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2023 Trip Report - Four Wheeling in the Volcano

Four Wheeling in the Volcano

By Nancy Maclean

Have you any of you ever driven inside of the active volcano?  Well we did, and it was awesome!

In February, Ron Ross and I were on a cruise in Indonesia and had a chance to go on the excursion to Mt. Bromo, an active volcano on the island of Java.

We started in a small fishing port of Probolingo, on the north east part of the island.  We boarded a nice, comfortable bus, to take us to the foothills, where our colorful jeeps were lined up and waiting for us.

The jeeps looked inviting, but as we got closer, we realized, these were probably WWII military vehicles, carefully cared for by the locals, to take tourists to the volcano, a favorite destination for Indonesians.  Definition of the well taken care of vehicle is a bit stretched here, because when I asked the driver to open the window, he handed me a window handle, to stick into the door and open my own window.  Well…it worked.

After a short break for coffee and delicious snack of fried bananas with coconut, we followed our local driver and boarded his blue jeep, for a wild ride to Mt. Bromo.  And it was a “mad hatter’s” ride, on very steep paved road with tight, hairpin curves.   Our crazy driver, insisted on cutting the curves and driving on the wrong side of the road, so we were praying that we survive the ride and live to tell the story of our unique experience.

Along the road were small villages, with little, but well taken care of houses, and small hotels and restaurants, serving the local tourists.  Steep hills were planted with lots of cabbage, onions and potatoes.  They do not grow in the lower elevations on the equator.  We were amazed how the farmers can work the fields in such steep terrain, all by hand with a shovel and a hoe.

We stopped at an overlook on the edge of a huge caldera and climbed the rickety wooden tower to take pictures.  Even though it was an overcast day, the two volcanoes, inactive Mt. Batok and active Mt. Bromo were in full view.  It was pretty impressive.

From there, we drove down the steep dirt road into a huge caldera, over 19 square miles in diameter.  It was a sandy/ashy flat plain with steep sides, and the two volcanoes inside it.   It was a driving free-for-all, because we were no longer on the road, and the drivers scattered all over, trying to avoid the dust from the vehicles near them.  As we got close to Mt. Bromo, the drivers parked the jeeps, and as we got out, local guides were snatching everybody and getting them onto the awaiting little ponies, for the next segment of the excursion.  With my aversion to riding horses, I decided to hike up with a couple of young ladies from New York.

As we walked on the flat sandy caldera bottom, occasionally a gust of wind would blow the cloud of ash and lower the visibility. I put on the sunglasses to prevent sand and ash going into my eyes. After about a mile we started a climb up through a narrow canyon. It was pretty steep and sandy and we had to rest from time to time, since we were at nearly 7000 ft altitude.

We soon reached the area where the people got off the horses and started climbing stairs. We were told there were 240 steps to the edge of the caldera, and they seemed steeper, the higher we got.

Finally, I stepped off the last step and just saw a sharp edge and a steep downhill on the other side of a rickety cement fence. It felt a bit sketchy standing there, as the ground under me felt like it was shaking.  Inside the active volcano was filled with smoke and steam so you could not see much inside it, but the roaring sound of all those gases escaping under the pressure of earth’s core, was really, really loud. After a few pictures on top, a gust of wind blew and carried a strong caustic gas, with Sulphur aerosol that irritated my respiratory system and I started to cough. At that point it was time to start a steep descend down the stairs, because most of our group was headed down on their horses.

Afterwards we were back in our jeeps, racing each other in the flat caldera, to get a good parking spot at our designated lunch space.  We had a nice lunch of traditional Indonesian food and  at the Hotel and restaurant “Volcano View” and then it was time for more wild driving on the narrow windy roads, to get to our buses, and then to a long haul back to our boat.

Back at the harbor, where our tender was waiting for us, there were many locals, taking pictures and videos of us, just as we were taking pictures of them, and we were all laughing at each other.  This is just a small poor fishing town, and few tourists ever make it here.  We were certainly glad we had an opportunity to have this unique once in the life time experience. ~ Nancy

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