Starry Night at Penanjakan 2 Bromo

When “beautiful sunrise” is described in the same breath as Bromo, the first viewpoint that comes to mind is Penanjakan 1. At 2,770 metres (9,087 feet) above sea level, this is a very popular spot for visitors to witness the beauty of the famous volcanic crater, Sea of Sand and surrounding mountains at sunrise. It’s no surprise that this place becomes really crowded with people jostling for a spot to watch the unravelling of Mother Nature.

For those who want to watch the sunrise without the crowds, Penanjakan 2 is an alternative spot. Although the site is not as high as Penanjakan 1, it shares much of the same scenery, as Penanjakan 2 lies below the peak of Penanjakan 1. Its lower altitude also means that it is easier to reach this site.

Our stay in Bromo did not allow enough mornings to watch the sunrise from either viewpoint. We had to be content with just driving up to Penanjakan 2 in the late afternoon, after the walkabout at Cemoro Lawang village.

A evening view of Mount Bromo on the way to Mt Penanjakan 2.

When we arrived, we found the place deserted except for two or three locals, and there was only one other car at the parking area. It was already approaching the blue hour and we were all over the place, trying to take in as much of the disappearing landscape as possible.

A last glimpse of Bromo Crater from Penanjakan 2 just after sunset.

Tripod set up and ready for the stars to come out.

As the darkness made its way across the national park, temperatures dropped and the few people still around sought refuge round an open fire next to a lone food stall.

We pretty much had the whole place to ourselves for the next three hours. In retrospect, I cannot imagine how we could have remained up there for so long. There was just something about that quiet mountain spot, the cold night air, the thousands of little stars across the sky and yes…even the little fire, that made me want to prolong my visit on that mountain for as long as possible.

Besides, it was a good excuse to enjoy a cup of instant noodles accompanied by piping hot coffee. Somehow, these simple pleasures taste extra nice when you are seated outside in cold weather.

The stall is operated by a local resident who sleeps in a little room at the back. Considering the isolated location where she has chosen to do her business, I was curious and asked her where she got her water for her daily needs. She said that she visits the nearby mountains everyday to collect water and firewood.

Later into the evening, it became so cold that it was no longer comfortable to sit outdoors. I invited myself inside the tiny, cramped stall and promptly sat down on a log next to a small charcoal stove to keep warm.

Gazing at the twinkling stars in the sky.

Before making our way back down the mountain, I decided to brave the cold wind and take a last look in the direction of the Milky Way which was lit by thousands of stars.

I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars.

– Og Mandino


Walkabout in Cemoro Lawang

The first thing we did after the morning’s visit to Rogo Wulan and then the Sea of Sand, was to collect our things and check into another homestay in Cemoro Lawang.

The first homestay we stayed in after our 2.5-hour drive from Surabaya airport, seemed okay at first, until our Guide gave us twenty minutes to freshen up before dinner. I was still busy unpacking my things when my travel mate came knocking on my door to say that the toilet cistern in his room was not working and that he was going to ask for a room change. There didn’t seem to be anything wrong with mine at that time so I stuck with my room.

Evening temperatures had dropped drastically after dinner at Hotel Lava Lodge and I was looking really looking forward to having a hot shower before going to bed. To my horror, only cold water came out in tiny drops! I had to clean myself with wet swipes that I had brought along. The situation got even worse when I was getting ready for my first adventure to Rogo Wulan later that same night. The tap made an ugly hollow sound when I turned it on and not a drop of water came out of it! Luckily, I still had some bottled water left over and used that to brush my teeth and wash my face.

The second homestay we put up in was much better. It was a two-bedroom furnished house – except that the toilet and kitchen seemed like they were added only as an afterthought, forming an “outside” extension from the main house and connected by a door. The hastily-built walls didn’t reach up to the ceiling, leaving a huge gap big enough for anyone to climb over. I must say, though, that the toilet was in very good working condition.

We set out for a drive and walkabout around Cemoro Lawang.

At 2,217 metres (7,273.6 feet) above sea level, this sleepy mountain village is the entry point to the Tengger National Park. As it is the closest town for early morning climbs to Bromo crater, Cemoro Lawang attracts visitors from all over the world. Half of the village population is focused on farming potatoes and onions while the other half on tourism activities.

Despite the hundreds of visitors to Cemoro Lawang, the local residents’ lifestyle do not appear to have been affected much by their presence. They still continue with their culture, traditions and way of life and seem to be unaware of visitors’ very basic expectations related to accommodation, meals, sanitation and utilities. This is probably the reason why the rooms, food and other facilities found here are more “village” rather than “tourist” standard, despite the high prices charged.

The locals are a peaceful people – hospitable, yet minding their own business and respecting “your space” unless they are invited to join in.

Although there’s really not much to do in this horse town, it does possess its own rural charm, with farm crops thriving on the rich volcanic slopes and views of Mount Bromo at every other corner.

View of Mt Bromo and Mt Batok from an onion field.

A Street Festival in Gotemba

At Gotemba, we found out that we had just missed the local bus bound for Lake Yamanaka and Oshino Hakkai and would have to wait another hour for the next one to come along. As we had some time to spare, we decided to cross the road for a quick bite and check out the place. This town looked interesting with its fusion of modern buildings standing side by side with the more traditional wooden shops and eateries. The whole place seemed a bit quiet for a weekend and most shops were shut that afternoon. Hmm. It must be a holiday here, I thought to myself. After several unsuccessful attempts at finding a place to sit down and eat, we had to settle for a bag of french fries while we made our way back to the bus stop for our next destination.

For those who read my post on Oshino Hakkai, I mentioned that we had to leave the place sooner than we wished, in order to catch the last bus back to Gotemba. Frankly, I was feeling a bit disappointed that we didn’t get to spend more time in Oshino Hakkai.

As the bus exited left into a slip road and made its way slowly towards the station, I heard a lot of noise outside. I peered out of the window to see what the commotion was about and saw a huge crowd standing in the middle of the street watching a children’s martial arts demonstration.

What do you know! The “quiet” town of Gotemba had completely transformed into a roadside stage of entertainment and colour. What a big difference in the mood and atmosphere from the afternoon! Huge loudspeakers were placed to carry the voices of the announcers over the throbbing beat of music. The air was filled with merriment, music, dancing, karaoke, local bands and the beating of taiko (drums). The sidewalks were lined with many stalls selling an assortment of local snacks as well as fruits and drinks. It seemed like everyone, young and old alike, was out on the streets to celebrate this festival. Some dressed in the traditional kimono and yukata as they strolled under the darkening sky lit by colourful Japanese lanterns. It was thrilling to get the chance to join in the celebrations. By this time, all disappointment was forgotten. We ended up spending more than two hours soaking in the festive atmosphere of the cool evening air infused with the tantalising aroma of Japanese street food.

Beating a taiko for the first time.
Street entertainers

Hawaii comes to Gotemba.

Further down the block, the street was temporarily cleared for an Owaraji race. This involved a member of the team lying on his stomach on a giant straw slipper (owaraji) while being pulled by two other team members in a race to the finish line. Everyone looked tired after the race, but it was clear from their faces that they had had a lot of fun.

Owaraji Race
The winning owaraji team
Queuing up to have their fortunes told.

Tonle Sap: Lady of the Lake (#41)

A Cambodian woman paddling a boat with two children in tow. One of my favourite images caught on camera during my boat ride across Tonle Sap Lake.

The life of a Khmer woman is in constant motion. Her role is manifold. She is a wife, mother, home-maker, breadwinner, co-worker, labourer, trader and businesswoman. She is expected to work for a living, yet attend to all household tasks. Her day begins at about 5:00am or 5:30am where she does the laundry, cleans the house and finishes other chores before going to work. In the late morning, she does the shopping on her way home, cooks the mid-day meal, returns to work in the afternoon, cooks the evening meal and performs other housework before retiring for the day.

In many families, women are the only wage earners. The female children usually end up taking on the household chores at the expense of education. Amazingly, the success of Khmer women in business has meant that in many families, the woman brings home more income than her husband. Many men (even those with government jobs) live on their wife’s income derived from some form of market selling.