Climbing the Andes, in East Java

By Amy Chavez

For The Bali Times

Tired of the heat? Go to Java, where it’s freezing cold. Yes, believe it or not, there’s an entire town that is air conditioned inside and out. It’s at Mt. Bromo, in East Java, where a Hindu-Mahayana Buddhist community resides around the almost 2,400-meter-high active volcano.
Even though it’s just over 100 kilometers southeast of Surabaya, the atmosphere is more like that of a ski town: crispy, cold air; Land Rovers; and the entire town on a slant. It’s very touristy and extremely cold. Welcome to the Andes!
If you didn’t bring any warm clothes to Indonesia, don’t fret; neither did the Indonesians. Upon arrival at Bromo, for this first time in your life you will welcome being assaulted by vendors because these people are selling handmade wool hats, gloves, socks and scarves, knowing that the average Indonesian traveler would never own such things. Indeed, you may even find yourself being a bit pushy, insisting on warmer things: sweaters? Electric blankets? Wood-burning stoves? If I buy five, do I get the morning price?
Or you could just dress like the locals do: a light jacket with a heavy-weave sarong slung over the shoulders. Some were even barefoot. Brrrrr.
If you’ve ever traveled with Indonesians before, you know that they have this form of group travel peculiar to them. So when we arrived at our hotel in the small town of Ngadisari, I suggested getting a couple of rooms, one for the two guys and one for me (besides, I was paying). But my Indonesian friends decided it would be more economical to get the biggest, most luxurious room — the one with the king-size bed, private toilet and a TV – and to share it. So I paid Rp150,000 (US$15) for the lux room, and we all slept in the same bed as if we were brothers and sisters.
But we didn’t have long to sleep anyway, because at 3am we were awakened by our jeep driver who would take us to the top of the volcano for sunrise. It was a bumpy ride over old lava in complete darkness, but we arrived at the top at about 4am.
A crowd of people was already walking around as if it were completely normal to be walking around in the freezing cold at 4am. Warungs were set up where you could huddle around a fire and drink hot coffee or cocoa. We did so and luckily the sock vendor kept coming around so we continued adding more layers. By 5am we had even rented jackets. Where were the ski slopes? I wondered.
The sunrise was beautiful and exotic, according to the tall people in front of us who could see it. I watched through their video-camera screens. As I was one of the few foreigners there, I was asked to join in many people’s photos. Look for me the next time your Indonesian friends show you their photo albums. Surely by now I must appear in thousands of them.
After the sun was awake and things started to warm up, we decided to go up to see the crater, which was steaming away as if it were satay. You can climb the 50 steps, or you can hire ponies. We hired them just for the fun of it. Inside the caldera are three mountains and crater lakes that support bird life. You can hike down into it if you like, but our ponies weren’t up for it. This could have had more to do with the fact that this is where the villagers make sacrificial offerings of livestock to the mountain once a year. During the elaborate ceremony, called Kasodo, livestock becomes a bit of an oxymoron.
There is also this legend: In the late 15 century, a princess of the East Javan Majapahit Empire moved with her husband to Mt. Bromo and founded the town of Tengger. But the couple couldn’t have children, so they prayed to the gods of Mt. Bromo, who consented to help them on the condition that the last child born be sacrificed to the mountain. It’s no wonder they went on to have 25 children, continually putting off the sacrifice, I presume. But the princess dutifully threw the last child into the caldera. Later, the child’s voice commanded the town to perform the Kasodo ceremony to commemorate the event.
From the top of Mt. Bromo, you can see Semeru, Java’s tallest mountain. Surrounding Mt. Bromo is 10km of whitish-grey sand, which gives it a lunar effect and many people refer to it as a moonscape. My photos all came out as if they were black and white.
While I welcomed a weekend in the cool air, my Indonesian friends were ready to get the hell out of there. They never imagined a place could be so cold and inhospitable. “This is just like my country!” I told them. But they were not impressed. Their bodies still shake from the chill this trip brings when they think back on it.
But if I go back, I’ll do it differently. Next time, I’ll take skis.

Amy, who’s adept at navigating the slippery slopes of life, is at

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One Response to “Climbing the Andes, in East Java”

  1. Rita Says:

    Hi Amy,
    I remember, it was very cold on the Bromo.
    Every week I read and enjoy your columne.
    All the best for you

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