Skakavitza Waterfall Hike

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With visiting the relatives complete, Stoytcho and I took  a couple of days’ retreat in the Rila Mountain Range for some outdoorsing. It has been a singular sorrow to be cooped up in the car, passing so many beautiful slopes and potential trails to the unknown here in Bulgaria. As a remedy, we booked a lovely room at the Hotel Borovets for the off-season nightly price of 58 lev (~$35 USD, including breakfast!), and for a stunning 10 lev (~$6 USD) they packed us daily lunch as well. Their lutenitsa was delicious.

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Totally NOT Skakavitsa Falls, but another waterfall along the trail.

Our first hike was at Skakavitsa Falls. Despite gorgeous weather the last two weeks, summer decided to flee on the days of our hike! We hiked in light mist and clouds, but the trails were still beautiful. Photos and map below of the rainy wonderland.

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A wild rose along the trail.

If you’re looking to hike Skakavitsa, be warned that in 2018 the signs were still all in Cyrillic. From the trailhead follow the red trail up to the hut/inn, then continue in the same direction. Do not go left, despite the open fields and better-marked trail — this goes to Rila Lakes and is a day-long affair. Stoytcho and I started on this trail before realizing we had passed the falls and had to double-back.

Map:

A photographic taste of the trail:

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Trail information at the trailhead.
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Follow the red trail markers.
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Other hikers along the trail.
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A wild allium flower.
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A waterfall along the trail.
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Dewspun spider web along the trail.
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The forest along the trail.
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An abandoned electrical building along the trail.
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The hut/house at the trail fork. When you get to the picnic trail after this, keep going in the same direction; don’t go left.
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Don’t take this trail; it doesn’t go to Skakavitsa Falls.
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An odd flower or bud.
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If you get here, you’re definitely on the wrong track. This trail leads to the Rila Lakes and it’s pretty far.
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The cost of taking a wrong turn. Everything is so wet!
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Special effects without editing: fog inside your camera lens.
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Back on the right trail, heading toward Skakavitsa.
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Skakavitsa Falls! Currently hardly a trickle and obscured by mist.
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Wild violet.

 

Hungary Hike

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Cornfields in Pilisborosjenő.

In our brief time in Budapest, I’ve somehow found a nearby hike and gotten us on a bus to an area nearby where we can supposedly pick up the trail. We’re dropped off by the side of the road, where the whirlwind from passing cars buffets us every few seconds as we hike up to the trailhead. Then it’s through the woods, into the village of Pilisborosjenő, and up the hill to the summit Nagy-Kevély. It’s a gorgeous, hot day at the end of summer and we’re not letting it go to waste.

Want to do the hike yourself? Budapest Hikers have some details on their website about the Pilisborosjenő hike, including some instructions on how to get there by bus that are slightly different from ours. Our hike is delineated on the map below and started at Bus Stop Solymár, téglagyári bekötőút:

What did we find on our hike during this beautiful summer day? Well…

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Cars and trucks pass us at high speeds near the trail entrance.
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Snails wait out the heat of the day.
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A beetle struggles to stay upright. There were dozens of these beetles along the trail, all struggling to walk or on their backs with their feet in the air. I’m not sure if it’s just because it’s the season’s end or some kind of chemical/disease exposure.
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Strange squat sentinels sit along the trail. What are they for?
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An interesting seed hanging from a vine.
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Ants excitedly scuttle around a sticky puddle on the surface of a mushroom.
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Probably a wild Pink (Dianthus)
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Wild Chicory flowers; the plant can be used as coffee substitute, and is also where your endives and radicchio come from.
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Wild Barberis (barberries) growing from a bush.
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The Camel Rocks, a climb-able limestone/sandstone formation.
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An odd tuft growing on a wild rosebush. I’m guessing it’s some kind of parasite. Oh, I’m right; it’s a wasp larva home.
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A European Green Lizard (Lacerta viridis), now reddish-brown at the end of mating season.
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A shallow cave in the cliff.
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A view from near the top of the hill.
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A stamp near the top of the hike! BYO stamp pad, though.
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Stoytcho at the summit.
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Another wildflower, possibly a variety of Spotted Knapweed (Centauria maculosa).
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Hmm, I don’t think so.
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A European Green Lizard, still green for mating season.

Lahemaa National Park

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The view when we got off at the Loksa Tee bus stop.

We don’t have a car in Tallinn, but we managed to use the local bus system to get to Lahemaa National Park for a five-hour hike through boreal forest and bog. It was gorgeous (see below), filled with fantastic wildlife and tons of edible blueberries that yes, you’re allowed to collect. It seems like Estonians view the land through a practical lens, and the mantra of “don’t take more than you need and it’s fine” is the rule here. That being said, DON’T eat anything unless you can positively identify it.

If you’re looking to do the same hike, use Google Maps to find public transit directions to the stop “Loksa Tee” pictured below. The hike will start just east of the bus stop:

Now, motivation for you to go:

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Wood planks form a narrow trail through the wetter, boggier parts of the hike.
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A European Peacock butterfly (Aglais io) perches on purple heather (Calluna) – we last saw this in New Zealand, where it was invasive.
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The little mushroom that could #1.
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The little mushroom that could #2.
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A dense bed of lichens (light yellow) grow on the forest floor here in Lahemaa.
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What I suspect are cowberries, but I wasn’t sure so I didn’t eat any of them.
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An interesting leather-like foliose lichens grows among moss on the forest floor.
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Be yourself, tree. Be yourself.
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Putative chanterelles. We encountered a few women in the park collecting ‘gribui’, or mushrooms, mostly of the chanterelle variety.
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A resting point along the path. You can supposedly take this trail all the way to the sea, but that’s several days of hiking.
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A patch of mushrooms among the moss and decaying pine needles.
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An Alder Moth caterpllar (Acronicta alni) munches on summer’s bounty.
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Fresh wild blueberries hide among the foliage. They’re delicious.
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A salticid in a patch of grass.
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Pine trees grow at the edge of a bog pool. The water here takes on a dark brown hue due to tannins seeping out of the dead plant material beneath. The same thing happens in your tea.
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A lone tree grows on an island in the bog.
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Fruticose lichens growing on the forest floor.
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A polypore fruiting body grows from a fallen tree.
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The color of moss.
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The caterpillar of an Emperor Moth (Saturnia) hangs out between planks along the trail.
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Lengthening shadows in the forest.

And just for you, here’s a panoramic shot – click through to enlarge:

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Made possible by Google Photos.

Bugs of Russian Summer

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A long-horned beetle (maybe Agpanthia villosoviridescens) crawls around on flower buds near the shore of Lake Baikal.

It’s winter here in present-day Boston, and working my way through these Russian summer photos is a unique form of torture for someone who’s never fully adjusted to winter being a season. It looks so warm and sunny and bright in the photos, and it’s so gray and cold outside. Augh. While I was busy longing for the eternal summers in our photos, I thought I’d put together a post of all the various Russian bugs we saw. I did one for Stolby Nature Preserve already, so this will be everything else. Now you can long for summer right along with me, or if you don’t like bugs, be grateful that summer is still a ways away.

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A salticid waves hello from its perch on my finger, Ulan-Ude.
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A large black ant rests while foraging, Ulan-Ude.
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A grasshopper hides under the embellishments of an ornately-carved door at the Outdoor Ethnographic Museum, Ulan-Ude.
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A salticid perches atop a wooden beam at the Outdoor Ethnographic Museum in Ulan-Ude.
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A ladybug (perhaps Cocinella magnifica) on the shores of Lake Baikal.
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Two scarce large blues (Phengaris teleius) mate on a legume flower near Lake Baikal.
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Two long-horned beetles mate on a bed of flowers near Lake Baikal.
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A bee beetle (Trichius fasciatus) climbing on flower buds along the shores of Baikal.
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A brilliantly-colored crustacean shell, cast away by its owner on the shores of Lake Baikal.
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Half of a beetle shell, maybe from Cetonia magnifica, from along the shores of Baikal.
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A salticid found a park in Ulan-Ude.
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A Scallop Shell Moth (Rheumaptera undulata) rests on a window in St. Petersburg.
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A checkered blue butterfly (Scolitantides orion) rests on a granite step in Ulan-Ude.
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A horsefly perches on a wooden post at the Outdoor Ethnographic Museum, Ulan-Ude.
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A water snail slides over the reeds of a local pond in the countryside just beyond of Moscow.

Tokyo’s Seaside

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A small Japanese ferry boat.

If you look at Tokyo on a map, especially from a bit further out, you might notice that Tokyo seems to have a bit of oceanside real estate to the south and east. You wouldn’t be wrong, but most of the water found near the center of Tokyo is taken up by the harbor and is, like most harbors, not great for swimming. To get to a usable, quiet beach, you would have to go quite a ways out, which is what we did. About an hour and a half of rail got us to the village of Kurihama, and a bit more of bus and walk got us to the beach of Tomyozaki.

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What a small town looks like on the shore of Japan.

As far as contrasts go, there are few bigger than that of city and countryside. Japan follows the pattern mostly in terms of building height, density, and noise. Outside of Tokyo and other large cities, it is quiet. Very quiet. The cleanliness, safety, and convenience of the city continue while the rest fades away, leaving only a calm, clean, and modern town.

One of the more interesting things we saw along the walk was this ferry.
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It had heard this lady and went back to get her so she wouldn’t have to wait for the next trip!

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The view out onto the water was as serene as could be. Though there had been a small harbor earlier along the walk, it was around the bend and back quiet a ways, fairly out of sight and sound.
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We saw a few jellyfish swimming but most of our sightings were on land, quiet dead. The beach was incredibly clean, contrasted for us even further by having just come from Indonesia.
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Tile and beach glass were to be found all over the beach. I felt there must have been a tile factory somewhere nearby, or maybe a ship had spilled a pile of it sometime ago. Either way, we gathered a good sized pile.
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As we walked we collected more beach glass.
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On the way back we saw a very cool insect, one of Natalie’s favorites. I thought it was an ant.
IMG_4177 But it was not an ant! It was our old friend the jumping spider, disguised as an ant. If you look closely you can see the differently colored legs and the tapered body. At even a pretty close distance it fooled me, and apparently it does well enough to fool ants. An amazing creature! IMG_4193
Our walk back down the side-road from the beach to the main road where we would wait for a bus.
IMG_4197 A hotel at dusk. It was one of the few large buildings in the area. IMG_4210
As we waited to go home a raven started hopping between some nearby buildings.

It’s definitely a day’s excursion from Tokyo to go to the seaside, and to get to swim you have to go even further. One of the major downsides of living in a sprawling megacity is that all the land nearby must be specially preserved or else it will be put to use serving that city and its residents. Japan solves the problem of getting people out of the city through its amazingly ontime and superfast rail system, which we explore next!

Taipei Natural Parks

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A translucent white mushroom grows from a mossy branch, surrounded by small black earth tongues (Geoglossaceae).

One unexpected part of Taiwan has been its natural beauty, for beyond Taipei lie vast parks that make up around ten percent of the island’s landmass. From thick jungles to sweeping shorelines, Taiwan’s natural beauty is both unexpected and unexpectedly easy to reach, thanks to the extensive public transit system. Though we did not stray far beyond Taipei, we managed to visit two different parks in our time there. Here’s our experience at each:

Yehliu Geopark

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People crowd the paved walkways in Yehliu Geopark.

People. So many people. This park is easy to get to by bus from Taipei and gets incredibly packed, so show up early or on a day most people have work. There isn’t much hiking to do around here, but the guided walk out to the peninsula takes you past fantastical stone formations in the shape of candles, mushrooms, and human heads. The top of the hill has a lovely view of the park and the surrounding sea, but take care in the path you choose: some paths down lead to barricaded areas, and the less trod are incredibly slippery and overgrown.

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“The Octopus” stone formation, besides some “candle” stone formations. All of the formations are formed naturally by erosion, without the touch of human hands.
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A life ring at the park. This area is prone to rogue waves during monsoon season.
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People wandering among the rock formations.
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DON’T BE THIS GUY: human touch speeds the eroding process and does damage.
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Smalls succulent plants grow in a dirt-filled hole on one of the rock formations.
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Waves breaky on the rocky shoreline at the end of the peninsula.
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A poorly-kept, slippery path to nowhere.
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A dew-dropped ladybug.
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People stand on a bridge over rock formations in the park.

Mt. Qixing

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The slippery, stair-filled path up to the peak of Mt. Qixing.

Also accessible by bus from Taipei, this is where you go for a real hike. Mt. Qixing Park has dozens of trails that would take days to hike, and the tropical weather of Taiwan nurtures thick forests full of insects, lizards, and small rodents. Most hiking trails here are stone and involve an insane amount of stairs, so bring walking sticks and watch your step in the slippery rain. The Lengshuikeng Hot Spring Bath is open to the public and is a great place to soak after a hike, but has limited hours (see below) and is closed on the last Monday of each month. The foot bath in front of it is always open, though, so you can always soak your feet alongside a dozen other weary hikers.

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A mysterious round structure hides in the foliage.
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A tree lizard, possibly from the genus Japalura.
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A dew-jeweled caterpillar (probably of Lemyra) makes its away across the edge of a bench.
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A stream flows between an ocean of grasses and shrubs.
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A small, decorated land snail (I’m guessing Aegista mackensii) inches by.
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The Lengshuikeng Hot Spring working hours. Guess what day we were here! (It was the last Monday of the month. Sad times).
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We soak our feet with other hikers.
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A waterfall at the end of our hike.
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An ant-mimic jumping spider (Salticidae, probably a female of Myrmarachne sp.).

The Tengger Massif

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The southern valley of the Tengger Massif, with volcanic cones rising on the left. The massif is the remnant of an ancient volcanic caldera more than three miles across.

The Tengger Massif is endlessly photographable, one of those surreal experiences that you’d more ascribe to a high-budget movie or video game than a real place. It’s a massive crater more than three miles across, the remnants of a volcanic explosion millions of years ago. The west side of the crater is a vast, living prairie: grasses ripple in the gentle wind under drifting sea of clouds. To the north lies the volcano Bromo, carrying the torch of Tengger’s volcanic legacy with a low, continuous roar as it sends thick billows of noxious gas skyward. And to the east lies the sandsea, a desert devoid of life except for a few patches of grass eking out an existence on a barren landscape of sand and dust.

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Prairie grasses sway in the wind on the caldera floor, while new volcanic cones rise behind.

 

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Wildflowers bloom in the prairie of the caldera floor.

 

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A foot and vehicle track winding along the caldera floor, between newer volcanic cones (right) and the steep caldera wall (left)

 

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Young lovers.

 

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A shrine to the volcano gods on the caldera floor.

 

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Offerings of food and flowers on a shrine to the volcano gods.

 

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The near-vertical wall of the caldera crater.

 

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A woman harvests grasses along the road, near the edge of the sandsea.

 

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This shrine marks the end of the prairie and the beginning of the Bromo sandsea.

 

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Stoytcho stands in the Bromo sandsea. Mist and fog often limit visibility in this part of the caldera.

 

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An ojek (motorbike) approaches us in the distance.

 

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Locals passing in opposite directions stop for a chat.

 

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An instant noodles cup abandoned in the sandsea, with volcanoes Bromo and Batok in the background.

 

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The guideposts to Cemoro Lawang, at the eastern edge of the Bromo sandsea.

 

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Mount Bromo (left) pictured beside Mount Batok (right). Mount Batok is the only volcano in the park that is not currently active, and greenery has taken root on its sides.

 

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A dust devil forms on the Bromo sandsea between Bromo and Batok, in front of the Pura Luhur Poten Temple.

 

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A view of the sandsea and Pura Luhur Poten Temple as seen from Bromo.