Bromo and Kawah Ijen
From Malang we traveled to Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park. Mt. Semeru, at 3600m, is the highest volcano in Java, and one of the most active. About every 20 minutes it releases a puff of ash and steam from its perfectly conical summit. Below Semeru is the giant Tengger crater, the remains of a prehistoric volcano that “blew its top”. Inside the crater are several smaller, newer volcanoes, including Bromo. The Tengger people are Hindus who retreated into the interior highlands when the rest of Java converted to Islam.
Sunrise from the high point on the crater's edge is the best time to appreciate the scene. With the smoking cone of Mt Semeru in the background, the first rays of light penetrate the depression below, evaporating the mist lingering in the folds and ridges of the sloping walls. In the afternoons a thick fog descends on the mountain, filling the crater with an impenetrable white mass. Despite being nearly on the equator, the air was chilly at the 2000m Cemoro Lawang station. Our thin tropical clothes and sarongs could not keep out the damp cold. Street vendors sold woolen socks and ski hats while Indonesian tourists huddled over steaming hot bowls of “bakso” soup.
Walking across the flat, sandy crater floor on the way to climb Mt. Bromo, we passed a Hindu temple. The locals make offerings to keep the volcano pacified. Coins, rice, fruit, flowers, and even goats are sometimes thrown into the smoking crater!
From Bromo we traveled east towards another volcanic area, the Ijen plateau. The approach involved a long drive through the lush, forested tableland that surrounds the caldera. There were hot springs, waterfalls and extensive coffee plantations in the area. In the forest we passed giant trees full of monkeys. After a long walk along the access road, we finally reached the Kawah Ijen National Park. We discovered, to our disappointment, that an eruption had just occurred. The crater was closed. Forced to turn back, we vowed to return. A wealthy Chinese-Indonesian family gave us a lift back to the nearest town.