Moon Rock Atmosphere

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Nestled in East Java’s region are Mount Bromo and Ijen Crater: two natural wonders that don’t demand high levels of fitness, yet promise a soulful experience – the perfect destination for the novice hiker.

By Thompson Wong

East Java is where city-worn travellers flock to lose themselves in nature. Everyone who has hiked in Indonesia will gush about the beautiful views. Or the fresh air. Or the rewarding sense of achievement after scaling a mountain. But no one will ever share the real downside: awakening at hours that were simply not designed for humans to be conscious, much less exercising.

For Kawah Ijen volcano, be clothed and ready to go at 12.30am. The crater is known for its startlingly blue flames that are best visible in the dead of night.

According to National Geographic, the glow is the result of the combustion of sulfuric gases. Those gases emerge from volcano cracks at temperatures reaching 600°C. When they come in contact with the air, they ignite, sending flames up to five metres high.

Despite the blue flames, the actual hiking weather is more chilly. Jackets and windbreakers will be helpful as temperatures plunge to sub-20°C when night falls.

Hike two hours to reach the crater rim, then spend another hour down to the bank of the crater. Most hikers aim to reach the bank by 3 to 4am. As you get nearer to the flames, everyone will begin donning gas masks for protection from the harmful fumes.

It is not uncommon to see miners bearing sulfur-laden baskets on their backs trudging alongside hikers. It is backbreaking work – and heartbreaking too, as they are rewarded for the risky work with approximately 140,000 rupiah (SGD 14) for carrying 70kg of sulfur twice a day. The only merciful thing one can do is to scamper out of their way as they pass.

When the sun finally rises and the winds blow in the correct direction, the magnificent turquoise sulphur lake nestled at the crater’s foot emerges.

Mount Bromo’s caldera is the main star of East Java – and also one of the easiest mountains to ascend. The mountain actually has steps built from the foot to the summit!

Set off at the thankfully saner hours of 3.30 to 4am (not kidding) and head to King Kong Hill for the sunrise. The lookouts here are well spaced out – but it gets really cold. In our experience, the weather is cooler than Kawah Ijen, so layer up with long johns and warm jackets.

Enterprising children will peddle woollen hats, gloves and scarves, but the cool weather only lasts for several hours in the morning, so there’s no real need to purchase them.

Dawn is the perfect time to snap those magic hour shots and begin making your way to the foot of the summit. Bromo’s base stretches for miles and miles, and the sandy desert-like environment makes for a Mad Max feel. If you angle your shots well, the wasteland National Geographic photos arrive effortlessly.

Horses are available for rent – this is completely up to your discretion. After seeing some handlers treating their animals poorly, we decided to walk on foot instead.

The one thing about Bromo that no one talks about is the volcanic dust spewed into the air – yes, Bromo is an active volcano and you’ll feel the fine particles drifting onto your hair, clothes, face and shoes. Wear comfortable gear and beat them down later.

These scenic trips to East Java don’t take up much time, and they help in reframing city minds. The essentials remain: to lose oneself and see the world anew. All you have to do is be willing to show up.

All photos shot on iPhone 5S/6.


Note: A tour agency is recommended to sort all logistics, including accommodation, transportation and guides. Tipping is at own expense. This tour was booked with Evon (WhatsApp: +62 821 3999 1150) and is not a sponsored post. The writer is not linked to the tour agency in any way.

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