Czech Mates, the DIY tour and the start of food fun
The ferry crossing from Bali was both straightforward and wierd at the same time. Whilst we could see Java quite clearly across the narrow Bali Sea strait the currents there are so strong that the trip takes considerably longer than one would expect. Initially the ferry merrily chugs out into the channel with the bows heading into the oncoming current, after a while they cut off the power and let the boat just drift sideways and backwards, using the current to travel laterally. Next they fire up the engines once again and start heading forward once more before cutting and drifting, a process that was repeated several times and which provided a feeling of deju vu because the same piece of Java coastline (in our case on the right) and other boats and ferries that we had already passed kept reappearing ahead of us. Eventually, at least an hour later, we steam into the very busy harbour area to tie up and disembark.
Post my arrival at the ferry terminal in Ketapang I found my way to the only "recognised and reputable" tour operator in town and discussed the price of his "all inclusive" Kawa Ijen (an old volcano), Gunung Bromo (a mountain complete with caldera) and onward travel to Yogyakarta package which started at Rph1.5 million for a single customer and dropped to around 750k per person if he managed to bag a group of 6 or more punters. I agreed to stay at their local homestay and checked into a beautifully appointed room for just 100k for the night, had a spot of lunch and then a cleansing shower. Returning to the tour office for an update on group numbers I was just in time to chat to a couple of girls who, like me, couldn't justify the prices the agent quoted. They decided that they would do the whole trip themselves using local transport and agreed that I could join them so, literally 10 minutes later I had re-packed and vacated my room and we were on the street looking for a shuttle to take us to the bus station!!! The two ladies in question were Sarka and Jana from the Czech Republic on a real whistle-stop 3 week tour of Indonesia.
The journey from ferry port to the town of Bondowoso involved a local shuttle, a full sized coach to Sitobondo and then another smaller bus for the final leg. The first two went well although we were hustled to board the final shuttle only to sit, without moving, for a full hour until the driver and conductor turned up. Arrival at Bondowoso heralded the end of our 4 wheel transport as we transferred to 3 wheel pedal power to be whisked off to our hotel for the night. Our food for the evening was exclusively fruit based and included eating a huge papaya, several snakefruit and a few dragon fruits.
Next morning, after a traditional Indonesian breakfast, we agreed to shell out about 180k each for the services of a friend of the owner and his trusty 4x4 to take us to the Kawah Ijen volcano. This journey definitely warranted an off-roader as some stretches were pretty rough. What it didnt really need though was the old boy's constant, incessant use of the horn - I think it must be a part of his driving style because he even used it on flat open roads with no oncoming traffic in sight. On the way up we passed through forests of fir trees which were being milked for their sap as well as numerous coffee trees/bushes bearing the bright red berries that contain the beans that eventually end up in our breakfast mugs.
After a few backhanders at the various barrier points along the way we arrived at the base point for Ijen where we suntan lotioned up for the 3 km hike to the craters rim.
All along the dusty and sometimes quite steep path we encountered local men coming down, laden with baskets or bags stuffed with bright yellow sulphurous rock which seemed rediculously heavy considering how small the carriers were. I had the opportunity to try and lift a typical load, somewhere around 55-65kgs, far too much for this softened western tourist! Bear in mind that these guys weight in at under 50kgs and you can see how strong they are. At the rim the view was pretty spectacular but the wind was ferocious making the photo opportunity somewhat challenging. it was here that we met one of the "porters" who offered to guide us down the one kilometre goat track inside the volcano to where the sulphur was mined. At the bottom the sulphurous gas spewed of the rock in a continuous thick cloud and when the wind changed and blew the gases in our direction our home made bandana face masks were little protection against the poisonous yellow smoke. After such an edifying experience we were all three glad to return to the car park unscathed to enjoy a hot cuppa and reflect on how easy our jobs and lives were!
On the way back down we stopped off at a large coffee plantation to enjoy a quick tour where we saw the whole process, from the manual sorting of the beans through to packing and on to despatch, before getting back to town. Interestingly they had a large fenced and caged compound in which they kept numerous Civets - the wild cats that eat the coffee berries and from who's pooh the digested beans are collected and processed to make the extremely expensive Luwak coffee.
Back in town again, we collected our baggage before embarking on the journey to Gunung Bromo, the first leg of which was from Bondowoso to Probolingo (I love the crazy alliterative and onomatapaeic names in this region). Here they got us all off the bus and then herded us straight back on again before heading up to Cemoro Lawang village where we had planned to stay the night before the next morning's legendary sunrise. Unfortunately our visit had coincided with the muslim new year holiday so we were told that there were no rooms available at all, anywhere. Trudging around the whole village we were first offered a Harry Potter-like under-the-stairs dungeon but eventually ended up in fair rooms which had crappy shared toilets and no showers. I roomed with an affable walking machine from Spain called Pedro while the two girls shared a room with a view on the upper level.
Before dawn the next morning we gathered together and set off in the dark to walk to the viewpoints up on the hillside. This turned out to be a pretty dangerous move as 1) literally hundreds of small 4WD jeeps sped past us on the ill lit and poorly made road and 2) the exhaust fumes from so many diesel engines in such a small area were overpowering. Being walkers we were very much in the minority and, as it turned out, we were unable to reach the higher viewing spots because the road was almost impassable, it was literally choked with parked jeeps! As dawn broke we managed to secure a reasonable vantage point and enjoyed a pretty good sunrise.
Once it was light we trudging back to our overnight lodgings, again through the crazy 4X4 traffic, to collect our bags and start our onward journey towards Yogyakarta.