We were a group of six twenty-two year old Canadians, batting our virgin eyes – eyes that had never seen past the borders of our North American homeland, or at the very most, past the walls of the Caribbean resorts we visited during winter vacations. We were a long way from our Western world of comforts and familiarities as we winded up the mountain roads of East Java, Indonesia to get to Mt. Bromo in Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park.
The trek to Mt. Bromo, an active volcano dubbed by The Lonely Planet as one of the top ten climbs without a porter, was an adventure in itself. Getting there required a 10 hour drive through the twisting roads of rural Java in a crammed mini-bus with a zealous Javanese driver at the wheel. Once we arrived, we were introduced to our very modest accommodations. Located high up in the mountains and above the clouds in the village of Cemoro Lawang, we were some of the only visitors in the town. This was one of the first moments in our lives where we felt like a minority, experiencing our first taste of culture shock. Our brains soaked in every detail of difference between what we left back home and where we were, learning and discovering everything that we could.
The next morning, we set out to climb Mt. Bromo at 3:30 AM, perfectly timed to allow us to watch the sunrise from the summit. We left in the pitch black, straining our eyes to navigate, and started our walk across the 5 km plain en route to the base of the mountain. Using our remaining senses in the darkness, we realized we were totally alone; there was not a park ranger, a hiker, or another human for that matter, for miles. Finally, after feeling like we were completely lost in the dark, we found something that felt like a sloped path. We began to climb.
We hiked for about 45 minutes before the sky lightened ever so slightly, enough to see that we were literally blazing our own path — up the wrong mountain. We later found out that the mountain we were climbing was called Mount Batok, and was about twice the size of Bromo, which, with the touch of light, we were able to see next door. As the sun started to make its way above the horizon, we could see a handful of other travelers and park rangers making their way across the plain, en route to Bromo.
Hurriedly, we started our climb down Batok, wanting desperately to make it to the top of Bromo to see the sunrise; this was, after all, the reason we woke so early and began our trek in the dark. Somewhere during the descent, however, – perhaps when my friend Devin dropped his sunglasses into the deep crevasses of the mountain and grew frustrated, or when two of my other friends insisted, in stubbornness, that we should just continue to climb Batok– we realized that it didn’t really matter where we saw the sun rise that morning.
We were in Indonesia. It was beautiful.
“We were travelers, explorers, and trailblazers… We would continue to seek out experiences that would test our comforts and allow us to continue blazing our own paths in different corners of the world.”
For that, we were grateful.
We did eventually – after the sun had fully risen – make our way to the base of Mt. Batok and then over to Mt. Bromo. Looking up at the clearly paved, marked trail, it was clear that it was going to be an easier, more care-free climb.
Or so we thought.
As we ascended, we heard a massive rumbling, followed by the sound of air being sucked through a tunnel (a tunnel the size of a volcano!). Cue Mount Bromo puffing volcanic ash! Massive clouds of ash blew out from the top of the active volcano.
Despite worrying about our safety, or whether or not we were even allowed to continue climbing, we journeyed on. We couldn’t be stopped! We kept hiking until we reached the edge of the volcano. The ash was still in the air. Due to the dangers of climbing the puffing volcano, no other hikers were allowed to start the climb; yet, somehow, despite our wrong turn in the morning and with luck on our side, we had made it.
At the top, we revelled in the glory of our surroundings. The sun illuminated the mountains in an orange tone that was absolutely beautiful. No railings or barriers stood between us and the 100-meter drop into the belly of the beast.
We were travelers, explorers, and trailblazers. This was the moment we all knew we would never settle for a resort in the Caribbean ever again. We would continue to seek out experiences that would test our comforts and allow us to continue blazing our own paths in different corners of the world.
Words and Photos: Danielle Levesque