Even if a volcano has been dormant for many years, it could blow its top at any time. The eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980 caught campers and climbers by surprise and resulted in 57 deaths. More recently, a volcanic eruption of Mount Ontake, which was a popular tourist attraction for hikers in Japan, claimed the lives of more than 50 people. Climbing an active volcano is never 100% safe, but it is certainly an adventure that you can brag about if you survive.
Our trip to Mount Bromo originated in Surabaya, the capital of East Java. Traveling along Highway 1, we turned toward the mountain on Jalan Bromo, a road at the edge of the city of Probolinggo. The two-lane road was in good condition at the lower elevations, but got progressively worse as the terrain became mountainous. The soil of the region is very fertile, and farms cultivate even parcels of land that are inclined at 30 degrees. Most of the fields had onions and cabbage. After a three-and-a-half hour trip, we arrived at Ngadisari, Gunung Bromo.
Close to the hotel Bromo Permai, we hired a driver with a 4-wheel drive vehicle that would take us to the edge of Mount Bromo. The driver lived next to the hotel and, besides conducting tours to the volcano, he also rented rooms to tourists who could not find lodging at the two hotels in town. The driver's house was adjacent to an angel's trumpet tree (Brugmansia) with large hanging flowers and a field with green onions. The trumpet trees are common throughout the region. They are planted for their decorative flowers, even though all parts of the plants are poisonous. The leaves and seeds of Brugmansia are particularly rich in scopolamine and other alkaloids that have toxic and terrifying hallucinogenic effects.
The Jeep ride was bumpy and noisy. It seemed like the vehicle needed a new muffler. The driver was well aware of the width of his Jeep. Several times, I thought that he was going to scrape an oncoming car in the narrow road, but every time we went through unscathed. It had rained earlier in the day. The dirt road leading to the mountain had puddles in several places. The Jeep drove through the puddles sending waves of mud and splashing the exterior of the vehicle. Even though the Jeep could take us over rough unpaved terrain, we had to switch transportation because, beyond a certain point, the Jeep could not go further.
We had the option of walking to Mount Bromo, but close to the base of Mount Batok, we encountered some horsemen who offered to rent their horses to ride to Mount Bromo. They would walk beside the horses holding the reins, while we sat on the animal and saved our legs. We rode at a brisk pace, and you could see that both the horsemen and the horses had to breathe hard along the trail.
As we rode along the Segara Wedi sand plain we went by a Hindu temple called Pura Luhur Poten. The temple is very important to the Tenggerese people scattered across the nearby mountain villages. Every year, the temple organizes a Yadnya Kasada ceremony which lasts for about one month. On the 14th day, the Tenggerese gather at the temple and ask for blessings. Then, they march in procession toward Mount Bromo, and at mouth of the volcano they throw offerings into the crater. The name of Bromo is derived from the Javanese pronunciation of Brahma, the Hindu creator god.
When we passed the Segara Wedi sand plain we reached a sandy trail bordered by hills built up by a succession of pyroclastic deposits, lava, and wind-blown sand. This terrain could only be crossed on foot, on horseback, or on a dirt motorbike.
Riders have to dismount from their horses at the base of Mount Bromo. The Hindu worshipers have built a stairway leading from the base of the cone to the rim of the crater. It is much easier to climb to the top by using the stairway than by trying to climb on the shifting sands that cover the cone of the volcano. You have to pace yourself on the stairway. There is less oxygen at the height of Mount Bromo (2392 meters or 7,848 feet above sea level). Several rest points have been made in the stairway to allow people to catch their breath. When I visited, the leftmost stairway was partially covered with wind-blown sand and it was difficult to climb.
A fence along the mouth of the volcano keeps tourists and pilgrims from accidentally falling into the crater. When the offerings of the Yadnya Kasada festival are thrown into the crater by Hindu worshipers, some of the poor people of the area climb inside the crater and try to catch the offerings with butterfly nets and sarongs. They also try to capture some of the sacrificial animals.
Mount Bromo is part of the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park. This national park is named after its two mountains, Mount Semeru (the highest in Java at 3,676 meters), Mount Bromo and the Tengger people who inhabit the area.
An eruption of Mount Bromo in 2004 killed two people who were hit by rocks from the sudden explosion. There are many ways to die. On the way back from Mount Bromo, the horse that I was riding tripped on the sand and fell, and I, of course, fell with it. I stayed on top of the horse as it fell and the horse cushioned my fall. The momentum sent me unto the soft sand face first. I got up dirty with pumice sand and dried dung on my face, but not the worse for wear. I noticed only a tiny scratch in my hand one hour later. Fortunately, there were no rocks where I fell, and the horse did not fall on top of me, so I lived to tell the story.