Saturday, May 16, 2009

East Java

After a couple of days in Kuta I headed north to Lovina, a bit quiter here, but just a short stay as I’m heading to Java. I got a minibus which alternately chundered and thundered down the road west. Crawling through the villages, stopping at clusters of people to see if they want a ride (wouldn’t it be easier if they flagged down the bus, as opposed to the other way about?) A quick stop for the drive to pray at a roadside shrine, making me somewhat wary of the road ahead, but it was fine. I got to the ferry terminal and onboard smoothly enough, after a short wait we were off. It’s only a small distance from Bali to Java, and should have been a quick ride, but there didn’t see to be anywhere for the ferry to dock, so we sat offshore waiting for a space to open up for half an hour. Once that was done, I was back on dry land and heading for the train station. Walking along the road, I was speared as a sudden gust of wind blow a roadside stall awning into my path as I was watching for traffic, so I walked straight into it, with the pole stabbing me in the chest, not much damage done though and I’m sure it gave the locals a good laugh. The train station is only a couple of hundred metres away from the ferry terminal, but with my full backpack in the midday sun, it seemed further. Anyway I safely secured a ticket for tomorrow heading to the oddly named Probolinggo. I decided to bed down for the night in Banyuwangi, the nearby town. Flagging down a bemo, I was on the way to Hotel Baru. The driver insisted on jabbering away even though I didn’t understand him. Sometimes in English, lots of numbers and times, “6 o’clock 5 thousand. 9 o’clock 7 thousand, no 10!”. Anyway I got to the hotel and dumped my stuff and headed across the road for a spot of lunch. It took all of one meal to get “Java Belly”.

The next day it was off on the train, I had booked a ticket in “Eksekutif” class, which meant air-con, which was acutally kinda chilly in shorts and t-shirt. 5 hours later I was at Probolinggo, and as I couldn’t be bothered with another 2 hour bus journey to my destination, Bromo, I decided to stay here for a night. I found a new hotel in the centre and went for a nosy about. As this isn’t a tourist town (most people bypass it from the outlying bus or train stations straight to Bromo), the locals aren’t used to hairy foreigners (I need a shave) walking around. Just walking down the street evokes shouts of “Hello Misterrrr!”

As it is a crowded 2 hour minibus ride up, up and up to Bromo, I decided to leave my main bag at the hotel and come back the next day, as an added bonus this meant I could get my laundry done as well. After separating everything out, I almost forgot to bring my (wonderfully repaired) camera. With everything set I headed off to the bus station. Here I was greeted by some guy pratically dragging me to the minibus to Bromo. Never quite sure whether to trust these guys or not. I decided to head back into the station, despite their protestations, and find out some more info. Seems they were right, although a few tour companies have a shuttle bus, the public bus was were the guy had pointed me. However the public bus only leaves when full, after an hour of waiting things were slowly filling up until…. another bus came along and took most of the passengers, but it wasn’t even going to Bromo! So back where we started waiting for people to fill up the bus. I got talking to a couple of locals, and they chatted with the driver. If I paid 60,000rp (3 times the price) we could go now, seemed like a good idea, as I felt I might still be waiting here tomorrow. Once I agreed, people crawled out the woodwork and jumped on the bus also. After some steep climbing and some roads where you don’t look down we arrived at Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park, where you need to buy an entrance ticket. Price in Lonely Planet 4,000rp - actual price 25,000rp. Then I head to Lava View Lodge, price in Lonely Planet 150,000rp - actual price 350,000rp. (Tomorrow it increased to 400,000rp for high season) Ouch! But it was only one night and it had a great view over the landscape, so I just stayed there anyway. Seems my guide book prices may be a bit dated, published Jan 2007.

The hotel is situated right on the edge of the huge old crater wall, which is 10km across. Inside the caldera you can see down to the Sand Sea which is a wide expanse of, well, sand. A few kilometres away are the geologically new Gunung(mountain) Batok and Gunung Bromo, which spews out sulphuric steam and smoke. The plan was to get up early and climb up to the edge of Bromo for sunrise. I set my alarm for 4:30, but I was awake by 3:30 anyway when some jeeps arrived at the hotel to take away some other guests. I stubbornly refused to get up until my alarm went off, by which time most other people had gone. I jumped out of bed and sprinted out the door (well sleepily stumbled anyway). The torch had fresh batteries in it, and I was off down the steep dark road into the Sand Sea. A guy with a horse, kept along beside me, hoping I would change my mind and ride his horse. Down at the bottom and there was enough ambient light to see the volcanoes, but the torch is useful for seeing where you feet were going and for following the white markers. About half way across the sand sea, there was about enough light to see where I was going and I could dispense with the torch. I shook off the man with the horse with a sprint through the sand!

Turning left, I walked past the Hindu temple stationed at the bottom of Batok and then onto Bromo itself. Here the climbing started, and by this time I had peeled off a layer to just my t-shirt, while the locals were swaddled in layers of cloth. Steady progress was made with a few rest to catch my breath. Not sure how much difference there is in oxygen around 2000m above sea-level, or if it’s just unfitness! Daylight was here, but the sun hadn’t broken over the mountains, as I reached the bottom of the stairs. Up the 250 steps, and I had made it to the edge of the Bromo crater. Here I chatted with some other visitors, a large group of Indonesians and a Malaysian couple. I bought some flowers to chuck into the crater, in the past live sacrifices where thrown in. Looking down you can see the smoke rising up out a hole, surrounded by fissures, but no actual bubbling lava. Theoritically you could climb down into the crater, as evidenced by some writing in pebbles, but that didn’t seem a good idea at all, I figured the barrier was there for a reason! After taking in the sight, it was off back down the volcano, across the sand sea, back up the outer caldera wall and back to the hotel. The time 06:30. I went back to bed for an hour, before breakfast. After talking with the hotel clerk, it seemed there was a shuttle bus leaving at 09:00, seemed a good idea to get on that as I had booked a train ticket for the afternoon. I secured the last seat. Or at least that’s what I got told. We drove to a different hotel, and I got asked to leave the bus, somebody else had the seat and the bus was ful. A different bus would come along shortly to pick me up (yeah right, heard that before!) but sure enough another bus didn’t turn up, but not before another 3 people got crammed on my old bus. Rumbling down the mountains, we headed back into Probolinggo bus station. Only then did I realised that the other people on the minibus had a through ticket to Denpasar, seems like a horribly long journey to me, I was glad to get off after a few hours cramped into the small seats, and I don’t exactly have long legs.

A bemo took me back to the hotel, it was Saturday and it was full of boisterious school children and a boisterous driver. It was only 11:00 when I arrived back at Hotel Paramita. My laundry was done and my bag was still there, contents intact! I now had to hang about till be train at 14:00. Anyway eventually I was on my way to Surabaya, Indonesia’s second largest city with a population of 2.6 million. Arriving at Gubeng train station, I opted for a becak to take me to a nearby hotel, a bicycle driven with the passenger on a seat at the front, 10,000rp. Probably would have been cheaper in a metered taxi! Unfortunately the hotel was full so I had to go elsewhere, this time it was in a metered taxi.

The next day I set off into the old city, heading for the “Red Bridge”, here there was fierce fighting during Indonesia battle for independence. In fact, it was here in Surabaya that Indonesia battle for independence began. Apparently it is known as the “City Of Heroes”. Certainly seems to be lots of statues dotted around the city. Back across the bridge, marks the start of Chinatown. A busy area, filled with becaks and some of the biggest rats I have ever seen in my life! There was a dead one at the side of the road, look like a guinea pig.

I decided to have a splurge and spend a night at the fabulous Majapahit Hotel. This old colonial style hotel was built way back in 1910, so almost a century old. Upon checkin I was escorted to my room. Here they even had some fruit and chocolates laid out. The furnishings are very elegant, solid dark wood, gilded taps etc. A bit different from my usual residences. Even had somebody come in to turn the bed for the evening. Although when he asked, my brain didn’t click into gear and I was wondering what he was talking about! Set back from all the traffic, with green landscaped gardens it seems like a different world from outside, but within 24 hours I was back on the buses.

Off to Malang. When I arrived in Malang, it was raining but not much of a problem as I jumped in a taxi to a hotel. It continued to rain in the afternoons here, and I missed most morning as I was staying up watching the Champions League semi-finals which were being broadcast on local TV. I went for a walk in the alun-alun, which is a criss-cross of paths through a park. Some local students stopped and practised their English with me (complete with videotaping). So they are probably still trying to decipher my Scottish accent.

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