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Sunrise at the Bromo
Ubud (Indonesia), August 18th 2008

The Bromo volcano is the most famous and most visited natural tourist attraction of the Java. During the high season, hundreds of tourists arrive daily to see this spectacular volcanic landscape for themselves. Usually, we are quite sceptic about the typical highlights of a country, because tourism normally spoils much of the original charm. To see whether this is also the case for the Bromo volcano, we travelled by public transport to Cemoro Lawang. This small tourist place is the most frequently used base for exploring the area around the Bromo.

The village is not much more then two streets packed with hotels, restaurants and tour agencies. As in most tourist places, there is a clear difference between the hotels that are mentioned in the popular guide books (notably the Lonely Planet) and the hotels that aren’t so lucky. The hotels mentioned in the guidebooks are usually chock-full, while the others are happy when they can fill up a few rooms. We are going to stay in a small losmen (family-run guesthouse) at the edge of the village. The owner of the losmen doesn’t speak any English, but with our limited Indonesian we are able to make a price agreement of 50.000 Rupees (Eur 3,50) per night. Staying in small losmens is a nice way to have the feeling that you are in Indonesia. The popular hotels are normally completely fit out for western tourists, meaning that the music is dominated by western rock albums and the restaurant serves western delicacies as spaghetti, French fries and pizza. During these days at the Bromo, we try to combine the best of both sides. We live in an Indonesian losmen, but we drink our beer while listening to Guns ‘n Roses.

View on the spectacular Bromo valley at sunrise

Our main reason to come to the Bromo volcano is not to climb it but to enjoy the sight of this volcano and the volcanic landscape that surrounds it. We have heard that there is a beautiful viewpoint on the highest point of the crater wall of Gunung Penjakan. From this point we can see the Tengger crater with Bromo, Gunung Batok and the smoking Gunung Semeru in one sight. We have also heard that most people want to experience the magical sunrise at the top of Bromo, but we want to spend the hours around sunrise on Gunung Penjakan. We look forward to enjoy the views on a quit place with the two of us. We expect few other visitors, because we have heard that there cannot go any jeeps from Cemoro Lawang to this highest viewpoint. We can’t imagine that there will be many people who want to do a nightly walk of approximately one-and-a-half hour.

To see the sunrise at the Bromo volcano, we get up at 02:45 a.m. Equipped with torches and carrying cookies and chocolate for breakfast, we start our walk. Yesterday afternoon, we already did part of the walk which makes it easier to find our way. The first part of the walk follows a paved road, which turns to a rather easy walking trail ascending up the crater wall. With only the light of the stars and a torch, it can be a little bit difficult to keep on the right track. After a short while, we meet a French couple who have difficulties finding the walking trail and together with them, we walk to the first viewpoint. The first viewpoint is approximately 50 minutes walk from Cemoro Lawang, and this is the point that we reached yesterday afternoon. The view from this point was already marvellous, and we have heard from others who have spent the sunrise on this point with only a handful of other people. Today we want to go higher, so we continue or walk. Now we are on unknown territory, however, because the trail is rather straight forward this isn’t a problem. After 20 minutes we start hearing roaring sounds. We wander what this sound can be, but when the walking trail ends on a paved road it becomes clear. The sound comes from a steady string of jeeps that bring tourists to “our” viewpoint. The last 10 minutes of our walk consist of inhaling exhaust gasses and trying not to be run over by a jeep. Of course, we could have known this. In Cemoro Lawang we have seen places that sell jeep tickets to Gunung Penjakan, but we inaccurately assumed that these jeeps would bring the passengers to the place where the paved road ends and the walking trail starts. These jeeps, however, take another route straight to the top. This means that everybody can go to this beautiful viewpoint, without sweating a drop. Certainly, it is great that this place is accessible for everybody but when we arrive at the top of Gunung Penjakan we are quite disappointed. There are already 400 other people at the viewing platform and every minute there arrive more jeeps. Everywhere there are souvenir stalls and men who try to rent out winter jackets to the people who are dressed in shorts and t-shirts. The viewing platform is too crowded to find a good spot. We look at each other and we see each other thinking: “What a disappointment. This is not the reason why we got up this early!” After a single moment of doubt, we make the decision to leave. We are going to walk back to find a place with nice views which is also quiet. The French couple decides to stay and finds a good spot in front of the balustrade of the viewing platform. Understandably, they don’t want to take the risk of missing the sunset and therefore they take the noise of the (by now) 500 other tourists for granted.

The view from Gunung Penjakan is the most beautiful one
We walk down the paved road again. The men who rent out the winter jackets ask us what we are going to do, but we can’t be stopped. Staying at this place is just not the thing that we want. We are going back on the walking trail, where we walked this morning and after five minutes walk we find a beautiful spot that isn’t inferior to the high viewpoint. We didn’t see it this morning, because it was to dark at that time, but with the limited light from this moment we can see that this is a good spot for the two of us. The stunning view is accompanied with a beautiful silence and we have the entire place for ourselves to enjoy it. We install our tripod and take too many pictures. As so often we realize how happy we are together. It is simply great that we think the same way about most things. We both value the experience and the atmosphere of a moment more than the picture that we can take. A good photo is important for us, but it can never take away a bad feeling of the moment on which the picture was taken. Moments like sunrises should be characterized by silence, so that nothing can distract us from the beauty of the nature that surrounds us. And beauty certainly surrounds us on this morning. The crater is filled with snowy white clouds and the volcano’s rise above these clouds in a mighty way. Before the sun is above the horizon, everything has an icy blue colour but in the sunlight the colours become golden. Once in a while, Gunung Semery spits an ash cloud into the air and this makes our vista perfect. We stay at this place for a few hours, before returning to the village for breakfast.

At breakfast, we run into the French couple again. They also enjoyed the beautiful sunrise. They were a little annoyed by the noise of the other tourists at the beginning, but they had the viewing platform entirely for themselves after 07:00 hour. Apparently, there were many jeep drivers who summoned their clients to go back to the jeeps even before the sun was above the horizon. Probably they thought that the money from these tourists was already in the pocket. As a flock of cattle, everybody went back into the jeeps again. One part went to the crater of the Bromo and the others went back to Cemoro Lawang for breakfast and to continue with the remainder of the day program

Bromo is the main natural tourist attraction of Java and because of the beauty of its surroundings this is rightly so. As in many places, it is still possible to have the feeling of exclusivity even if there are hundreds of others that want to enjoy the same attraction. Look for another spot, like we did, or stay a little bit longer on the standard place until the others are gone. Because most people have the same tight schedule, this means that you don’t have to wait for long. Even if you can’t or don’t want to walk, the latter is easily arranged. Before renting the jeep, make very clear that you want to decide for yourself how long you want to stay at a certain place. While the others are roused back into their jeeps, you can enjoy the moment on which the noise falls silent and the beautiful silence of nature comes back again.

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