This blog post got started in October 2017 and has been edited a few times since then. I’m not really sure why I couldn’t just finish it and post it. Anyway…
The unfinished blog posts are piling up on my digital desk, but I think I’ll try to get this one out of my system first. It’s a testament to how much I’ve learned and… how much I haven’t learned.
Last week I talked to Pak Suradi, a VP at my school, who also happens to be my previous host dad. He recently came back from Taiwan, where he visited a school of tourism, hospitality and gastronomy that likes to recruit Indonesian high school students. He told me that soon, the Taiwanese school would be sending a delegation of their own to our school, and we would probably organize a trip to Mt. Bromo for them. Would you want to come along this weekend? If we go…
I’m sure he said who the ‘we’ was, but I missed it. I said yes, and I ended up joining a test group that would help scout out and organize the actual trip.
Saturday afternoon rolled around. No news from Pak Suradi. Then, suddenly, he was at my door. I changed into long pants and a polo, stuffed a sarong and a jacket in my small bag, put on my sneakers and left. Bu Khoyima, my previous host mom, was waiting in the car.
Next we picked up Pak Imam, his wife and his youngest daughter. Then we headed north. Bromo is physically very close to Malang—just east of the city—but many people like to access it from the cities farther north. Traffic in Malang was
bad normal. When we got to the other side of the city, Pak Imam remembered that he didn’t have a jacket, so we stopped at a few markets so he could look for one.
Soon, it was time for maghrib, the second-to-last of the five daily prayers required of muslims. Luckily for travelers, mosques are never hard to find in Indonesia. Unless you need one. We finally found a medium-sized one. I stayed in the car. I obviously wasn’t in any hurry, and I had chips for company, but it seemed to be taking longer than usual. After a while, Bu Khoyima came back and explained what was going on. The mosque was low on water, which makes it hard to perform ablutions. Muslims have to wash up, before they pray. Finally, everyone else came back, and we got back on the road, only to pass a big, beautiful, well-lit mosque a few meters down the road. Everyone laughed.
Because it had taken some time to find the first mosque, and because of the lack of water, it was time to pray again before long, the last prayer of the day, isha’a. We looked for another mosque and found one right away. I was asked if I wanted to use the bathroom. I wouldn’t have had to yet; I knew very well that we’d be stopping for dinner any time now. Curious if they had a particular eatery in mind, I asked where we were going next. To Bromo of course! Food being one of the very most important things in Indonesia, I knew we wouldn’t drive straight to the mountain without stopping for rice. I went to the bathroom anyway to stop people from worrying about me.
We stopped at least three times on our search for a restaurant, but the first few places had run out of food. The last one had plenty. I ordered chicken. I assured Bu Khoyima I didn’t need silverware. Pak Suradi, for at least the 100th time since I’ve known him, pointed out that there was sambal on my plate. Spicy Indonesian chili sauce is something I learned to recognize very early. Many, many dishes are eaten with sambal. I have absolutely no trouble recognizing it. I’ve even helped my ibu grind it up with her mortar and pestle. Sambal is as normal to me as having the obvious stated to me. Again and again. It’s just a way people try to connect with me. It’s safe. We can agree. This is sambal.
We washed our hands and hit the road again. At some point Pak Suradi and Pak Imam asked for directions. Most Indonesians I know don’t have much experience with maps or map apps. They prefer to just ask for landmarks, and if it’s a long trip, they just ask till the end. It’s not a lack of accuracy. I’m often asked if I have gotten lost in Indonesia. Personally, I find it hard to get lost with my map and ability to ask questions.
We snaked our way up to ‘basecamp’. We parked. Then, Pak Suradi and Pak Imam made the arrangements for our jeep. We would leave to see the sunrise at 3:00 am. I don’t remember what time we arrived at that parking lot, but we definitely had a few hours to go. We slept and/or tried to sleep. Anywhere I would have sat, my long legs would have been a bit cramped, but the back of this SUV was definitely a challenge. At about 1:30 it seemed like we had used up all the oxygen in the car. The two front windows were cracked, but not nearly enough to keep fresh air flowing. No one else seemed to notice. Finally, I asked if we could open more windows. Cold, breathable air made its way to the back and my latent feeling of claustrophobia dissipated.
Show time. We tumbled out of our car and into a big jeep. The two bapaks sat in the front with the driver. The other four of us sat in the back. We bounced up the mountain, still bleary-eyed, but slowly waking up. The higher we got, the more jeeps we saw. Hundreds and hundreds, with motorcycles and some brave hikers flitting between them. The exhaust fumes were some of the most noxious I’ve ever breathed, and I’ve been in the thick of some heavy traffic in Indonesia.
At some point, our jeep driver said he couldn’t take us any farther. We walked the rest of the way. For the first time since I’ve been in Indonesia, it was my Indonesian companions—and not me—who got badgered by guys on motorcycles without letup, asking Bu Khoyima in particular if she needed a ride. Still active, but no longer the lightest on her feet, she finally accepted an offer and rode off into the night with Pak Suradi.
Pak Imam, his family and I continued on foot. It wasn’t too far, but it was tricky navigating, bumps, holes and traffic. Finally, we made it to Love Hill, with plenty of time to pray before the sun rose. I climbed halfway up the hill with Pak Imam and his family. We found a spot on the stairs that wasn’t too crowded, and then we waited. And waited. We all laughed when Pak Imam said the sun was shy, because the full moon was still high in the sky. Then dawn began to break. I won’t describe the sunrise. If you’ve seen one before, it was like that. Actually, it was also a little bit like a sunset, so if you’ve seen one of those, it was like that, too. Except it was near Bromo.
The first time I heard about these sunrise tours, which are very common all over Indonesia, I was skeptical. I love a good sunrise as much as the next person, and I’ve seen plenty. Heck, I get up before the sun every day in Indonesia. I’ve seen plenty of spectacular sunrises, too, but all of them have been… dare I say it? The same. What distinguishes them is the rest of the situation.
Anyway, the sun rose; we watched; it was pretty.
We then met back up with Pak Suradi and Bu Khoyima and headed back down to the jeep. Our driver then whisked us away to the Sea of Sand, a rather wide expanse of black, volcanic sand, with spots of vegetation here and there. Quite impressive, and eery when covered with thick fog.
After another few photos, we made it to Teletubbies Hill. Not kidding. A big, official sign told us that’s what it was called. Does it look like a hill from the show? Honestly, I don’t feel like checking, so let’s assume it does. This was where we took the most photos. Dozens and dozens of photos in various constellations. I like photography, but I also try to take a few good pictures rather than 50 bad ones. That, however, is not the way of the typical Indonesian tourist. Photos aren’t memories, photos are the activity.
In the end, due to some miscommunication, I never made it up to see the crater. I was a little disappointed, but I figured I’d be back.
It wasn’t my favorite trip ever. We were on the road for ages, and we barely slept. I can’t have been the most pleasant travel companion. I tried to be on my best behavior, I really did. I appreciated being taken along. I posed for the all the pictures, I laughed at all the jokes, and I didn’t complain, but I wasn’t happy. I was exhausted, and I was being forced to do things I would have preferred not to do; I was coerced to eat and drink things I would rather not have eaten and drunk. I just can’t get feign enthusiasm under those circumstances. I looked for the positive, I found the positive, but they didn’t outweigh how tired and annoyed I was for pretty much the duration.