View of Mount Bromo

Mount Bromo – A Midnight Tour and a Lesson in Trust

Despite the nightmare of our first few days in Java, we were determined to do one more thing before we fled to Bali – hike up to watch the sunrise over mighty Mount Bromo.

We were moving fast through Java, an island half the size as the UK but infinitely more challenging to get around. Our second sweltering train journey took us six hours from Yogyakarta to Surabaya, a city almost as huge, ugly and difficult to negotiate as Jakarta. Visits to Mount Bromo are popular with tourists since it’s the most well-known active volcano on the island, but in typical Java-fashion, it still took us hours to find and book a tour.

Mount Bromo, Java Indonesia

A car collected us that very night for our midnight tour; we drove the first few hours in comfort before switching to a jeep for the last part of the journey up to a viewpoint on Mount Penanjakan – now the adventure was really set to begin.

Travel and Trust

It occurred to me then, at three o’clock in the morning, as we bounced at an alarming speed along the windy roads in almost total darkness, just how easily and casually we’d handed our lives over to the total stranger driving our jeep. The only light source for miles came from the car’s yellow headlights bobbing erratically along the path ahead; as I peered out the side window I could just make out the road dropping off sharply next to us into who-knows-what. One small mistake could see us plunging off into that unknown blackness, never to be seen again. As if that wasn’t perilous enough, our driver was screeching around corners, accelerating fiercely and bumping us so hard over the rocky road that we were flung up and down in our seats, clutching at the sides of the car for lack of seatbelts.

All I could do was trust that our driver wouldn’t crash.

As is often the case with travel, you end up with no choice but to put your trust in unfamiliar places and faces; you have to trust that the taxi driver isn’t going to drive you around the edges of town to run up the meter, you trust that the guy giving you directions knows what he’s talking about, that the train tickets you’re buying are real or that the hostel receptionist looking after your bags while you walk around town waiting for check-in won’t rifle through all your worldly possessions.

Whereas back home we were slow to trust, travel is forcing us to do so more freely. We might get ripped off occasionally, but usually we reap the rewards of our trust; most people do want to help you – that’s the truth we’ve discovered so far in our trip.

The Sunrise over Mount Bromo

Deliriously exhausted, relieved and sore, we finally exited the jeep into the coolness and made our way on foot the rest of the way up the mountain. Now the darkness was pitted with torch beams from the small army of people flowing slowly upwards; their voices a low murmur of excitement. Jeeps were parked on either side of the dirt track and locals wandered around with blankets and torches to rent. We passed a few small wooden shops selling water and snacks on our way upwards, finally congregating with the other tourists on a viewing platform at the top to await the sunrise, which, we had been promised, would be spectacular.

This is what we got.

Sunrise over Mount Bromo, Java

As we’ve learned is typical in Indonesia, the sky was too cloudy to see more than a hint of the sunrise; the sky was so choked with cloud that we couldn’t even make out where Mount Bromo actually was. All wasn’t completely lost though as our driver took us to another spot ten minutes down the road where we finally caught a glimpse of the incredible hulking statues we’d travelled all this way to see.

View of Mount Bromo

Twisting down those mountain roads was a much more pleasant experience now the sun was finally up and we could see the gorgeous views spread before us as we journeyed down to the base of the volcano itself.

Staring into the Mouth of the Volcano

We got out of the jeep once more as our driver indicated that we should hike up the volcano – it would take around an hour he told us. I stared up at the path ahead with mounting terror.

View from the top of the Volcano

Now, I’ve done some pretty long hikes on our trip so far; we trekked in the pouring rain up Castle Rock in Australia, scaled the chilly heights of Ben Lomand and sweated our way up another volcano, Mount Rangitoto in New Zealand. None of these beat our epic seven hour trek on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing though – if I could make that, surely I could get up Mount Bromo?

The difference now, however, was that I was absolutely bone tired. We’d been up more than 23 hours and were emotionally and physically exhausted from our week-long journey across Java. We hadn’t been eating and were struggling with the humidity; as we started the long trudge up to the volcano I felt certain I’d never make it. Many tourists, feeling the same way, opted to ride one of the horses up to the top but neither of us could bear the thought of doing that; we felt too sorry for the poor animals to inflict our weight on them. Instead, this spurred me to trudge upwards, Andrew practically dragging me by the hand until eventually we made it.

Mouth of the Volcano

The air at the top of the volcano was smoky and stung our throats and eyes. There was a strong smell of rotten eggs from the sulphur in the bubbling volcano below; the smell reminded me of Rotorua, New Zealand’s thermal heart. We peered over the edge into the dark, steaming crater beneath and I remembered what a guide had told us the night before about hiking up here when the volcano was closed by the government; the ground had been shaking violently and ash swam through the air. Mount Bromo last erupted in 2011 and could do so again at any time, I wondered again, as I had in New Zealand, how the local people coped with this constant threat.

Our climb over, we collapsed into the Jeep for the ride back to Surabaya – next stop, the airport and a much-needed escape to Bali.

* Our trip to Mount Bromo cost £100 through Getaway Tours, who gave us a ten percent discount.

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
    Posted at 06:42h, 22 June Reply

    I know that during certain times of the year, Indonesia experiences (perhaps purposefully?) forest fires, which make the air terribly smokey and smoggy, so perhaps that is part of what you were contended with? As we have spent a lot of time traveling during rainy & shoulder season, we’ve found that one definite downside to this is that you don’t get great sunrises—we tried several times when visiting Angkor Wat to get that famous shot over the ruins, but there were just far too many clouds in the skies. Oh well, there are plenty of other advantages that come as a result of the rain that I can’t get too upset over a few lost sunrises!

    I completely agree with you about travel teaching us to loosen up and put our faith in others. We have had so many experiences where everything was depending on other people doing right by us, or even strangers taking us under their wings. Every single time, things have managed to work out, even though if I had been sitting and planning from home, I never would have been able to predict or say exactly how it would happen!

    • Amy
      Posted at 08:52h, 22 June Reply

      I haven’t heard about the forest fires in Indonesia, but that could be a cause. Every part of Indonesia we’ve been to (Java, Bali, Lombok and the Gili Islands) has been the same in terms of cloud although dreaded Jakarta was worse because of the added pollution. I did ask someone about the fog and they said it’s often like this here so I think it’s just part and parcel of Indonesia – it’ll be interesting to see if you get clearer skies when you’re here.

  • David (Rosie's husband) & Rosie
    Posted at 14:19h, 22 June Reply

    You’ll get a better sunrise when you go to Nepal. We had a 4am start to travel up Mt Anapurna, to a viewing platform with hundreds of others, to see a magnificent sunrise come up in the east and travel right overhead till the whole mountain range was lit up!
    Also, the fires mentioned previously are causing huge problems of smog in Singapore at the moment. You’re probably not aware of it, if out of range of the Beeb! Continue to experience and enjoy…….

    • Amy
      Posted at 14:27h, 22 June Reply

      Hi David and Rosie, thanks for the comment – we’re just looking up the news about the fires in Singapore now (we have indeed been out of range of the Beeb!). Mt Anapurna sounds awesome and Nepal is firmly on our list of places to visit; thanks for the tip!

  • Charlie
    Posted at 04:50h, 23 June Reply

    Wow, it must have been scary being so close to the volcano knowing it could start erupting at any moment. Actually, the ride there sounds scarier! It’s really interesting what you say about trust. When I travelled before, I was so much more fearless than I am now, older and (on the whole) wiser. I never considered what could go wrong. This time round, it’s not going to be easy to trust the guy driving the jeep won’t run off the road! Which is both terrifying and exciting! I guess it gets easier the more you travel.

    • Andrew
      Posted at 06:35h, 23 June Reply

      Hi Charlie, you’re absolutely right about age making you less fearless! It probably wouldn’t have crossed my mind to worry about things such as erratic drivers when I was in my teens or early twenties. We are finding that we’re getting more trusting as we travel though, which is a lesson I hope we carry with us for the rest of our lives.

  • Thamar
    Posted at 08:20h, 22 July Reply

    i am javanese and live in jakarta. i do understand how stressful Jakarta can be, coz it’no secret that people who live in Jakarta, they don’t like it either 🙂
    as for the spectacular view that you didn’t experience at Mount Bromo, i guess it depend on the weather, which is out of everybody’s control. when did you go there, was it in June?
    well, the weather is so unpredictable right now. by may to sept, it should have been dry season but it’s been weird that we get rainy season everyday lately.
    and forest fire is happening in Sumatra island, which is far far away from Mount Bromo and the view you got when you were there, definately effect by that forest fire.
    what i can only say is in term of nature, you might not find or get what you expected 😉
    lastly i hope you will enjoy your next trip

    • Amy
      Posted at 08:48h, 24 July Reply

      Hi Thamar, thanks so much for your kind wishes and for commenting, it’s really interesting to hear your thoughts since you live in Java. We visited Mount Bromo in May and it was still a great experience despite the smoky sunrise – we still got some great pictures from another angle. Interesting what you say about the weird weather; a Balinese person we met said the same thing to us about the unpredictability. You’re right though that you certainly might not get what you want from nature we’re used to this since we come from rainy England!

  • Heather
    Posted at 23:30h, 26 October Reply

    I personally wonder the reason you named this posting,
    “Mount Bromo | Our Midnight Tour of Mount Bromo,
    Indonesia”. Regardless I personally loved the article!
    Thanks for your effort,Rosalyn

    • Amy
      Posted at 04:17h, 27 October Reply

      Thanks Heather.

  • Anna
    Posted at 11:55h, 21 April Reply

    This summer I’ll go to Bromo and Ijen tour..
    How was your experience with Getaway Tours?

    Many thanks for your answer


    • Amy
      Posted at 12:20h, 21 April Reply

      Hi Anna, it was fun, pretty good value for money and everything went smoothly. Have a great trip!

      • Anna
        Posted at 14:15h, 21 April Reply

        thanks very much!

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