Last September, my partner and I decided to go on a rather unconventional trip. We booked a flight to East Java, Surabaya, with the intention to catch a glimpse of the sunrise at Mt. Bromo – little did we know that we were in for much for than we bargained for.
We walked away from this trip with a whole new regard for hikers and mountain dwellers and even had an opportunity to swim at the foot of a breath-taking waterfall.
This post is for independent travelers who plan to visit Mt. Bromo on an average budget. If you’re scared of not having a tour guide or if you need to be chauffeured around when the going gets tough, then you’re at the wrong page.
I’m a huge coward myself and I had no idea what my cheeky partner had planned so I found myself frightened out of my wits and tired to the bones throughout the trip. Nevertheless, I cannot deny that it was an enriching experience that I never imagined I was capable of going through – given the fact that I’m the kind of girl who usually travels only for shopping and typical sightseeing that doesn’t involve any element of danger.
1. Book a budget flight to Surabaya
We booked a one-way flight to Surabaya as we planned to fly to Bali after the Surabaya trip. Booking a one-way trip should cost you about SGD 80 one way via budget airlines (we took Tiger Airways)
2. Book accommodation at Mt. Bromo
Do not go to Surabaya without having already booked your accommodation. We met many lost and confused backpackers at Bromo who had not done their homework for their lodging and ended up staying at areas way too far away from Mt. Bromo and, well, when this happens, the locals will take advantage of the situation by offering you their driving services which is an unnecessary waste of money if you had planned your lodging wisely.
We booked our lodging at Cafe Lava Hostel which, in my opinion, was perfect. It definitely wasn’t your 4 or 5 star hotel kind of environment, but it nicely captured the essence of backpacking on a foreign mountain far far away – quite magical. The room was very brown as everything was mostly made of wood, and the tv was broken (we didn’t bother making a fuss out of it – who goes to the mountain to watch tv, anyway?) but we had a ball of a time pretending to be authentic mountain dwellers. On a practical note, Cafe Lava is walking distance to all the other hotels which means that food is easily accessible. Price wise, it costs about IDR 400 000 (SGD 43.00) per night. We booked Cafe Lava for 2 nights.
3. Arrival at Junda Airport
Everything will be chaotic, and well – foreign, naturally. There will be a swarm of touts coming up to you to offer their tour services, but do not pay them any attention. As an independent traveler, you need to master the art of ‘the poker face’. Walk straight out to the front road of the airport (whilst maintaining your poker face), look for a DAMRI shuttle bus to the main bus station (Bungarasih Bus Terminal) You will have to pay IDR20 000 (~SGD 2.10) for a 15-20 min bus ride.
4. Bungarasih Bus Terminal
Here you will need to catch a public bus to Probolinggo. This bus terminal was definitely the scariest bus terminal I’ve been at in my life – so crowded, everyone is at your face trying to sell you something, they follow you everywhere, native clamour is astounding. Don’t fret, don’t show you’re afraid, just put on your Poker Face again. You have to walk pass plenty of food and other stalls, find your way through the other end of the terminal where all the buses are waiting at. Ask around to find out which of the buses go to Probolinggo. We didn’t see proper signages around so that was the only way. Once you board the bus, a countless number of local sellers will start streaming in and dropping random items on your lap which you can determine whether you would like to purchase or not.. they will make another round to collect the item from your lap if you’re not interested in buying in. The bus conductor will then come by your seat to collect about IDR 30 000 (SGD 3) and then issue you a bus ticket. Once the bus moves off, the local sellers will get out of the bus and thankfully, your 3 hour journey on this bus will be somewhat peaceful.
Try to plan your itinerary in such a manner that you arrive at Probolinggo no later than 4pm – you want to get to bromo ASAP before its too dark and you don’t have time to rest before the hike. Once you alight, walk straight to the main road and turn left. Keep walking straight ahead and you will see a few mini buses parked at the main road. There will probably be many other backpackers standing around too. The mini buses are parked just infront of a couple of food and fruit stalls so if you need to grab a drink or a bite, here would be ideal. The driver will wait for a minimum of 10-11 people to fill up the mini bus before he agrees to go. The ride will cost you roughly IDR 30 000 (SGD 3) depending on the number of people in the bus, the more people, the less you pay as the cost of one bus is IDR 450 0000. The bus will stop you right at the door step of your lodging. The entire ride will be about 1.5 hours.
6. 3 AM hike up Mt Penanjakan to catch the sunrise overlooking Mt. Bromo
This was the scariest sh*t I did in my life. It didn’t help that my hand-held torchlight was so dim that it hardly provided any form of decent light. Thankfully, my partner’s torchlight was working well. I also had my miserable little head light which well, shone a tiny spotlight wherever I went. I knew that my partner had been looking forward to this hike for ages, so I had to suck it all up.
(Above picture taken just outside our room at Cafe Lava at 3am as we were setting off for the hike)
The route that we took started at the sandy foot path to the left of Cemara Indah Hotel which is about a 10 minutes walk from where we stayed (Cafe Lava). From there, its about a 5km hike to the first view point. Sounds easy, right?
7. Hike to Viewpoint One
Wrong. It’s pitch dark, super cold (about 5 degrees at 3am) and a fair portion of the hike was rather steep and very sandy. The pain in my feet wasn’t bugging me, but the sheer darkness of the place creeped me out. I thought the worst was over when we finally completed the 5km and arrived at Viewpoint One. Here, there were many other tourists but they are all taking the jeep. They looked so happy and calm, I really wished I could go on the jeep with them. The viewpoint was pretty lively with a little stall selling hot coffee and little snacks. I had no appetite for any of that though.
8. Hike to Viewpoint Two
We continued the second half of the hike up Mt. Pananjakan which is 2706m high. This route was much steeper and uneven than the first half of the hike. For a brief moment, I imagined my lifeless, decapitated body at the foot of the mountain. I shuddered and yelled at my partner to shine some light where I struggling to climb. My new gloves tore apart as I pulled myself up rock after rock, barely managing to maintain my balance on the sandy surfaces. After about 2 hours, we were still slowly progressing and a little part of the sky was turning an orangey-red colour but by this time fear had consumed my being and I was unable to appreciate the beauty around me. The only group of hikers we met on the way up decided that the route was too dangerous and turned back. I looked at my partner with pleading eyes, but seeing him full of enthusiasm to take the less favoured road, I mentally prepared myself for death. The next 15 minutes, my mind was blank and I just thought about the possibility of teleporting myself back home in Singapore, in the warmth of my bed. My hole-y glove came right out off my right hand and fell off the steep surface that I was on, into the darkness. That was probably the last straw for me as I started tearing uncontrollably.
(Tried not to roll down while taking this shot, shortly after my one of my gloves disappeared into the darkness.)
Well, it definitely wasn’t my day to die as we finally made it to the top and my partner was beaming with joy. I could barely stutter a word. He jumped and ran around and starting taking pictures and I sat down to catch my breath. Yes, the view was beautiful, but out of spite, I couldn’t help but think that I would have enjoyed this view much better on a freaking postcard.
We took a motorcycle down, obviously. There was no way my wobbly legs could carry me any further.
Risking my life to witness a beautiful sunrise – Check.