I love hiking. It is one of the things I enjoy doing the most. I love the physical fatigue it causes me. I don’t mind the ache in my muscles the day after a hike. I cherish the feeling of freedom, the closeness to nature and every single breath of fresh air I can gasp as I make my way to the peak, expectations of the stunning views ahead mounting as I walk on.
I also love volcanoes. It may be because there is none where I live, in Sardinia. It may be the thrill and adrenaline rush I get out of thinking that they may erupt any moment. It may be the unique landscapes – lush vegetation at the foot, and a total desert closer to the crater. It may even be the mysterious aura they have. I can’t quite explain it – just take my word for it: I love volcanoes.
Hiking a volcano is then as close as it gets to my idea of a perfect day.
The prelude to a fantastic day
It’s thus easy to imagine how excited I was when I found out that, during my group tour of Indonesia last October, I would get to hike Mount Bromo, an active volcano considered one of the top natural tourist attractions in the country.
According to the experts, one of the best things to do in Indonesia is seeing the sunrise on Mount Bromo and then hike up to its crater. It just sounded like my kind of thing, memories of my Inca Trail flooding back, the shivers I felt when I saw the sunrise over Machu Picchu making me nostalgic for that experience. I was in for a good time, I thought, and the idea of having to wake up in the middle of the night to start this adventure didn’t bother me in the least. Anything for some adrenaline rush!
As the trip organizers warned me and the rest of the group, since we’d visit Mount Bromo on a Sunday, it would be a bit more crowded than usual as it is a very popular weekend destinations among Indonesians. In order to get a head start and beat the crowds, we’d leave even earlier than expected. Good thinking, I reckoned.
Mount Bromo, the hike that was not
At 2:30 am on a Sunday morning (well, it was night really, and pitch black), still sleepy, we met the organizers who handed us face masks (what for, I wondered?) and pointed us to several jeeps. Those were meant to take us up to the viewpoint from where we’d see the sunrise on Mount Bromo. The minute we boarded, the mayhem started. What seemed like a hundred of jeeps (old engines, exhaust fumes clouding the view and making it hard to breathe) started a race to the top, overtaking each other from all directions, speeding unreasonably on what was an incredibly bumpy road, through the fog and the smoke that made it hard to see an inch beyond one’s nose. That surely woke us up for good.
Our driver eventually decided it was impossible to keep pushing to the top, and in his broken English managed to explain that we’d have to walk from then on and he’d been waiting for us there. We started making our way up. It was hard to walk between the multitude of jeeps that were parked on the side of the street, while others kept speeding past us, completely disregarding the presence of pedestrians and the fact that it was still pitch dark.
As if the jeeps weren’t enough, motorbikes zipped by – or shall I say, through? – us, not bothered by our presence and at most breaking an inch before hitting us to ask if we wanted a ride to the top. It was unnerving, it was frightening and it was hardly my idea of fun and even less so my idea of a purifying hike to breathe pristine air: not even the mask I wore to cover my mouth and nose protected me from the exhaust fumes I was breathing.
This just wasn’t a hike at all.
The sunrise that wasn’t
Despite feeling upset by the chaos that surrounded us, we hung in there, convinced that the view of the sunrise over Mount Bromo would be so incredible that we would soon forget our “hike through hell.” As we managed to reach the end of the road, where no cars were allowed to get through, we realized that an immense crowd of people had beaten us to the viewpoint, spending the night there. An array of selfie sticks was pointed towards the direction of Mount Bromo – although it was still impossible to see it in the dark.
Determined to get at least one iconic picture of Mount Bromo, we pushed our way through the crowds and managed to find a place where we could sit and wait for the sunrise. We snuggled up together to keep the chilly air away – it was as cold as it could possibly get in a country where the temperatures are incessantly hot.
Time went by and the sun had indeed risen, but a thick layer of fog covered Mount Bromo and blocked the view. We wouldn’t see the sunrise over Mount Bromo after all. But while we could complain of the immense crowds that trashed the place and screamed for no apparent reason, the jeeps that polluted the air, the motorbikes that threatened to hit the pedestrians, we surely could not complain about the fog covering up Mount Bromo.
Frustrated for the less than pleasant experience, we made our way down back to the jeep and boarded again, ready for the mayhem that had just been on standby. The only positive note is that at that point the sun had finally made its appearance and we could stop at an improvised viewpoint to get our iconic photo of Mount Bromo. But that is about the only good thing I got out of that day.
Making sense of a horrible excursion
There is one thing we can all complain about, though. And that is the way this fantastic attraction is managed – in total disregard for the delicate environment. Indeed, on paper, the excursion on Mount Bromo clicked all the right buttons: a hike to enjoy the sun rising over a volcano sounded like great fun to me.
Yet, my overall experience on Mount Bromo was possibly as far as it could get from my idea of a good day. It was not a hike. There was no clean air, no peace, no freedom and very little nature involved. Everywhere I looked I was surrounded by hordes of greedy humans who were oblivious to the danger they were causing to the attraction, to the environment, to other people and to the future generation, all for the sake of making money in the short term.
Mount Bromo could really be a fantastic attraction, and precisely, for this reason, it ought to be protected and managed in a more responsible way. Limiting the number of people who each day access the area would have the effect of reducing the amount of jeeps that pollute the air.
Many developed and developing countries have adopted protective policies towards their attractions, showing that they understand that protecting instead of exploiting them will create steady, longer-term incomes. That is why access is limited to 180 tourists per day on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu; that is why no more than 140 cars can access Oasi Bidderosa in Sardinia.
Mount Bromo is one of those places where access should be limited.
Disclaimer: This article was written in partnership with the Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Indonesia. All the views and opinions expressed are those of the author and based on her personal experience.
About the author:
A former human rights lawyer and academic, Claudia abandoned her career to follow her true calling, which has taken her on many adventures and misadventures across the world and has involved rafting down some mighty rivers; hiking to some hidden archeological sites; zip lining across canyons; mountain biking down dangerous roads; camping on desert islands and trekking to the craters of active volcanoes. Through her blog, Claudia shares her inspiring stories, provides tips for other travelers and occasionally goes on a rant. Her mission? Hiking her way up all volcanoes in the world.