Friday, 22 February 2019

Indonesia: Ijen and Bromo (with and without a tour)

We visited Indonesia as the last stop on our six month trip round SE Asia and whilst we wanted to prioritise chill time before returning home, we couldn't miss the opportunity to travel to some less-visited parts of the tourist trail. After a little research, we decided that we wanted to end our trip with something that would push us out of our comfort zone and ~hopefully~ leave us with some incredible memories. Ijen and Bromo did just that!

If you've read my thoughts on Nusa Lembongan then you'll know that it was a good 2.5 years since we were in Indonesia. But, as I said in that post, I am determined to complete my round up of our trip! Predominantly so I have a personal record of the best trip of my life on my site... but also to perhaps inspire others to do the same. 

We travelled to Java from Bali, and it could not have been more of a change of scenery! Bali is so westernised, with Aussie-style coffee shops and specially designed insta set ups - think perfectly framed ocean swings and luxe pool clubs and you're getting there. Java on the other hand, is far less travelled. It is the world's most populous island and home to 141 million people - needless to say, it's hectic! 

Getting there
As I say, we arrived from Bali. We actually got an Uber (further evidence of Bali's westernisation) from Seminyak to Gilimanuk which took 3.5 hours and cost 500k (around £27, current 2019 conversion rate). You can also get a bus, but we were too lazy to organise ourselves. Getting tickets for the ferry over from Gilimanuk (Bali) to Java was really straightforward and the journey across only took 30 minutes and cost just 6k each (around 30p!).

Where we stayed to visit Ijen
We found an inexpensive little homestay Osingvacation which did the job, but was really basic. Shared bathroom, squat toilet, bucket shower. It cost £11. The owner also arranged for us to be taken to Ijen the next morning, so was a really straightforward and easy option. He was super friendly and welcoming and lent us a motorbike to drive to a local warung for dinner.

Trekking Ijen
We were collected at 12.30am (in the morning) for the drive up to Ijen which took a nail-biting hour, as they drove up the mountain in the mist and rain. We were deposited at the drop off point, and began our trek to the crater rim. And a trek, it was. Not for the faint-hearted, it was incredibly steep in places, completely dark and a long slog - it took about an hour. I had to stop a couple of times, and whilst I'm not an athlete I'd like to think I'm relatively fit. It was pretty tough. (edit: Rich is now telling me that I'm exaggerating and it wasn't that bad. I'm not sure I believe him).

Once we arrived at the crater rim, we were given gas masks to wear on our descent into the crater towards the sulphurous flames. Within the crater is a kilometre-wide turquoise acidic crater lake, which is mined for sulfur. We scaled down the rocks; some sections with clear paths and steps, others more of a scramble. Health and safety precautions are minimum! Alongside the tourists are local sulfur miners who are also completing the trek up and down to the crater floor to mine for sulfur which is taken back up to the rim in big baskets. These men were just ploughing up the rocks and past the tourists, putting us all to shame! 

You have to do the trek in the dark to be able to see the blue flames at their best, and it was a really spectacular sight. They burn up to 600 degrees celsius and reach sixteen feet high! Photos do it no justice, but do check out this National Geographic feature for a real insight. It was after NG featured Ijen's blue flames that tourism increased significantly. After ogling the blue fire, we climbed back up to the rim to see sunrise. Unfortunately there was a heavy mist on the day we visited so didn't get to see much of a sunrise or the turquoise lake, but the experience was incredible nonetheless. 

Some Italian lads that we met at Bromo did Ijen without a tour, by just hiring a moped to drive up to the drop off point themselves. They also were able to stay a while longer to wait for the mist to rise and saw the lake emerge - if you have time on your hands (and are confident on a bike!) then I would recommend doing that. 

See further down for Bromo...

Getting to Bromo
We didn't stick around for long - after our Ijen trek we dashed to catch the 9.15am train to Probollingo. The journey took about 4.5 hours and we were lucky enough to get business class seats with aircon - such luxury! We hopped on a bus which took us from the train to the bus station, and despite reading loads about bus scammers... we got scammed!! Agh. There is a super cheap local bus that goes to Cemoro Lawang, but we missed this (somehow) and ended up having to pay for a car to take us and some Italian lads. We then faced a further charge of a 10k 'entry fee' to Cemoro Lawang. We were so fed up with being scammed by this point - and we thought Vietnam was bad! This site gives more info on how to get to CL.

Where we stayed
We stayed in a cheap hostel type thing, can't remember the name - it was as you'd expect; basic verging on grim, but did have hot water! 

Trekking Bromo
We didn't do a tour or organised trip with this one, just walked up ourselves! Well, actually, we didn't walk up Bromo itself, we walked up neighbouring mountain Penanjakanso so we could get views over Bromo. This avoids the 220k entry fee to Bromo itself, and gives you an amazing view. 

Basically head uphill through the main town, and follow the road until you get to the foot of the mountain. We did a little recce the day before so we knew which road we'd be starting on as again we did this trek at sunrise. We left just after 3am and set off towards 'sunset point' on Mount Penanjakan. Again, the climb was tough. I think it was at this point that I admitted that perhaps I wasn't fit at all! 

We stopped briefly at sunrise point 3, but carried on up to sunrise point 2. You can go further to point 1 (and there are jeeps that can take you there!) but point 2 was really quiet - when we arrived at least - and had amazing views over Bromo. My only advice would be wrap up warm! It was freezing; we bought wooly hats in the town and wore all the clothes we could manage - there was also a lady selling hot drinks at the view point. Watching the sun come up and the mist rising was truly magical, and completely worth the lung-bursting trek!

Both Ijen and Bromo were just so beautiful - once in a lifetime experiences and I would recommend visiting if you are visiting Indonesia. I imagine they are more touristy now, but when in SE Asia we learnt not to write experiences off just because they were touristy - they're popular for a reason! It's just about picking your timings, going without a tour if you can and searching online for tips and tricks. Good luck!

After this, we headed back to Probollingo by bus before getting a train to Yogyakarta. More on that here.


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