|Our Really Big Adventure|
| I was in a bad mood
even before the bus arrived. I had had a bad nights sleep and was
facing an 8-hour bus trip that was already an hour late. We were the last
to board the tourist bus and despite it being less than half full, there
was nowhere for us to sit. We looked up and down the bus in amazement; each
row of seats boasted a single western tourist deliberately sprawled guarding
the seats either side of them, their bare feet protruding into the aisles.
No one looked up at us. It was like we didnt even exist; everyone
was either feigning sleep or intently staring out the window, avoiding the
eye contact that would lead to the loss of their precious extra space.
Asia was starting to get to me; despite the fabulous experiences, 6 months of touts and rip-offs had me feeling like a target. But as I stood swaying in the bus waiting for someone to acknowledge my presence and let me sit beside them, I realised that it wasnt the touts or the rip-offs that represented the worst aspect of travel in Asia - it was other western travellers. Individually fellow travellers can be a friendly face sharing similar backgrounds and interests in a sea of unfamiliarity, however in groups they are self-important, self-obsessed, self-centred, and self-righteous to the point of me covering my face in shame.
Eventually a Canadian girl gave us her two seats and snuggled in next to her boyfriend and the three seats he was guarding. My mood mellowed and the hours and miles started to crawl past. We werent going that far but Java is heavily populated with up to 2,000 farmers per square kilometre and the roads were clogged with traffic making our progress painfully slow. The eight-hour trip that I had been dreading now appeared hopelessly optimistic.
12 hours later we changed bus, the original one incapable of the steep ascent to the crater of the volcanic mountain. It was 9 oclock at night and we were regretting not having booked accommodation. We were tired and hungry and didnt like the idea of traipsing from hotel to hotel in hopes of finding somewhere to stay. We neednt have worried as our bus stopped its journey well short of its destination at an affiliated hotel. Suspicions that our journey was purposefully prolonged to ensure that our custom did not go astray were washed away by relief at arriving somewhere.
Everyone comes to Mount Bromo for the rare opportunity to see an active volcano. Mount Bromo may not actually be erupting but it smokes menacingly. But just seeing Mount Bromo isnt enough; some sightseeing nazi has determined that to truly appreciate Mt Bromo it has to be seen at first light. Our hotel revolved around the premise that everyone would wake up at 3 oclock in the morning and take jeeps to a viewpoint to see the suns first golden rays rise up over spectacular craters casting their shadow over a desolate sea of sand.
I slept restlessly, as I always do when I have to rouse early, waking every 30 minutes with a jolt, sure that I have slept well past my alarm call. After fumbling bleary eyed with my watch Id collapse back into bed determined to make the most of every second of sack time. I awoke one last time and with leaden fingers pressed the light button on my watch it was ten minutes to three and there was no point going back to sleep. I lay there very still, my eyes staring blankly at nothing in the dark, as if by lack of movement alone I could slow the passage of time. In the distance I could hear knocking on doors, as the management started to rouse the guests. I lay absolutely still, listening to the knocking grow closer, knowing I only had seconds before I would have to move, yet in the alternate reality of near sleep I could stretch those seconds to an eternity.
I quickly dressed and stood shivering with, yet distanced from, the milling group of tourists, some, like the early morning, quite and introverted, others incongruously loud and brash. We were loaded into jeeps and soon we were speeding across the volcanic desert. Though the clouds of thick dusk raised by our jeep we could make out the headlights of other vehicles pushing the limits of their engines in a bizarre early morning race that the sun never won.
We arrived at the viewpoint with hundreds of other tourists, disappointed by the circus like air but determined to make to most of it. It was still 40 minutes before sunrise and very cold. Being Indonesia, no one had appropriate clothing and a tight circle formed around a fire as everyone waited for dawn. Slowly it started to get light but there was no sign of the sun, these must be the first rays reflecting off the ionosphere, soon it would peak up over the horizon. Yet it got brighter and brighter until we could no longer fool ourselves, there was total cloud cover, not only would we not be able to see the volcanoes but we could not even see the sun through the veil of mist. Everyone still waited in little groups, knowing it was futile but still hopeful that the mist would clear and their early rise would not be in vain.
Used to disappointment we gave up quickly and got back into our jeep and descended. To our surprise we were quickly under the cloud and before us lay a totally unbelievable panorama of volcanoes protruding out of another crater, so large its scale could not be comprehended. By chance we were being treated to something very special, just when we thought we would get nothing. Soon other jeeps joined us and before we knew it we were surrounded by a hundred others the moment was over but everything the 12-hour bus, the hassle, the early start - was worth it for that moment of solitude as we looked over the Tattooine desert at the smoking crater of Bromo and the majesty of Semeru forcing its massive peak through the cloud line.