At one o’clock in morning, our Guide came by in a Jeep to bring us to some remote location to catch a Bromo sunrise. As the vehicle pulled out of the driveway on to the main street, I noticed that there were hundreds of Jeeps parked bumper to bumper on both sides of the road. Probolinggo was wide awake and bursting with life in the wee hours of the morning. What a big difference from the quiet town we had visited earlier that evening!
After leaving the main street, we found our 4WD vehicle racing side by side with other Jeeps across a dark, open space which, I later found out to be the Sea of Sand. By and by, our Jeep broke away from the others, took a left turn and started up a narrow winding road. I knew we were driving along the side of a mountain as I could see a trail of moving lights making their way up from its base. Our journey lasted for about forty minutes as we passed a number of random food stalls along that stretch, with dozens of Jeeps parked on the side. Just seeing the sheer number of vehicles along that lonely stretch of road got me wondering if we would need to fight our way for a spot to catch the sunrise. As if he read my mind, the Guide reassured me and said, “Don’t worry. We are not going to the same place as them.”
Our Jeep didn’t stop for a break like the rest but continued on, leaving the other 4WDs far behind. Further at the top, I saw the tiny lights flickering erratically in the distance and concluded that we had finally arrived at the viewpoint. It turned out to be a waiting area for a few hundred motorcycles!
We remained inside the Jeep while our Guide went to talk to a tall man who wore a helmet with the rest of his face completely covered with a scarf, exposing only his eyes. I hope he doesn’t turn out to be a terrorist, kidnapper or suicide bomber, I thought to myself.
Our Guide returned and asked us to get down from the Jeep, adding that each of us would be taking an ojek (motorbike taxi) for the final leg of our journey to the hidden viewpoint. As luck would have it, he turned to me and told me to ride with the masked man.
Being the only female among a sea of ojek in the dead of night in the middle of who-knew-where, I was not in a position to pick and choose. I meekly climbed on to the pillion seat and tried to look as nonchalant as possible – which wasn’t easy. I felt very tense, never having really ridden on a motorbike, let alone with a stranger to an unfamiliar place. While I was deliberating on how all that camera gear was going to fit on the narrow seat, my ojek rider, in a first sign of friendship, ordered me to hand over my tripod bag to him which he immediately slung across his chest. Then we were off into the blackness of the unwelcoming forest.
I can now see why this hidden viewpoint that we were heading towards is not known to many, except for the locals in that area. The narrow dirt trail cutting across the formidable trees is just wide enough for the wheels of a motorcycle to pass. It is therefore not accessible by car, 4WD or horse. Hiking is also out of the question as the desolate off-track covers a distance of 7 kilometres. I had to brace myself for an extremely bumpy ride caused by deep ruts left behind by motorcycle tyres. It didn’t help that it had rained earlier, and my rider had to exercise extra care in manoeuvring the bike as the trail had become muddy and slippery. As the bike moved along, we had to keep lowering our heads to avoid being hit by jutting branches and leaves.
The ojek ride was akin to watching a 3D movie, except that I was not the spectator merely going through all the action-packed bike stunts from the safety of a room. This was the real thing. If my rider lost control of the bike and skidded, I would go down together with him. It was a good thing that the darkness of the forest camouflaged the uneven track which was carved close to the sides of the hill. One wrong move would have sent the both of us plunging down to the black sand below. One learning point derived from this experience is that if you close your eyes long enough and imagine you are somewhere else, some of the fear will go away!
We were about 30 minutes into the journey when the ojek slowed down and came to a standstill. It took me a few seconds to come out of my trance-like state to realise that we had reached the summit of Rogo Wulan!
Hurray! Still alive and in one piece!
I got down and walked gingerly towards the cliff’s edge in front of me. The entire place was still shrouded in darkness. I tried to make out the silhouette of Bromo but with no success as the night and sea clouds blocked my view of the valley below. Nevertheless, I started to set up my tripod and camera in anticipation of the moment when the sun’s rays would entice Batok, Bromo and Semeru out of their dark blanket.
Gradually, I sensed a change in the sky. The sea clouds had begun to evaporate and the blue of the night was overtaken by a mixture of yellow and orange hues. Once again I strained my eyes for a sighting of the volcanic trio but saw nothing!
“You are not at the right spot,” said my ojek driver. “Come with me. I will show you.”
He led me away from the others, past some bushes and tall dry grass until we reached another spot overlooking an unlit side of the valley below. This time, however, I could make out the faint silhouette of all three volcanoes standing out from the dark grey surface. And then, everything happened very quickly. In a matter of seconds the sun had ascended above the horizon, extending its rays over the land and lighting up Bromo Crater along with her two other friends. It was a breathtaking sight – a humbling moment and such a privilege to see the mountains, grasslands and sandy plains of Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park come alive and ushering in a new morning.
All six of us remained at Rogo Wulan Hill until it got too hot. Then it was time to make our way back down for breakfast. This time, however, the ojek ride was not as daunting as I could see my surroundings clearly. It took us only 20 minutes to reach the pick-up/drop-off point where our Jeep was already waiting.
After spending a good three hours in the company of our ojek drivers, I felt rather sad to say good-bye to them. They turned out to be great company and had done an excellent job in bringing us up and down safely to Rogo Wulan. I must admit that despite my initial reservations about riding on a motorbike, this ojek ride turned out to be one of the highlights of my trip to East Java and the first thing I will always remember whenever I think of Mt Bromo.
One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.
As we approach the end of 2017, I wish you all a joyous year ahead. May each day of 2018 bring new reasons to celebrate, travel and enjoy the company of those who mean the most to you. Thank-you so much for your support and dancing along with me over the years. Happy New Year!