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Indonesia Part 2: The Probolinggo Mullet (or Driving to Mount Bromo)

Backstory: I spent a week traveling Indonesia from East Java to Bali trekking around Mount Bromo and Mount Ijen—Why am I explaining this? This is Part 2 after all. Why don’t you just go read Part 1?

A couple weeks earlier I looked into getting a hotel or guesthouse in the town next to Mount Bromo. Unfortunately, I had decided to not only arrive on a Saturday, but also on the night of a full moon and coinciding concert. EVERYTHING was booked solid. My new plan was to find a place in the next nearest city, Probolinggo.

However, even before I reached the bus station in Probolinggo, an Indonesian man with a very pronounced mullet hopped on the bus and seeing me, the only white person aboard, asked where I was going. It turned out he was a stylish travel agent and he claimed he could get me place to stay at Bromo so I decided I would hear him out. It wasn’t too far to the bus station incase he decided to grow a creepy mustache as well. He said he not only had a guesthouse available in Bromo, but there were several other people “like me” (translation: white) that were signed up to do a three day tour of Mount Bromo and Mount Ijen ending in Bali. As this was actually my original plan, and at this point I was not looking forward to finding a place to sleep, I agreed to join the group. It was around 120 USD for the three day tour. While I probably could have gotten a better price by shopping around or haggling, I was tired and went for it.

I stepped outside to find an ATM and all of a sudden it was dark. Because of some strange planning in timezones, the sun sets around 5:30 in East Java. I felt like I was back in Alaska for just a small moment, but then I felt the sweat running dripping into my butt-crack like a rusty old faucet that drips into butt-cracks and was quickly reminded where I was in fact located.

At 6:30 PM our driver arrived and I hopped on a minibus with two of my group members, a couple from Ukraine who had also flown in from Singapore. To think my bus ride from Surabaya to Problinggo was intense… Add in darkness, twisty mountain roads, and a package of ritz crackers you bought from a convenience store where the guy followed you around and said you looked like Justin Bieber and you are in for the ride of your life. Seriously, I’ll say it again. Who needs roller coasters when you’ve got indonesian drivers?

I was perched on the edge of the front seat, my sweaty butt cheeks clenching on for my dear life as we shot through the black, foggy night. As usual we seemed to be spending more time in the lane with opposing traffic than our own. Apparently since our driver was having to pass so many other vehicles, he figured it would make more sense just to drive in the other lane, only jutting back to the proper side when a set of bright lights popped around the corner.

As we climbed higher and higher, the temperature dropped, the fog thickened and eventually the sky started spitting rain. Of course the road narrowed down as well to the equivalent of one and a half lanes. The solution to this, was not slowing down, of course, but giving a “courtesy honk” when going around sharp turns to let anyone know they should vacate the road or be run down. I get carsick very easily, but apparently bone tingling adrenaline and the kind of fear for your life that puts a permanent grin on your face is the best cure for motion sickness you can get.

About an hour an a half later I gingerly set foot on solid ground in what appeared to be a giant cloud. For the first time in a long time, I felt cold. It was genuinely freezing out.  The small town I was staying in, Cemoro Lawang, rests at 7,274 feet (2,217 m) above sea level and I felt fantastic. There were several locals walking around selling “Bromo Hats” and scarves to those foolish enough not to realize it could actually get cold in South East Asia. Not wanting one was not something they understood.

An old man hobbled out and showed me where my room was. It was very bare; pretty much two rock hard beds, a blanket, and decorated with the Nazi insignia. No creepy crawlies though, so that was a plus!  The communal bathroom was worse than the worst outhouses I have ever seen.  I would have taken a picture, but I tried to spend the absolute least amount of time possible in the general vicinity so I’m lacking in that area. I’m pretty sure just seeing the state of these bathrooms was the inciting incident in my digestive issues for the next couple weeks. It was at this point my bowels just seized up, and my body stubbornly decided it would just rather not go.

Being that it was only 8:30 PM, and I was quite hungry, I grabbed the cheapest meal I have possibly ever had in my life (10,000 Rupiah or 1 USD for a plate of Mee Goreng) and wandered around. I found a café with WiFi, sipped some ginger tea, and finally got a message to my girlfriend that I had indeed made it to Indonesia and have yet to die by stabbing or firy car crash. Keyword: YET.

There wasn’t any power outlets in my room to charge my phone so I resisted my usual temptation to to look at LOLCATS for hours and I headed back to my room. I failed to get any real itinerary for the tour so I took a guess that the scribbled looking 3:00 on my receipt was a time. What time? I had no clue. I knew we had to get up early to take a jeep up a neighboring mountain to see the 5 AM sunrise so I set my alarm for 2:40 AM.

Ending my first day in Indonesia, I climbed into bed, curled up with my jackets and tried to fall asleep. In just a few short hours I would be climbing up the edge and looking into the bowels of the earth, staring into the mouth of the active volcano Mount Bromo. I was just about to pass into a dreamland I expected to be full of mullets when I felt something scratch between my legs. My eyes opened wide for a moment but then I remembered. That’s just the money I had forgotten to take out of my underpants.

Stay tuned for more posts on my trip to Mount Bromo, Mount Ijen, and Bali. There will be a lot more photos I promise. It’s hard to take photos at night in the fog and I’d rather not blind an already reckless driver with a flash.



Indonesia Part 1: Not Getting Stabbed in Surabaya, East Java

I’d been in Singapore too long. For eight months I’ve been sweating in this country without traveling apart from a quick jaunt over the border into Jahor Bahru, Malaysia. With a week of public holiday leave about to expire, I decided to head to the closest destination with the most opposite environment to Singapore: The Volcanoes of East Java.

With Indonesia being the most geologically unstable country on the planet, and less than two hours away, it was a no-brainer that this was a spot I needed to hit while in Southeast Asia. (Plus, as I either want my body to be ejected towards the next nearest star or dumped into a volcano when I eventually cease to exist, this would give me a head start on choosing the right volcano should my space idea become too popular.)  I decided I would fly into Surabaya, hit Mount Bromo, and leave the rest of the week open eventually making my way to Bali.


Seated next to me on the plane was an extremely nice, older couple from Surabaya. They only spoke a few words of  English, but it was enough to ask me where I was going. The woman approved greatly: “Bromo, good!” “Bali, good!”. This however followed with the husband saying, “Surabaya, … ” and then acted out a little skit that depicted money being put down underpants and being knifed in the belly. “Surabaya, not stay,” I replied and they nodded their heads. Apparently they enjoy  it, but I guess they aren’t a twenty-something year old tasty piece of white ass someone can either just shank for my underwear money or kidnap and use as a piece of furniture in their basement until someone coughs up enough dough to buy them a ticket out of town.

Before we parted ways, they were nice enough to write out a series of directions to get to Bromo. With my tighty-whities bulging (because of the cash, you dirty creep) (but also I was slightly aroused by so much money being so close to my junk) (also, how do strippers manage? It is really quite itchy) (seriously, if strippers are reading this, please comment. I’d like to know for future knowledge) (for purposes of hiding money only) (also leave any names of clubs that may be hiring) (thanks)  I stepped out of the airport and was hit with a bit of a shock. I’m used to being outnumbered racially, here in Asia, but not only was no white, but everyone was much much older. I’m talking get-a-graveplot-ready-because-someone-is-going-to-fall-over-dead-any-second old. Apparently anyone younger than sixty doesn’t travel in Surabaya. On top of that I attracted stares from every corner of the street. I felt like I was a giant sign that said “STAB ME, AND GOLD WILL FLOW FROM MY VEINS” on it. Everyone wanted me in their taxi. I simply said no thanks, that I was taking the shuttle bus and they kindly pointed me in the right direction. (It helps to act very sure of what you are doing, even if you don’t have a clue.)

Note: I’m going to pause for a moment. I feel bad that I’m starting this adventure off on such a negative note. Perhaps the city of Surabaya is actually quite nice, I never saw it. All I saw was the airport, and the main bus depot, Purabaya. I gotta say, everything in between is kinda what I imagined third-world-poverty-stricken-Africa to look like. I didn’t get many photos on this leg. Even with my camera pimped out to look like it was owned by a dirty hobo, I didn’t dare take it out. What I saw was dirt roads, trash piles burning in people’s “yards”, stray sheep grazing in sewage filled ditches, and little mopeds packed with a man, a girl, a woman and a baby in her arms. Somehow that little two wheeled vehicle could still move.

However above all, I’ve never come across nicer people. Everyone I encountered was extremely kind and interested in where I was going. A young woman who was a Damri shuttle bus attendant at the airport told me all the information I needed on how to get to Probolinggo, and then on to Bromo. She then told me how she loved my mustache because it made her nose look small…? I think I missed something there. Next she proceeded to tell me to keep my stuff hidden or I’d get stabbed. I got to the bus depot just in time for the bus to Probolinggo and set out right away.

The guy next to me on this bus was about my age and had a guitar with him, so I felt pretty safe for the time being; when was the last time an a musician was strapped for cash? He didn’t speak more than a couple words of english either, but convinced me to try the strange food a vendor was selling on the bus. It was green and mushy with coconut on it and burst in your my mouth when I bit down on it. Not too bad, sweet and tangy with the texture of play-doh.  The guys sitting around me told me it would give me energy to climb Bromo. At least that’s what I think they were getting at. Either that or it will give me super powers and turn me into the hulk. And then they told me not to take out my stuff or I would get stabbed.

I did not get stabbed.


Stay tuned to read the rest of the journey through Mount Bromo, the acid lake of Mount Ijen, and the monkeys and temples  of Bali. I promise more pictures next time. And less imagery of my underwear. Unless, of course, that’s what you want.