By Esther Sainsbury (Semester 22/Feb 2006 & Semester 23/Aug 2006)
The Australian National University

After moving to Malang for second semester to begin the research component of my year in Indonesia, I thought I would write a review of one of the most beautiful attractions in the surrounding area: Mt Bromo. As I arrived two weeks before the research program was to begin at Universitas Muhammadiyah Malang (UMM), I thought I would like to take a trip outside the city before some of the research workload began.

After enquiring at a public tourist office, I found the trip to Mt Bromo to be fairly straight forward: take a small city bus to the terminal on the outskirts of town to the north for about an hour; catch another bus to the town of Probolinggo taking about two hours; then another smaller bus from Probolinggo to Mt Bromo taking about an hour again.

The first two parts of the travel arrangements went well, but after being dropped off at a local tourist office rather than the terminal at Probolinggo, I found that the final smaller bus taking travellers to Mt Bromo would in fact be about three hours instead of one.

On this new information the office staff kindly offered me a personal jeep that could take me to the front door of my intended hotel. Although to many readers this would sound immediately inviting, many more questions needed to be asked before arrangements could be made.

The Jeep could be arranged for Rp150,000 instead of the public transport at Rp10,000 – yes, a horribly inflated price rise, but with the cool air conditioning almost at my fingertips, I thought for a moment… then came to my senses and declined.

Although both parties involved in this negotiation, the seller and the buyer, knew equally as well that: 1) the price was for ‘special’ foreign tourists and 2) the buyer had not much of a choice as they were sitting in front of a small counter in the middle of Probolinggo at the mercy of the agent as to when the next public bus would come – if ever…

I added to my polite decline that I would not be able to accept a lift for that price but would consider again for Rp100,000. And suddenly I was away in a private mini-van, hair flying in the wind, picking up fares along the way (?), maneuvering through the mountains until I reached Hotel Lava View at the edge of a vast crater, indeed looking directly out across to the smoldering Bromo crater, Mt Batok, the Sea of Sand and Mt Semeru.

It was breathtaking and really worth the trip as both the crater of Mt Bromo and Mt Semeru were smoking, creating scenery with constant change as ash clouds and sulfurous smoke accompanied the dead moonscape of the Sea of Sand.

One of the main reasons for going to Mt Bromo was the promise of a horse ride across the Sea of Sand to Mt Bromo and, even before reaching the higher areas, mountain horses dotted the farming lands and small communities along the way.

Meeting me outside the hotel was a guide who had been a contact of one of the tourist agents in Malang. His name was Wokok and he was born and raised in the Bromo area. He arrived on a small but sturdy white stallion called Amigos and we made arrangements to head out across the sandy plains straight away.

It had been some time since I last rode and I was excited to get out and listen to Wokok’s pointers about Indonesian riding styles. I did a few laps of the area in front of the hotel before we headed off on separate horses.

We headed off to make the descent to the beginning of the plains. Wokok rode a palomino mare about the same size as Amigos and as we rode we talked about Mt Bromo and the impending ceremony to be held on the 6th and the 7th of September that would be the annual gift giving ceremony held in Mt Bromo’s honour, called the Kasada ceremony.

He told me that people come from far and wide to cast their offerings into the mouth of the smoking crater, to appease the volcano god and observe its power and, in doing this, they were able to cast a wish. I enquired as to what kind of things people usually ask for? He smiled and said health, wealth or happiness of course.

It was my turn to smile as I wondered what it was that people would cast into the crater for such demands. Wokok thought that it could be anything, food, flowers, money – some rich people even throw their credit cards in! We laughed at that and I wondered what kind of wish would warrant a credit card sacrifice? Do you throw your credit card in and ask for a new house? Or perhaps it’s something money cannot buy, like the health of a sick child or the extension of the life of elders.

Wokok is Hindu and stated sincerely that you don’t have to throw your credit card into the crater to receive good things in life: a good person throwing small flowers in will be heard just as much as a greedy person throwing a credit card.

I thought that this was quite profound in many ways – a strange modern Bromo analogy for the right to forgiveness or hope for the future. Wokok’s point was really highlighting the fact that the Bromo celebration would have a lot to do with what kind of hand was doing the throwing and not what was being offered.

On that note we moved into a canter and reached the base of Mt Bromo. I climbed the two hundred and fifty steps to the top and looked out across the dusty plans. It was a strange sight: a mix of ash, dust and rock in one direction, the large Hindu temple catching your eye in another, and then to the base of the mountains on the other side of the plains, the colours of farming lands, greens and khakis with small dots of colour from flags or house washing out to dry.

As the sunrise at Bromo was much recommended, I agreed to meet Wokok the next morning at 4:30am to ride across the plain again and watch the sunrise from the base of Bromo. Yes, it was freezing, but again worth getting up out of bed.

It was yet again another side of Bromo, the morning light, Mt Semeru particularly active as we rode the horses in the growing light. We returned to the hotel for a hot drink at about 6:30 to recover and talk about the next trip.

I had an amazing time and went back a second time in October to meet with Wokok and Amigos again. If anyone is in the area and considering it, Mt Bromo is a must.