Monday, 24 October 2011

Hill with a Hole in the Top


We reluctantly rolled out of Batu Karas where we could have stayed a month or two, and headed east down the coast to Pangandarang. There was a white sand beach where the monkeys cracked sea-shells on the exposed reef. One could both snorkel and surf here but neither in ideal conditions. Onward to Cilacap where we turned inland and rode to Borobodur, the great Buddhist  temple. Impressive. Her we met Kanda, an adventurous Japanese cyclist who had just started his round the world trip in Bali. We spent the morning with him wandering the ruins and left for Prambanan, another temple complex where we sat amongst the ruins to watch the sun set. Before a town called  Wonogiri we happened upon a small hotel with a veranda and a view over a lake amongst the hills.
Our goal now was Gunung Bromo, the great volcano. We knew it would be steep and Anja was a little anxious. She insisted I did some internet research to see if anyone else had ever cycled the road we intended to take. The so called ‘Back door to Bromo’.
My admittedly reluctant and brief search revealed no guys on bikes crazy enough to take this road except Mr Pumpy, my cycle-blogging hero of old. Good old Mr P. had ridden this road in the opposite direction and described his descent (our ascent) as the most continuously steep and rough road he had, on all his travels come across. The intrepid fellow burnt through a set of brake-blocks and had to get off and walk some of the way.
‘It doesn’t sound too bad’, I reported to Anja and she looked decidedly happier about the 2300m climb ahead of us. We were taken in by Ekko and his family the first night, in a village with the wonderful name of Gubaklakka, so named after the sound the suspension makes on all the motorbikes and Jeeps around these parts. We managed a 6 O’Clock start the next morning and were soon pushing up a not so bad road made from concrete divided into small squares. This gave some purchase to tires, was far better than slipping backwards in the dust, but damn difficult to ride up all the same. Infact, I offer a challenge; if anyone can cycle all the way up this road with a full set of bags I will buy them both a pint and a pickled egg. All you hoard rushing to claim this prize will
hopefully not disturb the beauty and tranquility you will all encounter on this wonderful track.
So up and up we went, demolishing our water and food supplies till we had but a dry packet of noodles left for our intended camp. Suddenly there was a little hut selling aqua and last year’s biscuits, and a surprised old man who informed us that we were now on the crater rim. Bromo is an active, if mildly, volcano within the much larger crater of an older one. This makes for a rather unique landscape. Apparently we had now only to descend the outer wall, cross the ‘Sea of Sand’, climb a few hundred steps and we could peer into the innards of our beloved planet.
It all started off quite green and pretty but the sand got deeper and we had to push. The vegetation slowly died off and as a wind picked up we were struggling across an eerie land of ash which we are still spitting from our mouths and cleaning from our camera. There were cumulus clouds against the opposite wall some miles distant which sat but a few feet from the ground. And we could see steam rising behind a hill on our left.
We had made better time than we thought and as the dust cleared a little we could make out a settlement perched on the steep wall in front of us. Given the weather, terrain and impending darkness we abandoned the camping idea and kept going to Ngadasi, the village we could see.
On getting closer we were met by a man on a motorbike who led us back to his guesthouse and a hot meal by his fire. It had suddenly turned cold. He was keen for us to see the sunrise from a high viewpoint the next morning which was a 3 hour walk or an hour’s motorbike ride away. Hesitatingly he agreed to trust us with his moped and at 3.30 the next morning we left in the dark with a scribbled map into the dark and sandy crater. There was a thin mist on the ground and a sky full of juicy stars above as we floated across the soft and unseen surface of the plain and ascended to the frigid peak to witness a magical sunrise with, surprisingly, a few hundred other people. We never did figure how they had got there or where they had come from. From a more solitary vantage we witnessed the day get underway as we brewed some coffee and ate our bread and cheese.
The climb up Bromo itself was a short and crowded hike through deep ash. The mountain last erupted in January covering the vicinity in a few feet of ash.
This ash had covered the concrete safety railing on Bromo’s rim and as I turned to speak to Anja my forgotten rucksack almost sent someone on their journey to the centre of the earth. There was a steep scarp of ash ending abruptly in a vertical stone-walled hole that presumably went on down and down. The feeling, looking down, somehow surpassed vertigo, from which I suffer. There would be something so utterly final about falling into this abyss that we felt one might be able to accept this fact after the initial panic, and perhaps enjoy the flight. We spent some time in such powerful but futile reflection before returning to the guesthouse, packing our bags and pushing off on our more measured descent down the smooth and winding road to the sea.
What a descent it was, our hard rough climb of the day before was rewarded with 30km pedal-free cycling. First real steep then gradually relaxing gradients until we were cruising at 35 to 40 kmh without even having to brake. The mileposts whizzed by and we removed a scarf or a hat or a coat at every other one until we hit a wall of hot air, black fumes and noise. The North coast road of Java.
It’s a sticky wind that blows no-one dry. Damn, it was hot. It really sapped the strength. Maybe we were still tired from the Bromo climb because we barely crawled up the hill to Bondowoso where I sit and write this.
We are taking a day off to do some ‘housework’, sorting out Australian visas on-line and buying a flight ticket to Darwin. We have less than three weeks left on our visas and though we could extend them and continue down through the islands, we would be lucky to find a yacht willing to take us, and the flights from Timor are exorbitant. I am ready to close the Asian chapter of our trip. I long for open spaces again and somewhere where we will be inconspicuous. We are ready for Australia though it seems not ready for us; apparently they have a thing called the wet season that kicks off in November. Not sure exactly what this means in Australia, probably just a bit of cloud sweat!
Tomorrow we start another volcanic climb up a bumpy road. Well it was over the hill with the hole in the top or round on the dirty main road. My way or the highway I guess! Next installment should be from Bali, hopefully we’ll find some swell for surfing!

















Chris said...

Oh my gosh - looks so awesome. Bike is the only way to travel!! I started touring years ago, but recently got a Montague folding bike, and my bike travel possibilities have opened up more than I ever could have imagined.

wahyu blog said...

gokil nih bule dh smpe indonesia ja.