May 20 2014. I embarked on a 3D2N journey with 5 other friends to a lost paradise high above the sea level in East Java, Indonesia. The place is Mount Bromo, a famous volcano situated at the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park. We departed from Singapore Changi Airport and took a 2 hours flight to reach Surabaya, the capital of East Java. We met our guide Imam and were transported to a cozy minibus for our 4 hours drive to the national park. About ¾ into the bus ride, our air conditioner failed, and we had to stop for a short moment while the driver fix the air con. Shortly afterwards, we were back onboard and heading uphill towards our lodge. We were checked into the Lava View Lodge, which is situated just at the edge of the Tengger Caldera with a great view of the volcanoes in the distance. The climate was cold here, about 14 degrees Celsius during our stay. We were split into 2 rooms with the friendly staffs helping us to carry our luggage into the room. One of my friend and his dad shared a 2 bedded room while the rest of us shared a family room for 4. The rooms do provide hot shower and a kettle for boiling water.
Our comfortable minibus
fixing the air con
Lava View Lodge family room
view from outside our lodge
relaxing corner from our lodge
We weren’t able to visit the volcano as it was already getting dark, so we went for dinner at Café Lava just outside our bungalows. The menus were simple and we ordered the only vegetarian friendly food we could find (Majority of us are vegetarians, so we ordered the same food). Wi-Fi in the area is limited and the strongest signal came from the reception area, but it is not very stable as well. After dinner, we went to try our maiden shoot on the Milky Way. We went to a dark spot behind our bungalow and captured some images of the night sky, however it was disappointing as the fog started to come in and we could not get a clear sky nor locate the Milky Way. In the end, we shot some really cool pictures of us in the fog using the lights from the bungalow; the effect looked as though some aliens had landed on earth.
We woke up early in the morning at 3am to start our jeep ride to catch the famous sunrise which had been photographed by many before us. I specially requested to set off earlier than normal as I wanted to reach early to photograph the Milky Way. Our guide Imam kindly suggested a secluded spot at King Kong Hill at Mount Penanjakan to view the sunrise as it is a less well known spot and is devoid of crowds. The popular main viewpoint further uphill is usually packed with tourist during sunrise, something which I totally want to avoid. We drove in the darkness through the Sea of Sand (locally known as Sagara Wedi) and up to Mount Penanjakan. Upon reaching King Kong Hill, we set up our gears and started to locate the Milky Way by randomly aiming at different parts of the sky. The situation was not very ideal as the moon was shining brightly above us, causing light pollution. We finally found the Milky Way and managed to get a few shots of it before the sky starts to brighten up. It was my very first Milky Way shot.
travelling along the sand dunes in the middle of the night
my first Milky Way shot
As the sun began to rise, an otherworldly scene began to appear in front of us. The Tengger Caldera consisting of 5 volcanoes, Bromo, Batok, Kursi, Watangan and Widodaren, gave a reddish glow as the sun rises, casting beautiful shadows onto the volcanoes. At the backdrop, stands Mount Semeru, Java’s highest mountain and volcano at 3676m above sea level. As the sun rises higher, the glow turns into a more yellowish tinge. We spent a good hour plus photographing the sunrise, selfies and just hanging around enjoying the breathtaking view.
Mount Bromo (left smoking) Mount Batok (front), Mount Semeru (back)
Mount Bromo closeup
village of Cemero Lawang
the Tengger Caldera
a small stall at King Kong hill
After having a good time at King Kong Hill, we headed downhill and drove through the Sea of Sand towards the foot of Mount Batok, where we were transferred onto ponies to bring us to the foot of Mount Bromo. My pony caretaker, Jiwoh, kindly assisted me in carrying my camera while I climbed onto my pony Lewon. We then took a slow ride across the sand dunes to the foot of Bromo’s crater, where we continued on foot up the long flight of 245 stairs to the crater rim. The crater was a gorgeous sight with smoke coming out from the vent. The path on the crater’s edge was very narrow and nerve-wrecking especially the areas without the guardrails with both sides having steep drops with nothing to hold on to. With me lugging 2 camera bodies and a camera bag, I felt nervous walking on the unguarded path even though I’m wearing boots with a good grip. The sandy surface made me feel I could slip anytime. The view from the crater top was beautiful, looking across the Sea of Sand and Mount Batok. We slowly proceeded back down the stairs soon after to where our ponies were. We requested to hike down the slope to take pictures (it was difficult to take pictures while riding the pony) before riding back to our jeep parking area. As we were walking downhill, I came across a group of children riding the ponies up to the crater and took a few shots of it. We climbed back to our ponies when we reached flat ground and headed back to our jeeps before going back to our lodge for breakfast.
riders waiting for business
Mount Bromo’s crater
walking at the edge of the crater, a nerve-wrecking experience
After a filling and delicious breakfast, we headed out in our jeeps again. This time we went behind of Mount Bromo. The scene changes dramatically once we were at the back of Bromo. Instead of having dessert like sand dunes like those at the front, the back is filled with beautiful valley and savanna vegetation. It is such a beautiful scene and I could imagine seeing long neck dinosaurs grazing around. Our jeeps stop midway and we got off to take pictures of the surrounding. We took a short walk to a slope and sat on the grass admiring the scenery. To be honest, the scenery of the savanna probably outshines that of Mount Bromo by a tad, maybe because I have already seen many pictures of Bromo even before I come and the savanna was not photographed that much. There were hardly any tourists seen at the savanna area, only an occasionally jeep would drive past us, as most mainstream tourist probably did not know about this part of Bromo. After relaxing on the grass, we proceeded further on our jeeps and it took us uphill to the top of the caldera where we have a bird’s eye view of the beautiful valley of the savanna below.
As we proceeded further, we were brought to the village of Ranu Pane, where the locals grow crops such as onions and potatoes. I really love the serenity of the village with the patterns of the crops lined up beautifully. We alighted at a parking area and head towards the lake of Ranu Pane on foot before arriving at another lake at Ranu Regulo. There we sat on the grass in front of the lake and had our packed lunch box. It was a really peaceful and enjoyable moment having lunch there. After a good lunch, we headed back to our lodge through the same path that we came from and that was the end of our jeep ride. We rested for the afternoon after almost 12 hours of adventure.
village at Ranu Pane
lake at Ranu Pane
lunch at lake Ranu Regulo
We woke up in the evening and headed for dinner at the restaurant. This time we had a staff giving everyone a performance with his guitar and his singing. After dinner, we set out for our final attempt on the Milky Way. It is now or never to get the perfect shot as we will not have another chance. We went further from our lodge and to the dark area where I remembered our jeep came up from the sand dunes. It was the perfect scenario for a great Milky Way shot. Clear moonless sky, little light pollution, and a clear view of the sky with Mount Bromo in the foreground. We easily located the Milky Way with our naked eye and set my gears up for a time lapse shot. On my first test shot, I was stunned by the image I saw. The Milky Way turned out really beautifully, cutting across the sky of stars. I was so excited and I began my time lapse and star trails shot. However, things did not go as smoothly and expected. Soon, there were jeeps coming from the sand dunes. Their headlights were so bright it ruined my shots and I had to start a new batch of shots, but again from time to time, the jeeps light appeared again as they travelled from the Sea of Sand back to the lodges. What’s worse was my lens filter started to fog up from the very cold night and I had to remove it. Finally later into the night, the jeeps had all went back to rest and there were no more distracting lights to spoil my picture. I began a new batch of photos hoping to continue shooting without interference for an hour.
Midway through the shoot, my good buddy accidentally kicked my tripod while trying to maneuver through the darkness and that disrupted the composition. It was a moment of frustration as things were going well for 20 minutes but I did not blame him as it was really dark. I kept my composure and started a new batch of shots. Finally things were going smoothly. While doing my time lapse, I asked one my friend who was done with his shots to aim at another part of the sky as I realized the Milky Way actually stretches through the whole sky. What happened next made three of our jaws drop. The new angle that my friend shot actually produced a more brilliant looking Milky Way than the one we had been shooting for hours. After 45 minutes of time lapse, I decided it was enough and turned my camera and point it to the direction of the new angle. The first shot took my breath away. It was probably one of the most beautiful things I saw with my own eyes. I took several shots of it before my battery went flat on me due to the cold. It was all worthwhile being out on a very cold night for hours and all of us went back to our lodge a happy man.
Next morning, we woke up at 5am and were preparing to leave. While waiting for our minibus to arrive, we went to take our last shots of Mount Bromo right outside our lodge. I happened to see the locals riding the ponies out from the village nearby with the morning sun beautifully shining, and took a few shots of it.
The time had come where we had to leave this fantastic place. A heartwrenching feeling came over me as I boarded the bus and drove out. Although it was just a 3D2N stay at the Bromo Tengger National Park, the trip was definitely worth every second as we made full use of our time there. There are suggestions of another trip back here again, but till then, lets enjoy the memories we brought back from our photos.
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