After some long bus rides through several Indonesian cities, we were ready to get back to nature and see fewer people. Our plan was to head to the eastern tip of Java and climb two active volcanoes, Mount Bromo and Mount Ijen.
The wins: Mount Bromo
Mount Bromo is an active volcano with a 16km wide caledra, and rise at 7,641 feet (2,329m). It’s known for its amazing sunrises and we had the burning desire to see the sun shine on the volcano.
Our first #win was to turn down every “all inclusive tours” offered in Yogyakarta and do our own adventure. Not only did we save a bunch of money, but we also had the freedom to do things at our own pace.
We set off from Yogya in the late afternoon with a public bus that was supposed to ride for 11hrs. But for once, the trip took less time than expected and we arrived at 2am, forced to spend the night on the roadside shelter waiting for the morning buses, which eventually took us to the top of the volcano.
After a power nap in the homestay in Bromo, we had a look around and figured out our hikes: we would go to the caledra in the afternoon and a night hike the day after to catch the 5am sunrise on the view point overlooking the volcano.
The walk to the caldera really set the tone. As soon as we dropped in from the outside rim we felt like we had stepped in a movie set: the Sea of Sand is quite dramatic and reminded us of our volcano hikes in Hawaii.
Approaching the caldera was slightly scary. From far away it looks just fine but once at the bottom of it, your senses warn you of danger: the ground rumbles a bit, the smoke gets darker and darker, the dust gets in your face..
We started our afternoon expedition quite late, so by the time we reached the last stair set, we were the only ones there. It added a bit of stress to the whole thing! So we walked along the narrow crater rim, realizing that on the other side was an open hole to the depth of the mountain.. We could hear some cracks and explosions in the distance, echoed by the shape of the crater.
We didn’t stay too long because a louder explosion resounded, immediately followed by the formation of a big dark cloud that came toward us unexpectedly fast!! We quickly turned back, but by the time we got to the bottom, we were covered in dark ashes!
Back at the homestay, we were told that the volcano was in a high state of eruption (4 out of 5) and therefore closed to the public. #unconscious
Our biggest #win was the morning expedition. Although the hike in the dark was a bit challenging on the unmaintained trail, we arrived at the viewpoint around 4am and the weather was perfect. We could see the stars and the smoke of the volcano in the distance and the curious see of clouds lingering in the crater.
We waited until the first lights till 6am, and were amazed by the beauty of the scenery.
Another win: we managed to meet some cool folks during this stop and spent the next couple days with them as our itinerary was similar (Bromo, Ijen, Bali)
The Fails: Mount Ijen
We were quite pumped by our Bromo experience and couldn’t imagine that Ijen would be such a different story!
Arrived at 8pm in the small town of Banyuwangi, we decided to report the Ijen ascension to the next night. Since Ijen volcano is 30km away from town, it’s recommended to leave at midnight to see the “blue lights” in the crater and then climb up to catch the sunrise. But we just didn’t feel like doing two expeditions in a row. May be we should have…
Next day, we left our homestay at midnight and met up with our new friends Thibo and Justine, rode the scooters for an hour to the top of Ijen and started the hike. But unlike Bromo, the weather was not on our side. We spotted lightnings around the volcano and it wasn’t long before the rain started. It was a small drizzle in the beginning, so we kept going and eventually reached the bottom of the crater, where we glanced at the “blue lights” that would appear when the rain slowed down. But quickly, heavy pours forced us to go back to the top, soaking us up along the way. The rain prevented any good photography that day… 🙁
Our ascent to the viewpoint was difficult, as a heavy fog had now settled on the volcano and the rain had not stopped. After 30mins of guess-hiking, we turned back and headed to the exit. Some more rain finished us up on the way down and by the time we arrived to the scooter, we were cold, covered in sulfur and totally wet.
We finally arrived at the homestay and decided to spend an extra day there to dry up and rest. And maybe do another attempt the next night. However, our host who had agreed to that extra night told us a few hours later that no rooms were actually available so we didn’t have much choice but to go back to our initial plan to cross Bali and reach Lombok. But now with several hours lost.
The next day was hell, between scamy bus driver, late buses and a night ferry that was designed to keep you awake, we got to bed after a 30hrs journey.
All in all, we didnt manage to really see the sulfur worker, the extraction and the beautiful acid lake in the volcano… it’s well documented online so we know what we missed.
The biggest issue we encounter in Ijen was the weather. Everyone who went up that day regretted it. But it’s hard to predict the weather on a Volcano.
For this type of adventure, we definitely advise to prep your trip, ie. read blogs and info online, dress properly, carry the right gear (in this case renting a gaz mask was more than necessary), bring enough food/water, etc. We saw people in flip-flops and felt really sorry for them.
And even when you put all the chances on your side, you need to accept that it might not be like what you saw on Instagram. It’s key to go with low expectations in order to not be disappointed.
Although Ijen was a fail from a photographic and scenery standpoint, it was nonetheless a great adventure. So we didn’t “lose” per say, we “learnt” that shitty weather happen and you just have to get over it.
So do your research, act fairly and be respectful regardless of the conditions, accept failure and keep on travelling, the best experiences lie only a few feet away!
Information online about Bromo wasn’t very clear and once in the village, locals kept trying to have us pay 220.000 idr ($20) as “entrance fees” and 250.000 idr ($22)/person for jeep tours. We had been told it could all be done independently and figured out where the “free” trails were.