Bromo: The road less taken

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For those of you that are exploring Indonesia or interested in taking a trip there a must visit site is Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park. In our previous article “Getting to Bromo on the cheap” we talked about the natural beauty of the park as well as how to visit the park with a small budget and while avoiding the majority of other tourists. However what we didn’t tell you is what you have to expect on the way, as riding your motorbike there is not a piece of cake. In saving money and getting off the well trodden path a little adventure is to be expected. If you haven’t read our previous article please read it here first:

Semeru over Bromo
Mount Semeru, another attraction of the park

Getting out of Malang isn’t the most challenging part of the trip, even though the ordinary chaos of maneuvering through Indonesian traffic can be tricky. If you make it alive, well congratulations, you’re just a step away from the beauty of Bromo, though we didn’t mention the height of the step...

Following our magnificent hand-drawn map we headed towards a town called Ngadas to find the park entrance. On the way we passed a small city called Tumpang where we stopped to fill up our tank as beyond this point there are no more gas stations only the pricier gas sold in plastic jugs or bottles on the side of the road.

Ngadas village
View from the entrance of the park in Ngadas
So we arrived in the small village of Ngadas after a few heart-racing moments forcing the little city bike up the rocky, dirt path avoiding potholes and the random chicken. There we saw a small house which seemed to be the ticket office, a small shed made out of tin with a guy sleeping in a hammock inside. So as usual we tried to pass it like we were locals, but the big white guy with an orange jacket and the curly haired girl behind him didn’t exactly blend in with the Indonesian landscape. That’s when a park ranger popped out of nowhere asking us to pay what was owed to whoever will put this money in his pocket, since it doesn’t seem that the money is used to help the community nor to improve road conditions.

The ticket to paradise costs 70,000 rupiah per person, roughly $7, or around 50 cents for local tourists. When you are traveling with limited funds a fee such as that can really hurt your budget. So as we usually do, we put on a big smile, pulled out our expired student cards saying we were students and with our limited Indonesian managed to ask for the student discount. A hand shake and a silent “you damn cheap tourists!” later and his majesty, landlord ranger of the national park, let us pass with our special half price tickets!

We continued on the same half paved half where-did-it-go road for a while, mesmerized by the beauty of the mountains, volcanoes and river surrounding us until we finally arrived to a viewpoint. A vast savanna lies right below, a river flowing through the middle, a lush green plateau encircling it, and Mount Bromo standing firmly in the distance. The view here is astonishing and the shadows of clouds over the yellowish vegetation will have you staring in wonder at the absolute beauty of the place. The best part is that other tourists don’t get to experience this jaw dropping site because they simply come from Probolinggo which is on the other side of the park.

Bromo savanna
The savanna hidden behind Mt. Bromo
A few hundred pictures later, we were heading to the savanna that we thought we had to cross to get to Cemoro Lawang, our final destination, when we saw a sign pointing in another direction. Confused and with noone around to ask to, we went in the direction the sign indicated. Remember when we said the map we had could have been drawn by a 6 year old? Reading the map we figured that the big black lines meant big roads so after checking the map it felt right to go in that direction only to discover after almost two hours of descending through the jungle on a rocky road that we were lost and were no longer even on the map. Any logical person probably would have turned back when crossing a dark jungle with no roads and nobody in sight but we but we never turn down a chance at a new adventure. The motorbike on the other hand was not liking this adventure and was struggling with each turn of the gas.

Aurelien in the savanna
Descending into the savanna
Finally back to the same crossroad we realized the sign had been bent, probably by a kid with an evil laugh imagine the dumb foreigners lost on a wild goose chase. After angrily yelling at the innocent sign and cursing he who wished this evil upon us, we finally descended into to the savanna the brilliant sun lowering dangerously in front of us, the plateau and volcanoes surrounding us.

Jacqueline in the savanna
Riding in the sand
Have you ever watched the movie Mad Max ? Do you think it is a bright idea to drive an urban Japanese motorbike into dunes of sand ? We didn’t see from the distance that the whole area was covered in sand and attempting to maneuver the bike through the sand dunes was not an easy task. We looked longingly at the dirt bikes jumping and zooming past us through we struggled to keep the bike upright, and continually getting off and pushing when the bike was stuck. The beauty of the landscape and the harshness of the drive were challenging each other to win over our emotions.

Jeep in the sandsea
Wish we had one of these
Exhausted, sweaty, covered with dirt we finally arrived to Cemoro Lawang and as reward for all the hard work put into the journey, we could see the sun setting over Mount Bromo and the Sea of the Sand, as we later learned it was called. Hoards of locals kept flocking us and asking us if we needed an accommodation for the night and most of them wanted around 200,000 rupiah for the night, $20. They must have not read our blog. We drove to the edge of the village and found a friendly old man who gave us a quaint little room for 75,000 rupiah. Score!

Cheap hotel in Cemoro
Our hotel in Cemoro Lawang
After a well-earned night of sleep, we woke up early and visited the main part of the national park. We followed the typical tour itinerary which we easily found online, only instead of waking up at 4am, we woke up at 6am and thus were able to enjoy most of the following alone without the hundreds of other tourists. First we took our motor bike back through the god forsaken sea of sand to visit the Tengger crater next to Mount Bromo. We hiked up to the rim of the crater looking down into the boiling water below and admiring the view of Mount Bromo right beside it. Next, we went to the famous viewpoint of Mount Penanjakan. This is the famous post card view that most will see when looking for pictures of the national park. While there we met a nice group of Indonesian army guys working on a project there, and had a fun time attempting to communicate and taking pictures together. There are many more things to do in the park but we only had one day and didn’t want to rush.

A few pictures from our trip:

Army in Penanjakan
Our army friends 
View over Bromo
The postcard view from Mt. Penanjakan
Top of Tengger
The Tengger crater
Sandsea in Bromo
The sea of sand and Cemoro Lawang

Would you have tried the same off-the-beaten-track route or just taken the less complicated tour? Do you think it was worth the trouble?

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