Words and photos by Ian Neubauer
A friend of mine in Sydney who knows Indonesia well told me if I visited just one place in Java, it had to be Mount Bromo – a smouldering volcanic caldera that looks like the dark side of the moon. Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park is 375km east of Yogyakarta and I had four days to bike my way there and back. I approached one of the dozens of small businesses renting out motorbikes in Malioboro Street, the tourist district of Yogyakarta, where I hired a fairly new Kawasaki KLX 150 S and set off.
FRV man ian nuebauer gets on his bike for the ride of his life in on mount bromo.
With a population of 135 million, Java is one of the most densely populated places on the planet, and with so many people getting around on scooters, being on the road means you have to keep your wits about you. After a couple of frustrating days riding in heavy traffic towards Mount Bromo, I finally arrived in the city of Malang, which is at the base of the mountain. I spent another hour or so riding along Malang’s traffic-and smog-choked boulevards looking for an affordable hotel. “Why am I doing this?” I asked myself.
The following morning, I found out why. My spirits rose as I rode out of Malang towards the volcanic range that divides the stiflingly hot plains of East Java from the sparsely populated highlands. Mount Bromo was now within view, with neighbouring Mount Semeru – which at 3,676m is Java’s highest peak – towering in the south. Semeru is one of Indonesia’s most active volcanoes, belching a puff of white smoke every half hour or so, with the last significant eruption taking place three years ago.
When I arrived in Pakis and turned onto a winding mountain road, I knew I’d finally seen the last of the dense traffic I’d endured for the past 36 hours. I rode uphill, taking in the sight of forests, valleys and rivers. At the halfway mark, I arrived in a village with whitewashed homes and shopfronts, and a green-tipped mosque. Schoolchildren ran after me, shouting with glee. I snapped a couple of photos and continued up the range. At the 2,000m mark, the temperature plummeted and mist became a constant. At last, I arrived at the village of Ngadas, the last stop before the caldera. Here I found a little homestay with rustic wooden bungalows and a kindly owner selling hot pork buns and noodle soup for 50 cents a bowl.
at the 2,000m mark, the temperature plummeted and mist became a constant.
After checking in, I walked down to a viewing platform where I met three well-dressed Indonesians – Theo, Satria and Donna – who were tinkering with a video camera. Crew members of the Indonesian TV travel show Jelajah (Adventure), they were awaiting the arrival of a couple of quad bikes on the saddles of which they planned to explore the park. They asked if I’d like to appear on the programme.
The quads soon arrived in the bed of a truck and Satria and I rode the final 5km to our destination. Theo and Donna followed in a 4WD Land Cruiser. When the road came to an end, we veered onto a fire trail that led through a valley to the caldera. One minute we were navigating through thick jungle and the next we emerged into what looked to be a desert. This desolate plateau has two exceptional characteristics: the first is noise. I thought it was the sound of a chainsaw or a two-stroke engine working away, but it was the wind. The second is the “mist” of fine volcanic sand – known as the “sea of sands” – that appears to hover over the landscape.
The quad bikers and I spent the next half hour power-sliding through the sand and flying off the tops of natural ramps. There weren’t any down ramps but the ground was so soft that our tyres sank safely into the sand whichever way we landed. It was the perfect ending to one of the wackiest rides of my life.