Mt Bromo, June 2006, Days 6-7. Malang and home

The road less travelled; off the beaten path – they both mean the same to me. The intrinsic joy of cycle touring is that with every pedal stroke, the canvas of life unfolds before you, and you behold with innocent wonder the colour, the sights, the sounds, and the smells of a foreign culture that pervade the air around you.

You readily absorb it all in. As one writer puts it, “To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world”.

And so, the return leg of my Mt Bromo adventure simply had to have that one-way route approach; just so everything was new to my eyes. I would barrel down the other side of the mountain, and into the town of Malang. An ominous sounding name – ‘malang’ means ‘unfortunate’. Oh well…

Going down Bromo meant I had to cross the crater to get to its southern wall. After the initial quicksand, I was stopped in my tracks at in awe of the landscape that surrounded me. Tall, brown brush dancing in the breeze on one side of the trail – an intense contrast with the verdurous greenery of the crater wall. Behind, and beyond, the cobalt blue sky was smeared with cheery puffs of white clouds that formed a grand backdrop to one of God’s masterpieces.

I wouldn’t have been mesmerised by it all had I gone back the same way I came to Bromo.

A cobbled path, and the start of a long downhill to the city of Malang.

The ride down to Malang is almost all on unpaved double-track, some of it cobbled and some of it raw laterite. The Toyotas 4x4are still the only vehicles that rule here, and it’s a bumpy ride if you’re a passenger. Not me — I was having fun on 2 wheels. As usual, I stopped when Ifelt like it – to take a shot, to talk to the locals, or simply to take in the scenery.

The downhill ride takes you through parts of Bromo National Park.

The more remote you go, the friendlier they are.

Mother-daughter team manning a drinks stall on the trail.

Gubukklakah. I was absolutely enchanted with the name. It’s a small village I passed through on my way to Malang. Gubukklakah, Gubukklakah, Gubukklakah … but that wasn’t the only fascinating thing — it was the apple trees that were growing on both sides of the road, fenced in by bamboo stockades. Apple trees – now, that’s a novelty to me. I stopped for a closer look.

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The apples here weren’t your usual Cold Storage type. They were smaller. I wondered if that had anything to do with the dwarfish-looking trees.

Gubukklakah apple growers with their harvest. That should keep many a doctor away.

By afternoon, I was in Malang. It’s not much of a town by Indonesian standards although it’ll welcome you with the customary dust, noise and crazy traffic that Javanese towns seemed to be blessed with. There wasn’t a lot that attracted me either. But, if there was one place in every town that I make it a must to visit, it’s the market. Here’s where the real action is to be found. The sights, sounds and smells are simply amazing.

Playful banter between husband and wife.

Intoxicating stuff?

Rice that goes airborne? (nasi piring terbang = flying saucer rice) Javanese food goes by the most intriguing of names.

Good old-fashioned chompers ('bikin gigi' literally means 'make teeth'). Some users have a very practiced way of unhinging it with the tongue and pushing it out of the mouth for the briefest of moment ... usually to clear a delinquent sliver of meat or vege that refused to be dislodge from the false teeth. Not a pretty sight at all.

I wrote earlier that the Javanese are somewhat of a lawless people when they’re behind the wheel… well, I was wrong — they’re just plain lawless anywhere. They bore full testimony to my observations of Javanese anthropology when a cart carrying fruit upended, as the owner was attempting to run away from some local council enforcement goons.

Helpful passers-by helping... themselves! And this was in spite of some choice expletives being hurled at them by the hapless owner.

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Mt Bromo, June 2006, Days 3-5 – Atop Mt Bromo

Mt Bromo is a sight to behold.

As you stand on the lip of the crater and gaze out at the vast, almost lunar-like landscape, you cannot help but wonder at the beauty that is so harsh and yet so inspiring at the same time.

The top of the mountain is actually a crater — 15km across at its widest! Look closely at the picture above and you’ll see a puff of white smoke — that’s the living, breathing volcano.

Indonesia is a land of many live volcanoes dotted across the archipelago. And most of the people who live in the shadow of these hot spots live dangerously. But it’s not by choice. What spews out of these living volcanoes will just as easily wipe out entire villages as it does sustain their life-giving plots of greens with ease. A curse and a blessing.

The village at the top of Bromo is called Cemoro Lawang and the guest-house that I stayed in is located right on the lip of the crater. If you look closely, you will see the road that lead down to the crater.

Early morning over Bromo. The air is cool, crisp and clean

And the sky, amazingly blue.

This is the only volcano here that's safe for visitors

To go right up to the mouth of the volcano, I exchanged pedal power for horse power. One doesn’t need to go far to find one. One or two of these horses with their owners would always be hanging around the guesthouses. Show the slightest interest and they’ll stick to you like a leech. There was one such young man who hounded me. The modus operandi is deadly simple — stick to the tourist and bug the hell out of them.

In the end, I went with a guy who wasn’t as insistent. That’s him below. With a face like that, I didn’t have the heart to bargain him down either as vociferously as I normally would.


At the foot of the volcano; you can choose to walk up, or ride the horse all the way to the stairs. I rode.

At the foot of the volcano; you can choose to walk up, or ride the horse all the way to the stairs. I rode.

Sulphur stinks. If you get a whiff of it square in your face, you’ll feel as if you’re being suffocated.
Not nice at all. Check out the video below and you’ll see what I mean.

Cycling inside the crater is like cycling on a sandy beach. You can’t go very fast, and you have to air down your tyres — way down. Even so, I was struggling. Some sections of the crater are like quicksand; they just suck you in and won’t let go. I found that sticking to a well-worn track where the Toyota BJ40s rule with their massive desert tyres was the only way I could pedal about.

Every tourist to Bromo gets about by 2 ways — a horse or a 4-wheel drive. The 4-wheel drives here are mostly the legendary Toyota BJ40s; some were 30-40 yrs old but still as reliable as ever. They’re the original Land Cruisers that was born during the Korean War in the 50’s.


Mt Bromo, June 2006, Day 2 – the ride up

40km uphill takes some effort. 40km with fully loaded panniers … well, that’s definitely not a stroll in the park. But, like all the other tours I’ve been, I usually take my time. I stop when I feel like it and I never hesitate to engage the locals in conversation – most of all kids. They’re the same anywhere you encounter them.

These kids came out of the school grounds where they were playing just to say hi and cheer me on, until their non-cycling teacher (has to be one for sure) came out and shooed them in.

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Lush verdant greenery from base to peak

Your guess is as good as mine

Riding up Mt Bromo is pretty much like riding any mountain except in this case I’m weighed down with two full panniers making the going rather strained at times. The steepness didn’t help either. At one point, I was dawdling along at 4-5kph.

GPS doesn't lie...41 km in almost 7.5hrs. Pathetic.

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A celebratory shot upon reaching the top.

I can’t wait for tomorrow when I will be able to gaze into the belly of a sulfur-stinking volcano. Woohoo!

Mt Bromo, June 2006, Day 1, arrival

In June 2006, I decided that one of my life’s dreams was to gaze inside the innards of a live volcano; to admire it in fearful wonder, and to draw in the noxious fumes of sulphur as well the overwhelming beauty of the harsh landscape that typically surrounds it.

And so, I made my way to Mt Bromo; on the eastern side of Java, Indonesia.

golden dawn over bromo; clear blue sky and fresh dew on the leaves...

The original plan was to cycle straight out of the airport at Surabaya, making a stop at Probolingo for the night and then making my assault on the 40km of winding mountain road to the top of Bromo in the morning.

But … I took one look at the Javanese traffic and wisely retreated into the safe confines of a taxi instead.

Or so I thought…

The Javanese are mad. No, they are beyond mad. The jovial driver of the taxi proved me right when he nonchalantly overtook a car. Nothing wrong with that, except, he was overtaking another insane driver who was overtaking another insane driver. For about 10 seconds, I hung on for dear life while the taxi hung on to the shoulder of the other side of the road in the madness of this whole episode. To say that lawlessness abounds is putting it very mildly.

Even pedestrians get in on the act — like the guy below who helped himself to some sugar cane in the midst of gridlock.

How sweet...I'm stuck in this jam so help yourself to some sugar cane if you happen to be passing by

Probolingo

Probolingo, where I put up for the night, is a non-descript little Javanese town. The only thing that got my attention was the signs on some of the stalls. One in particular, selling Terang Bulan, or what we Malaysians call apom really caught my eye.

Terang Bulan I can understand. But I didn't dare ask about the other item on the menu ...

No smelly dead rats. Wonder why he set up shop next to a smelly garbage bin.

The Enjoyable Hut (Pondok Nikmat) where I finally decide to have my dinner

Next….the ride up Mt Bromo!