The sun was setting over the mountains in the distance and the golden beams created a beautiful visual – both mesmerizing and eerie. This is the view that attracts thousands of visitors each year to this remote place in Indonesia.
I was sent a photo of Mt. Bromo two years ago and I said “wow, it resembles a lunar landscape!” and now that same view is infront of my eyes. I ogled at it, taking every detail – the top of the volcano had been chopped off by violent eruptions, the magma had hardened on its sides and those that run off became the sea of sand known as the savannah, encircling it like a moat.
At the back, Mt. Semeru looms.
It is eerily beautiful, the expanse of volcanic fine sand was slowly being enveloped by darkness and only the peaks that comprises the Bromo Semeru Tengger National Park are now visible. I started to wonder what were the thoughts of those who first saw it, were they amazed as I am now? Maybe they wondered too or maybe they felt fear and surmised that each time they hear the mountain rumbling, it is because the gods living on it are angry.
I shivered when the cold breeze caressed my face and I was brought back to the present. Temperature had started to drop and it was time for dinner as a cat silently jumped down from it’s perch.
The cold winds definitely gave the chill and feel of home.
Cemoro Lawang is the community near Mt. Bromo and the people populating this highland with an altitude of 2217masl are mostly Hindus and are called the Tengger people.
They passed us by with curious eyes, gaze shyly darting from our faces to the road ahead and back. I smiled at each of them. They are either going up or down the hill to their homes or to stores lining the narrow two-way street carrying sling bags.
I envisioned the same people traversing the “sea of sand” each year carrying fruits, vegetables, rice and livestock to throw at the crater of Mt. Bromo in celebration of the Yadnya Kasada Festival, following Hindu traditions. The main purpose of the festivities is to seek the blessings of the mountain gods who they believe are residing on the mountain.
A Hindu shaman also perform rituals at Widodaren cave offering goat, chicken and other livestocks to those same gods.
Communicating through words with the locals is a struggle and I ended up just smiling or performing sign languages to get the message across. English maybe is a universal language but it barely reached this part of Indonesia. Still they try and that is commendable. Most of the guides, 4×4 drivers and homestay owners have picked up basic English words from westerners, easterners and Asians who visits this place every year making simple transactions like buying a bottle of coke or a cup noodle possible.
Throughout our ride from Probolinggo to Cemoro Lawang, I tried and failed to learn about the Tengger people from our driver. I smiled seeing his frustration and patted him on the back and assured him it is okay, he smiled back with an apologetic expression on his face.
One look in his eyes told me he had a lot to share about his tribe, about his people, about their way of life to a stranger.
The next day, we woke up at 3am for the sunrise viewing and we were given a visual feast, a bird’s eye view of Mt. Bromo and the nearby mountains with the sun rising in the distance.
Crowd covered the hill and the 4×4 trucks are pops of colors on the narrow road. Then we were off to the savannah, we would be crossing the wide expanse of cement-like sand and that thought chased the cobwebs of sleep threatening to make me close my eyes.
When we parked, the first thing I saw was the volcanic sand hovering a few meters above ground, disturbed by the throng of people who are either on foot, riding a motorcycle or a horse and are marching towards one destination, the crater of the volcano.
And in the midst of that scene is a temple – appearing and disappearing like a mirage.
For some reason it looked magical to me. It was like a scene from one of my childhood readings and the horses coming in and out of that haze somehow made it more magical.
That foot traffic though converged to a steep concrete stairs and are conversing in different languages, enduring the slow movement and the sun. From that crowd, I tried to check if there were other Filipino visitors but I failed to recognize familiar feautures.
As I neared the rim of the volcano, the rumbling sound kept on getting louder. I heard it while traversing the savannah but the sounds from the motorcycles and chattering had diminished it so I just dismissed it as a noise.
Snaking my way through the crowd and finding a space where I can see the crater fully, I was assailed by that sound again, like a huge military plane landing on a tarmac or the sound of a river when it suddenly swells and it’s current is so strong that it is moving rocks beneath (watch the video clip!).
And alas the wide gaping hole!
I realized too late that the sound was coming from it. I was amazed and was stunned for a moment. I’ve been near or had climbed several volcanos but they have been dormant for years so it was my first time to be near a very active one, with smoke coming out from it’s depths.
It is frightening yet adrenalin is pumping on my veins.
My internal flight mode is blinking because of the thought that the volcano can get aggressive any minute was brewing in my mind. Imagine a bubble gum on your mouth, you blew on it and the bubble is growing and growing and any moment it’ll gonna pop but you don’t know the exact time it will.
It was that kind of thrill and I can’t help but be amazed and linger for a few more minutes.
I moved away from the crowd and I realized it was the sound that was making me stay. It has a hypnotic power paired with that smoke coming out from deep within the belly of the earth. Or is it possible that maybe I am being charmed by the gods said to be living on the mountain?
That hole might indeed be the portals to a subterranean world.
Bromo's rumbling can be heard hundred meters away, beautiful on it's own as it stand among mountains in this range. The loud rumbling and smoke rising from its crater is a constant reminder that it is alive and well, bidding its time. Maybe sooner or later but it will eventually erupt. It may take years or probably decades. People would have been born or have died and in the process changing the landscape around it. But the earth will claim it as its own as it always did, that thought maybe gloomy and seem unreal but nature always prevails.
And then it was time to get back because the sun was getting hot on the skin and the crowd is getting thicker that a safe space is becoming valuable.
Hearing the earth’s sound is definitely frightening but worth it. I’ll never forget the thrill and the fear that came with the beautiful panorama.
The mountain will erupt sooner or later and even sophisticated machines won’t predict the exact day and time but it will as it did before.
It may take years or maybe decades and a generation may have been born or died, the community modernized, the people becoming more sophisticated than they are now and in the process changing the landscape that surrounds Mt. Bromo.
However, the volcano will claim what it own as nature always does. It will decide how the terrain would look like.
The volcano and the mountains around it will continue to live on, forming and deforming.
While my footprints may have been covered by another or erased by the winds, and all that I have shared with the mountain may just be the emotions it made me feel, those are enough to last me a lifetime.