Having successfully hiked a dormant volcano (Merbabu), it was time to hike a live volcano in Java! Bromo was the best choice because it’s between Jogja and Jakarta, where we’ll be flying out to Vietnam after the hike. But searches online didn’t bring up any multi-day hikes around Bromo, and it’s only a couple hours up the volcano from the nearby village of Cemoro Lawang—hardly a hike at all! Online searches also revealed that getting to Bromo from Jogja could be tough. Most visitors come from Surabaya in the north or Bali in the east, meaning that there’s little infrastructure to get there from any other direction. After several hours of searching, I found that we could get from Jogja to Malang by train. There were rumors online of a minibus that could take us from Malang to Tumpang, and from there it seemed that most travelers hired a vehicle to take them the rest of the way. That’s neither reliable nor cheap.
But this might be the perfect chance for a multi-day hike. Google Maps indicated that the 30km distance between Tumpang and Cemoro Lawang is about 9 hours of hiking, which should be perfect for a two-day trip! Since we won’t be coming back to Jogja, we’ll have to carry everything we own plus food and water on this hike. That’s about 50 kg (110 lbs) of stuff. This is a great idea, right?
The train ride to Malang and minibus ride to Tumpang are without incident, with the exception of the mini-bus itself being a really mini mini bus. Seriously, Stoytcho has to double over inside it, we barely fit with our packs, and we’re somehow back here with a whole Indonesian family. Our driver is chainsmoking out the window.
Once we’re dropped off in Tumpang, the walking begins and the folly of our choice reveals itself. The goal is to make it halfway (15 kilometers) today, but as we trudge along the road with hot tropical sun beating down and ojeks whizzing by, we realize we’re slow. Really slow.
We climb foot by foot up hills and through villages, where people come outside their homes to stare at us, wave, and smile. We’re funny and weird wherever we go, with our massive packs and sunblock-smeared skin. People riding ojeks up and down the road pull over and want selfies. We try to buy a couple of bananas from a roadside stand and the woman there first wants to sell us the bunch for 5000 rupiah; when we clarify we just want two bananas for 5000 rupiah, she laughs, then pulls two from the bunch and hands them to us. “Gratis,” she smiles and waves us off. We’re insanely grateful, but I feel bad because we have way more money in our accounts than she’ll amass in a lifetime. But we’ll later find out there are no ATMs in Cemoro Lawang and cash will become scarce, so we’re lucky to have saved money here.
By nightfall we’ve made it only 11 km, to the rest stop just past the town of Gubugklakah, and we’re utterly exhausted. We set up our tent across from the rest stop, Ponco Kusumo, where all of the jeeps that run tours to Bromo are lined up in the fading light. There’s barely time for dinner before we fall asleep.
THUD! WHAM! BRRR-AM! We’re awakened around 21:00 by what sounds like a whole marching band by our tent. Our first thought is that some of the teenagers who passed us earlier in the day are playing tricks on us now, but doesn’t seem to be in line with the Indonesian attitude. The noise continues as we lay there, wondering what to do. We eventually crawl out of our tent to gaze over at the rest stop, where lo and behold, there is an actual marching band. It’s the local school band, and this is where they practice on Sunday nights, far enough from the town to avoid disturbing anyone.
We can’t sleep, so we wander over to the rest area to get a cup of hot tea and watch the band practice. There are about a dozen people here watching the practice, some parents and friends who came up to show support, give someone with an instrument a ride, or just to hang out on a Sunday night. It’s surprisingly similar to watching high-school band practice in the U.S.—the students work on marching in time with a senior student up front correcting them. They work on getting the timing of the piece right. The music starts strong and polished as they cover the most practiced parts, and then no, that’s a little too fast: start over. The only difference is that we’re at an open-air rest stop in the middle of a tropical island, and some kids less than half our age have started a small fire—a common Indonesian pastime.
A group of curious guys catches sight of us and starts to ask us questions. They don’t know English and we don’t know Indonesian, so Google is our interpreter. They ask us where we come from and what we’re doing out here, and we tell them about our travels and our hike toward Bromo. One asks where we’re sleeping and we point out into the murky darkness at our barely-visible tent. With each answer we give him, he responds with an ever increasing pitch of “oohhhhhhh!” as if he were a kettle coming to a boil. I wonder if at some point his excitement will launch him from the ground with enough acceleration to reach escape velocity.
Band practice winds down around 23:00 and the students slowly disperse, loading into trucks with their flags and drums or climbing onto precariously balanced ojeks with their instruments and speeding off into the night. We’re getting drowsy too, so it’s time to head back to our tent. Goodnight Ponco Kusumo rest stop. Goodnight Gubugklakah. Goodnight Indonesia.
UPDATE: Here’s a map of our full route from Tumpang to Bromo.