We were aware that Java had some really great sights to offer; however we were also aware that we had a limited amount of time to explore a huge country (it's the 16th largest country, the largest archipelago with over 17000 islands, and the 4th most populous country!), and Monique was extremely keen to spend a good amount of the time we had at the beach. We therefore decided that the best course of action was to go on a three day tour that took us from Jogyakarta to Bali via some of Java's unmissable sights.
The first day of the trip was an extremely long day of travel in an uncomfortable minibus. Fortunately the other people on the bus were friendly which helped the day pass more quickly. Most notable amongst them was a really enthusiastic Japanese guy who was travelling alone, who had not allowed the fact that he is deaf prevent him from visiting 50 countries. Meeting him made me feel slightly foolish for complaining on the occasions when we have encountered difficulties on our travels.
We arrived at our hotel late and got about 5 hours of sleep in before getting up at 4.30am to make our way to Gunung Penanjakan for sunrise. After having to wait a while for our jeeps to pick us up we arrived just as the first signs of light were visible over the horizon. There were too many people at the viewing point for our liking, so Monique and I clambered up and along the slope to a more secluded spot where we could sit with an uninterrupted view of the spectacular sunrise.
Normally we wouldn't have been able to take our eyes off the sunrise; however as the landscape was illuminated an even more spectacular sight was revealed to our right – Gunung Bromo (a.k.a. Mount Bromo) an active volcano, surrounded by an eerie lake of mist with Gunung Semeru behind it.
It was undoubtedly the most impressive sunrise either of us had seen. The combination of a sunrise that would have been remarkable in of itself along with a view of the huge volcanoes was truly amazing. We just didn't know where to look! Even looking back on the photos it's hard to believe that they are real.
As well as the spectacular view, the rising sun also revealed the precariousness of the position we had adopted to view sunrise. Whilst clambering up the slope we had been aware that it was steep and slippy due to the loose soil; what we hadn't realised was that only a few feet further down the slope turned into an almost sheer drop of a significant height. Our chosen spot was revealed to be even more treacherous than it was secluded – no wonder we were the only ones who had gone there! Needless to say we made our way back to where the normal people had watched the sunrise extremely slowly and carefully.
We were then taken to Mount Bromo itself. We were dropped off about 10 minutes' walk away from the volcano, and we made our way across the perfectly flat and extremely dusty plain (known as the Sea of Sand) that surrounds the volcanoes and which had been covered in mist from our elevated view. The dust clouds kicked up by passing vehicles made for a rather surreal atmosphere as well as some interesting photos.
We then climbed up the extremely crowded stairs to the top of Gunung Bromo. It had been freezing cold on Gunung Penanjakan (it is, after all, 2,770m tall), however the steep climb soon warmed us up. The area immediately at the top of the stairs was extremely crowded so we pushed our way through to where we had more space to see into the crater. The crater is huge and the amount of smoke rising from it left no doubt that it is definitely active (in fact it last erupted as recently as 2011).
We had been told that we would be able to walk around the crater, however after we had walked only 20m or so around the fairly wide ledge at the edge of the crater began to narrow, and it continued to narrow until the ledge was no more. We probably could have continued round further, however the volcanic dust was extremely fine which meant that one wrong step would have sent us sliding down 300m into the smoking crater. On reflection it didn't seem worth the risk for a slightly different view so we turned around, pushed our way through the crowds again, and walked around the ledge of the crater in the opposite direction where, although it narrowed, it remained slightly less treacherous.
I had absolutely no idea that we would be able to stand right on the edge of such an active volcano and look down into the crater without any sort of restriction. It was both thrilling and a little scary. However, after a short while enjoying the sight of the crater it was time to head back down. We had two choices: i) push through the crowds for a third time and walk painfully slowly down the stairs along with everyone else, or ii) run down the edge of the volcano through the volcanic dust at the risk of descending arse over tit. Obviously we chose option (ii) and had great fun half running and half sliding through the dust all the way to the bottom.
Our visit coincided with Indonesian Independence Day, a national holiday, which explained the high number of visitors and the prevalence of Indonesian flags.
It was still only 8am by the time we got back to our hotel, and by 9am we were back on the road heading for the Ijen crater.