Lost for words.......
10.08.2010 - 11.08.2010 2 °C
I have really been looking forward to telling you about this great adventure. Trekking up to the crater of an active volcano in Indonesia gave some unforgettable moments in my life. It was maybe a bit crazy to do this as a two day trip from Bali, after all it was a whole day of travelling by ferry and road and Bali does have its own volcanoes. I had a few days to spare though before I was to meet Scott for a holiday and managed to get a good deal on a guide as there was a trainee guide wanting to join us. So, lucky me, I had two Balinese tour guides to myself, Jiji the driver and Bandi the apprentice, and they really looked after me, I was completely spoilt Turns out it was Bandi’s first trip to Bromo, his first time in Java, and the first time he had ever left the island of Bali, blimey!
From the moment we left Kuta beach, i felt so differently about Bali. Away from the tourist razzmatazz this island has something unique and special, even magical. We followed the coastline Northwards for about 2 hours up to the port of Gilimanuk for catching the ferry to Java. To the right of us, the most amazing scenery of bright green rice fields surrounded by mountains and to the left of us beach after beach, some with pretty mean looking waves. Absolutely stunning. We drove through village after village, Balinese people in traditional dress, beautiful hindu temples, the smell of incense coming into the car. So different to anywhere else i had been in SE Asia, felt like another world altogether. Just before the ferry port, we stopped in a kind of layby with a temple in it. Jiji asked me to wait in the car while they went to pray before leaving the island. Java, and the rest of Indonesia, is predominantly muslim and not so easy to find hindu temples for daily prayer. I sat in the car and watched other devotees pull into the layby, some bearing offerings to the gods, a small square leaf tray containing incense, flowers, biscuits and rice, or some fruit. The guys returned to the car after prayer with flowers behind their ears and rice on their forehead. This reminded me of when i was blessed in a hindu temple in india last year. A couple of policemen returned to their squad car beside us and they too had flowers in their hair and the rice.
Then a not so nice side of Bali became apparent as we arrived at the ferry dock. We were stopped by a security guard who chatted to Jiji for a while before he handed him some money. When i asked what that was for, Jiji explained that the guard wanted to check the car, check our luggage for anything that should not be there. Emmm so why give him money? ‘well we would have been here ages if he had searched us so best just to give the guard a little incentive to over look us!’ Seems this is the way things roll here in Indonesia, corruption is everywhere! Jiji had actually been working at the tour office in Kuta beach on the night of the Bali bombings in 2002, and told me some horrific accounts of that night, where some of his close friends tragically died. The bombers brought the bombs into Bali via the Gilimanuk ferry port apparently so I was shocked that security was so overlooked in favour of a quick buck.
A pleasant ride on the ferry brought us to the dock on the Java side where some boys swimming in the sea caught my attention. Jiji threw them a 500 rupiah coin and one of them dived quite a way under the water to catch it. This was quite impressive so I threw them a couple too! After a six hour white-knuckle car journey (they are CRAAAAAAAAAAZY drivers here, i couldn’t bear to look a lot of the time!) we arrived just before sunset to a little village where we needed to find somewhere to stay for the night. We had driven quite a way up into the mountains, I could feel this as my ears were popping a lot. I wasn’t quite prepared though for how cold it was up there. Around 4 degrees, after the heat of Bali this felt pretty harsh. Being peak tourist season in Indonesia we completely lucked out on accommodation. After walking around for an hour or so, the only place with rooms was beyond basic, but I guess I was pretty used to that now, good job really ;-) Thin mattress with minimal bedding, no heating, blimmin freezing, a trek to the outside shared ‘facilities’, a dirty squat toilet. I cleaned my teeth outside using a bottle of water and I went to bed wearing several layers of clothing. My room was up a steep hill and Jiji offered to drive up the hill so i didn’t have to carry my luggage. Wouldn’t have bothered me but as I said, these guys were completely spoiling me, making sure i didn’t lift a finger! Unfortunately i ended up carrying my bag anyway as Jiji managed to reverse the car into a ditch and had to be towed out! Don’t really know how he managed that one but was very funny anyway!
Beep beep beep, alarm goes off, what the hell, its dark, yikes its freeeeeeezin, what country am i in? Oh yeah i remember now, up for the trek, IT’S 3AM!!!!! Bleuuugghhhhhhhhhhh feel like crap.. Knock at my door, assumed it was my wake up call from the guys but it was someone asking if i wanted to hire a coat! Presumably they had been waiting outside to pounce as soon as lights came on. There was a strong stench of volcanic sulphur as i opened the door. I had three visits asking if i wanted to borrow a coat before Jiji turned up, wrapped in a huge blanket, teeth chattering, ‘time to go’.... The guys had organised everything, I just had to get dressed and get into our waiting jeep. First stop was a viewpoint where we were to watch the sun rise over Mount Bromo. Pitch black when we got up there, cold cold and black. Quite a few other tourists, just one or two! I squeezed through the middle of a French couple to stake my spot right at the front. I’m quite good at this kind of thing after all the practise I have getting to the front at gigs doing my best not to piss people off. Still dark, shivering cold, can just make out a blanket of cloud and the shape of some mountains. A bit more light now, just a little, waiting above the cotton wool clouds, can see some smoke coming out of the volcano now, the tiny lights from a little town way down somewhere miles away, mountains further away. The sun rises from behind these mountains and what a special feeling, surreal, inspiring, how do i describe this one? The landscape looks like the moon or something, the sunlight bathes my face, I feel like I am floating above those clouds, I am 5 months into my solo round the world dream, I am really doing it, I feel so free. My thoughts turn to loved ones who I would have given anything to share these moments, I feel alive...... Quite emotional, i wasn’t really prepared to feel like this.
I didn’t really care about it being so early morning and so cold anymore, I was buzzing on a natural high. The jeep took us to another viewpoint for more photos before driving us through a field of volcanic ash to the base of the Mount Bromo crater. The guys had arranged for a pony to take us part of the way up the crater. Haven’t ridden a pony since on a beach in Margate as a child and certainly never going up an active volcano above the clouds! It was actually quite scary as the ponies were only small and the trek quite steep. Felt a few times like i was going to fall off but thankfully we made it safely to another base where the last ascent would be done on foot up 200 or so steps to the actual crater. Easier said than done at this altitude, I felt a bit out of breath doing that climb and I thought I was fit! I certainly wasn’t the worse though, Bandi, young lad must have been at least 10 years younger than me had to keep stopping and there was a girl completely passed out on the steps going up! I left Bandi at the top of the steps right above the crater, smoke billowing out, while I carried on all the way to the top. I scrambled up some rocks and ash and felt quite pleased to make it right to the tip of the crater. At the mercy of nature, if anything came out of the crater now I would be f*cked! Coming down was even more tricky, feeling like the pony was losing its footing, but we made it safely back to the base village for breakfast. I couldn’t really believe what i had just done and experienced, complete exhilaration.
We had that lovely long drive back to Java and across in the car ferry. On the way, Jiji received a phonecall from his wife saying that his aunt had been taken to hospital in Bali with suspected dengue fever. I had already arranged with them to drop me back in the town of Ubud on the way back, really didn’t fancy going back to Kuta beach. Jiji asked if i minded if we picked up some of his family in a village in north Bali on the way before dropping me off in Ubud. No problem atall, and this also meant i saw even more of this beautiful island and an invite into the family home for a cup of Balinese coffee (very very potent stuff!) The real Bali. By the time we left Jiji’s home it was getting dark. We passed through a village and there was some kind of religious festival going on, locals in traditional costume, ladies with fruit piled on their heads as offerings to the gods. They told me this was very common in Bali. What was not so common was to see a cremation ceremony in one of the villages during the hours of darkness, a brief glimpse from the car, but there it was. By the time we arrived into Ubud and the guys made sure i had somewhere to stay, we had got to know each other really well, I had really enjoyed their company. Thankfully, it turns out Jiji’s aunty was OK after all. An incredible but intense couple of days. Just about ready for a holiday now I think .....