Having arrived in Probolinggo by bus and being dropped not at the bus terminal like we should have been, but rather at a tour agency for Mt Bromo, we started our journey on a bad foot. The owner of the tour company told me we had to use his company because the public transport was finished for the day and would only resume the following. This was a problem for us because we had already booked a bus to Bali leaving the following evening, so we had to get to Mt Bromo that night.
I knew better than to trust him, and we began the 1km walk to the bus terminal. Luckily on the way we were picked up by a local taxi who drove us there for 3000 IDR each. At the bus terminal we enquired about the mini buses going to Cemero Lawang, which the the village at the foot of Mt Bromo.
The ideal plan was:
1. Catch public mini bus from Probolinggo to Cemero Lawang for 30 000 IDR.
2. Sleep in cheap hostel there, as close to the volcanos as possible.
3. Wake up at 3AM, get ready and then begin hike up to the viewpoint, from where we would watch the sunrise over Mt Bromo.
4. Walk across the Sea of Sand to Mt Bromo and then climb the stairs up to the top.
5. Look at the view and into the volcano.
6. Go back to hostel, check out.
7. Catch public mini bus back to Probolinggo bus terminal.
8. Wait there until our overnight bus to Bali arrived.
9. Go to Bali!
Things obviously never go to plan, so things were not that easy. Firstly, the mini bus drivers refused to go to Cemero Lawang unless their mini busses were full. Norman and I were the only people waiting at the bus terminal, so the chances of this happening were basically zero. It was our only option thought, so after stressing to the driver that we had to get there that night, we just had to wait. 7PM neared and we were fed up. The driver told us he could arrange a tour company to fetch us for 50 000 IDR. We were forced to accept. Although an hour late, we were finally on the road at 8PM.
After an hour and a half of being bumped around our seats, we arrived. As we hadn’t booked accommodation in advance, we told the driver we wanted to be as high up (close to the foot of the volcano) as possible in the cheapest accommodation available. He quickly called up Cafe Lava Hostel and booked us the economy room for 150 000 IDR, which is very cheap in comparison to all the other accommodation in Cemero Lawang.
My first priority was going to sleep! I set an alarm for 3AM and left all the preparation for then. It had been an exhausting 2 days.
Although I was feeling rather nauseous, I managed to drag myself out of bed when my alarm went off. Half in a daze, I packed the backpack and dressed in tights and a warm top. The temperatures get quite cold at night there, and it was probably around 10 degrees Celsius.
Armed with only my dim head torch, we began the trek to the volcano. We really didn’t have much of a clue in which direction we were supposed to be walking so we asked some fellow early risers, who pointed us towards a dirt road. The only light available on the road was my head torch and some lit farm houses along the way, but there really wasn’t much. My head torch barely cast light further than a meter, and the houses were in the fields so they didn’t prove much help.
We walked along the road for 2km before we realised we were attempting something near impossible and also dangerous. We could barely walk on a flat road, it would never be possible for us to actually hike up the volcano. It was also surprisingly scary! There was not one other person walking that we saw, and we could easily have been attacked. In the day time the thought seemed stupid but in the moment it felt all too possible.
Admitting defeat, and accepting the fact that we were probably not going to be able to watch the sunrise over Mt Bromo, even after all the effort to get there, we walked back to the town. It was so fortunate that there happened to be a guy named Johnny who rents motorbikes and also provides a tour to the view point and Mt Bromo sitting on a stone wall under a street light at the moment we entered the town. Although this was definitely not part of our plan, we decided that we had to use a motorbike and race to the viewpoint, and hopefully not miss the sunrise. We couldn’t afford to rent 2, so we both got on the motorbike behind him and rented his services for 75 000 IDR.
Johnny raced all along the exact road we had just walked, and then up onto territory uncharted by us, all the way up to the viewpoint. We didn’t have time to get right to the top where all the tours go because it takes 2 hours of hiking from the first viewpoint. You can get there by jeep or motorbike by driving across the Sea of Sand but because we were late due to our failed hiking attempt, we didn’t have time to go that way. So we had to settle for the first viewpoint.
Due to the weather conditions the sunrise wasn’t as striking as it would have been in the dry season. The best time to go is actually in July or August. It was still beautiful though, as was the thick layer of fog covering the Sea of Sand because of the recent rain.
After many pictures, we hopped back onto the motorbike and drove across the Sea of Sand to the actual Mt Bromo. No vehicles can go all the way to the top there, so you either have to do a short hike, or rent a horse. I personally thought the horses were treated very badly and would never consider supporting it with my money. They had no water, and were far to small to be carting overweight tourists up a steep hill. Sometimes their back legs would splay and they would almost collapse, and they often resisted their owners due to exhaustion but were whipped and forced to obey. It seriously tainted the whole experience for me, and even brought me to tears at one point.
Needless to say, we hiked up the volcano. There are about 250 steps near the top to get right to the top edge of the volcano, and you can peer into it from a landing there. The smell of sulphur was very strong, and it burnt my throat and eyes. It was a unique experience to be able to look into a volcano, and the panoramic view from up there was incredible. Back at the base we met up with Johnny and he drove us back to our hostel.
We paid 40 000 IDR each for an average but satisfying buffet breakfast at the hostel, and then went back to Probolinggo with the same mini bus as the previous night. We wanted to take a public mini bus but their timing was too unreliable, and we didn’t have time to play with so we couldn’t afford to wait around for a mini bus to fill up.
I learnt a lot of lessons from the whole experience and would obviously do it slightly differently if I were to do it again. Below is a step to step guide on how to “Watch the sunrise over Mt Bromo” without a tour, and as cheaply as possible. If you have any improvements, please comment!
1. Arrive in Probolinggo as early in the day as possible, and be sure to be dropped at the bus terminal and not at a tour agency. If the locals aren’t getting off, neither should you.
2. Ask in Toto Travel at the bus terminal where the mini busses are stationed and go there. It is outside the terminal, to the right if you are facing it from the main street. Don’t pay more than 30 000 IDR for a mini bus. Do not book any other busses to your next destination from Toto Travel. Toto was very convincing and we booked our bus to Bali with him. When we were on the bus the following day we soon realised that he had way over charged us (150 000 IDR each), and the bus attendant actually laughed when we told him we had booked through Toto Travel. Only buy bus tickets on the bus! If you buy from an agency they are making commission.
3. The mini busses leave when full so the earlier you get there in the day the less your chance is of missing a full one and having to wait late into the evening for another, if there even is another.
4. Once in Cemero Lawang, go to your booked accommodation. If you haven’t booked, I recommend Cafe Lava Hostel. It was really close to the volcanos and very reasonably priced.
5. Pay your national park entrance fee at the hostel. If you pay someone else, they might be overcharging you and be making a profit. The fee is 75 000 IDR, although I heard from a fellow backpacker just 2 days ago that the price is apparently going up 1st May 2014.
6. If you want to hike and not rent a jeep (I highly recommend hiking), then gather all the information the day before from the front desk at the hostel, don’t leave everything up to chance like we did, especially if you are pressed for time. Note: if you don’t want to walk, but also don’t want the commercialism of a jeep, rent a guide on a motorbike for a personal and flexible experience.
7. Decide if you are happy watching the sunrise from the lower viewpoint or if you want to do the extended hike all the way to the top. I actually think the lower one is better because there are less crowds (we were the only people) and if there are lots of clouds, you will be beneath the cloud layer and still be able to see the sunrise.
8. Time your trip properly. The longer hike takes quite a lot longer. The lower viewpoint on the other hand takes much less time (this is because the hike between the viewpoints is not far, just very steep and dangerous in the dark).
9. Take a bright torch, preferably 2. See if you can find other people to hike with you because it is daunting doing it alone or with one other person.
10. On the morning, depart for your hike and head for your preferred viewpoint. Once the sun has risen hike back into the village, past Cafe Lava Hostel, and down the steep road towards the Sea of Sand.
11. Walk across the Sea of Sand towards Mt Bromo. Don’t ride a horse.
12. There are drinks and food available at the base of Mt Bromo in case you’re hungry. Walk up, do the stairs and take some pictures.
13. Head back to the village for some breakfast!
14. You can either head back to Probolinggo or visit some of the other attractions nearby.
15. For more information, and a list of nearby attractions, click the link below – it was by far the most informative website I came across in my too brief research.