I didn’t know anything about Indonesia before we bought our flights and landed in Jakarta. My partner just kept mentioning volcanoes, one by the name of Bromo in particular. And Bali, of course we would go to Bali. I learned quickly enough, though, that Bali and Bromo are by no means the sole attractions to this country of more than 17,000 islands.
Ok, so we didn’t do much in Jakarta. When we landed, we caught a local bus from the airport and rode through the afternoon traffic to an area near the National Monument. Jakarta is not a hot destination for tourists. It’s a sprawling city with a population of 9.6 million, a lot of traffic, and a lot of skyscrapers. There’s not a whole lot to do but get mixed in with the locals going about their daily business, so folks will often land in Jakarta and start making their way down toward Indonesia’s more high-profile areas.
But I have to say, I really enjoyed how low-key this city is. I got a pass for the public bus and rode around for a few days, visiting some shops and taking care of errands. The people were some of the most friendly I had ever encountered; for the most part no one paid attention to me, but if anyone ever did look at me, they did so with a smile. I’ve never felt so at home in a city I had been in for such a short time.
I thoroughly regret not having spent more time in this place [ProTip: if you’re really feeling the energy in Yokja, don’t follow the strapping Dutch man to Mt. Bromo before you’re ready to leave]. It’s an 8-hour train ride from Jakarta, and many a traveler stops in this city renowned for its cultural heritage on the way toward East Java and Bali. While visiting Sultan’s Palace, the Kraton and the ancient temples in the city’s special region was not particularly exciting for me as I rushed through, trying to see everything before it closed, the daily carnival and series of open air thrift shops in the same area did successfully pique my interest.
I recommend staying in Sae Sae when you go. The owners know a lot about the city and offer handfuls of activities that will help you know Yogyakarta better.
With the strapping Dutch man I grew to like less with each passing moment, I took another train down to Probolinggo (~8 hours), where we hoped to find a way to Cemoro Lawang, where we could hike to Bromo. It was dark and raining when we arrived and joined forces with a German hiker. A driver willing to take us said we would have to wait for another 12 people to fill the van. We sat and waited a couple hours, but of course no one else came. I think we ended up paying a collective 300 thousand rupiah (~$20) instead of the 30 thousand (~$2) it would have been for each of us had we waited for the imaginary 12. (You’ll have to do some haggling with your potential driver)
We checked into a guesthouse in Cemoro Lawang [PT: There are a few places here where you can rent a jacket for the day for less than $1, if you, like me, tend toward unpreparedness], we slept a few hours, and got up at 2am to start the hike to a view point from which we would watch the sunrise before going to the volcano.
At the viewpoint, we met three guys with three bikes (one for each of us!), and because none of us felt like walking, despite the sugary coffee we enjoyed during the sunrise, they rode us down to Bromo.
We climbed to the top of the volcano, and whether or not I knew before, I knew it then: sulfur smells like eggs.[PT: wear a face mask. That sulfur can be intense: burning throat and eyes, etc.] The sight of Bromo’s activity was breathtaking. I was ready to be awed by an active volcano, but seeing Mt. Bromo in person was more reverential than I could have imagined.
“There are only three places in the world where you can see blue flames like this: Ijen, Iceland, and your kitchen.”
From Cemoro Lawang, we took a van back to Probolinggo, then let a tourist agency bus us over to Banyuwangi, from which town we’d head to Ijen Crater the following day. We rented motorbikes (from the Banyuwangi train station) and rode for about an hour at midnight, as flashes of lightening turned the whole sky ghost white every so often. You can rent gas masks (for no more than 25K rupiah) in the parking lot. That’s also where we found the sulfur miner who would guide us on our hike up the mountain and down into the crater.
I was already tired of all of the early morning activities we had been doing, and considered skipping out on Ijen. I’m glad I didn’t.
As beautiful as Ijen and the mountains around it were, the most interesting part of the crater had to be the stories of the sulfur miners who worked there. Our guide had deep scars on his shoulders from carrying 150lbs of sulfur up the crater and down the mountain everyday for about $5.
I recommend working out with you guide how much you will pay them before you start. We gave ours 100K rupiah each. It was more than worth it!
I didn’t have many expectations of Bali when I arrived. “Isn’t that the place everyone wants to go?” my sister asked when I told her where I was. Is it? I have to say, I wasn’t impressed. There were a lot of shops and a lot of tourists (and a lot of cool restaurants and cafes, hey), and in places like Seminyak, it seemed impossible to get any sense of the culture, or what culture there once was. In Bali, I found myself regretting not having stayed longer in Java.
But that’s just me, of course. Plenty of people I’ve met have enjoyed Bali enough to stay long term. After all, isn’t it the place where everyone wants to go?
I wouldn’t have stayed in this place so long had I not signed up for a three-day trial at a yoga studio. There are tourists and shops everywhere, and I felt like I could have been at home, rather than Indonesia. I do, however, wish I would have made it to La Favela. I heard some intriguing things…
Now this town was much more my scene. It is a lot like Seminyak in that there are a ton of western shops and tourists, but add a yoga/hippy vibe, plenty of greenery and ubiquitous temples with decorative wooden trim, and you’ve got Ubud.
If Bali was crawling with tourists (and it was), Lombok was the complete opposite. You won’t find any western shops or cute cafes with mung bean burgers here. We crossed over to Lombok very briefly. We had planned to climb to the top of Mt. Rinjani, the second- highest volcano in Indonesia, but two hours into the hike, the rain poured down and a river began to flow down the trail. [PT: Rinjani is probably best saved for the dry season]