South East Asia

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.