Amidst the Sea of Sand

Aug 27, 2012 View Comments by

We were so excited!! Well, why wouldn’t we be? We had the chance to ride to and into the Bromo-Tengger Massif. This is a massive six mile wide caldera that contains the volcanic peaks of Bromo (7,847 feet) and Semeru (12,060 feet), the latter being Java’s highest mountain. These volcanoes puff away on a regular basis. The best description of the scene is volcanoes within volcanoes, rather like the Russian Matryoshka (nesting) dolls.

The road became smaller and smaller as we made our way through the rolling hills and emerald green paddy fields, all of which are set against a hazy backdrop of volcanoes. Past the small town of Nongkojajar we headed down towards the main caldera. The ‘road’, if you could call it that, continued to get worse and worse and as we approached a narrow, steep downhill section full of loose rocks and tight turns—I began to question how much fun I was having! My vertigo was playing all sorts of games with my mind!

You would think that after all these years on the road I would just be able to relax and not become fixated on the disintegrating edge of the road…an edge that crumbled away into nothingness…an edge that if you were to fall off…arghhh…There I go again!

So, regardless of the lecture I gave myself, my grip got tighter and tighter and I became more and more tired. Despite this mental inner battle, I suffered no slips or falls and at last we were on the floor of the caldera. WOW—the view! It is a lunar landscape, breathtaking. Mount Bromo rises out of the ancient Tengger caldera but it is only one of three volcanoes in the huge volcanic ash pile. Bromo has mount Kursi (8,467 feet) and Batok (8,005 feet) beside it and Bromo belches small amounts of steam and smoke. It is a spectacular place. The largest volcano, Gunung Semeru, stands guard over them all at 12,060 feet and throws up a massive belch of steam (and sometimes ash) every 30 minutes. Yep—we did time it and it’s accurate too.

We made our way through the crater taking just a little air out of our tires but obviously not enough as one thick heavy patch of volcanic powder had me off! Anyone would think I’m a bloody novice! Nah, we all had problems. Why? Because we were way too tired. Mistakes happen when you are over tired.

Our exhaustion wasn’t going to be improved at all as we were up the following morning leaving the village of Camara Lawanga at 3 a.m. in order to see the sunrise over the caldera from the volcano Penanjakan. Once there, Andy and Simon found a spot on a ledge and dangled their legs over the sheer drop waiting with cameras in hand while I, also with camera in hand, hung firmly onto one of the outlooks with a nice secure fence! Darn vertigo! No words can describe the amazingly beautiful and otherworldly scenes that unfolded as the sun’s rays turned from a brilliant orangey pink to a soft gray pink. The volcanoes took on an almost false appearance, as if they had just been painted. As the sun charged higher into the sky we made our way back to the floor of the crater, the ‘Laotian Pasir’, and began a walk across a sea of sand towards the Hindu Temple ‘Pura Luhur Poten’ which sat in a haze of dust at the bottom of Mount Bromo.

Despite me dismissing an offer of ponies (for a small fee) to take us up the slope to the foot of Bromo, saying, ‘No no! We are going to walk’, while striding off. I realized that it was, in fact, quite a long way up a fairly steep slope. Why walk when I had a few Rupiah in my pocket!? I was going to get on a horse! The guys started to laugh as they saw me pass, as I had been the one insisting on walking! I think Simon saw the funny side, however, as I slipped and swayed dangerously from side to side on this tiny little horse which had a strange, short stride. It reminded me of the small horses we saw all over the Steppes of Mongolia. In fact, the whole Laotian Pasir reminded us of Mongolia; the way the sands absorb and muffle the sounds of the animals and people travelling through. I now had the energy to stagger up the 253 steps that cut through the flanks of Mount Bromo and was able to stare into its steaming guts before vertigo took hold. I clung on to Simon for dear life but still couldn’t take my eyes off the black, gaping hole that constantly belched acrid white/gray smoke. I wonder if this is what hell looks like? I hope I never find out!

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About the author

In May 2003, we left our jobs, sold everything, and on 2 BMW motorcycles, set off to see the world. Nothing but a motorcycle can get you to the places and in touch with the people we have had the pleasure of spending time with. We’ve turned what was once a weekend hobby into a way of life that we wouldn’t trade for anything, and have no intention of ending anytime soon.