motorbikes into town (this time WITH crash helmets) to find cash machines and Internet facilities. These proved the second slowest yet. And the ATMs gave only 100,000 Rupiah notes. We have had enough of a problem changing 50,000s - NOBODY HAS EVER GOT ANY CHANGE!
Back at the bus terminal the ticket vendor told us the bus would arrive at 5:00 but pleaded that we take account of Indonesia's elastic time. As it happened it was almost on time.
The bus was already almost full and not quite the luxury liner we had been led to expect. We stopped after 90 minutes for the included meal, a grotty affair with the strangest tea you will ever taste. When we get back on the seat Stefan was sitting in is now soaked (leaking aircon?) so he sits where I was sitting and I sit next to Basti. There is not much room for my small pack so reluctantly I leave it at the back as nobody is sitting there. It is not long before someone does go to the back and so I immediately retrieve my bag.
CROSSING INTO BALI
We reach Banyuwangi, the ferry departure point at 10:00 and arrive Gilimanuk at 11:10 (after quite a wait before departure). The driver then makes an announcement and everyone reaches for what appear to be their identity cards . We are not sure what to do but then everyone gets off. Just as we stand up the bus moves and gets waved through the check point with us obviously still on board. I said everyone had got off. That is except for a couple who were asleep in fully horizontal seats and so could not be seen from outside and a male who seemed to have been told to go and hide in the toilet at the rear. So much for security.
AND SO TO DENPASAR
We finally reach Denpasar's Ubung bus terminal at 03:00 local time (an hour ahead of Java). We have the customary argument with a taxi driver over the fare but we don't have any option that to take a cab. He wants $4 just to go into town.
I pay for the taxi and tell the boys we can settle up in the morning. It turns out this is going to be a little less straightforward than might have been expected as some little b***er has lifted all the Rupiah the boys had (the equivalent of $65). They later notice he has nicked Basti's camera (actually his brother's). Fortunately he had backed up most of his photos to CD when I did. And they had no idea how it could have been done. I was so glad I had retrieved my bag when I had. I could find nothing missing.
And things did not get any better. I had chosen the hotel, the Merte Sari, for the Lonely Planet description of 'big smiles, sparkling rooms...a cracking choice for city centre digs'. LP does note that things can change and this was certainly the case here. Standards had fallen somewhat - off a vertical cliff. The smiles were notable by their absence and the rooms were as sparkling as the average non-league football supporter's wit. Add to that the fact the receptionist spoke almost no English and was not prepared to do a deal on price if we stayed more than one night. By this stage we had been up for 24 hours with maybe an hour's sleep on the bus and we were not going anywhere else, whatever the issues. Maybe the morning would bring better cheer.