Tourist Battle at the Tengger Caldera

The Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park is one of Indonesia’s major sights and destination of not a few busses. You can literally start your travel to the Bromo from every of the country’s bigger cities. Writing that, the main reason why the Tengger caldera isn’t an unhurried place already got spoken out. It is really hard to escape from the touristic bustle and at the latest the plastic bag flooded crater bowl of the Bromo will put you off… The most frequented spot is at the same time the highest peak around: Gunung Penanjakan. From there every morning about 200-300 tourists try to watch the magic colourful sunrise. However, doing so can also lead into quite ugly situations…

“I was first here!” – “No, I was first!” – “You stupid! No you stupid!” – Sounds quite like kindergarten, doesn’t it? Fortunately those phrases were free of four-letter words, not to mention what happened after… Sadly these people weren’t kids, but central Europeans in their best ages, reckoning themselves as being highly civilised. That morning in April the fence around Penanjakan’s observation platform became the venue of a Dutch-French skirmish. When I wanted to leave all that behind by climbing over the fence, their concentrated rants were quickly aiming on me.

Fortunately I had Scottish company; hence in terms of perceived citizenship for any other I came from the English speaking island. If I would have been discovered as German, then surely the joint liability for World War 2nd would have been reheated and thrown right into my face… Unfortunately it is obvious that suchlike childish trench-warfare-like scenes could recur, even if it’s only about a sunrise. Thankfully not all tourists are the same, and when leaving such people behind, stranded in their struggles, then you can even enjoy what the Tengger Caldera is world-renowned for: its sunrise.

Lined up like pearls on a string, the lights of the jeeps are making their way from the caldera’s rim, more precisely from the city of Cemoro Lawang, towards the Penanjakan peak. Several inhaled dense diesel fumes and about 50 minutes later you reach the antenna-topped summit, from where you can enjoy the spectacular picturesque view over East Java’s remarkable volcanic landscape. Shortly before sunrise, but depending on the clouds you can experience the most colourful moment. Hues reaching from deep violet to a reddish blue plus clouds and rugged craters being gently touched by the golden yellow sunlight; actually you can admire every colour that the rainbow has in its repertoire. However, about half an hour after sunrise the colourful enchantment quite quickly yields to the grey impressions that usually dominate volcanic sceneries.

Standing on the Penanjakan peak, the dot on the i is when Semeru is ejecting one of its ash eruptions. Unfortunately the volcano is quite quiet at the moment (as of April 2009) and within several days no ash clouds rose up in the sky. Being 3676 meters tall, Semeru is a giant among the strato volcanoes and at the same it is also Java’s highest mountain. However, the volcano isn’t harmless as in the past 200 years 50 big eruptions occurred. The Semeru isn’t rising up in a densely populated area like the Merapi, but as a subduction zone volcano it is as famous as notorious for its pyroclastic flows. By the way: the toilet at Penanjakan peak can be confidently ranked among the most unpleasant spots in the world. So stick to your hotel in case of number one and number two… :-)

Also the locals are keen on visiting the Tengger Caldera; last but not least due to a saga having a royal background. Tourism is strong and is responsible for some bloopers of course; blunders like an ATM in a Hindu temple in the middle of nowhere or hundreds of annoying ojeks. Ojek, that is the Indonesian word for motor cycle – at the latest when yet another ojek is driving past you roaring like hell, hurling up the ash dust right into your face and polluting the air you get pretty quickly pissed off. Having reached Bromo’s crater rim, there is another shake for your head waiting, as the upper rim is completely littered with old plastic bags. Sadly often the locals are the ones who don’t mind to take litter back to the hotel. However, the Tengger Caldera is a highlight that is experienced best when hiking all the way. From Cemoro Lawang the Bromo crater is about 2-3 kilometres away. You can take a shortcut, that is to climb down the steep caldera wall directly, but due to that way being bloodily peppered with thousands of nasty thorns, that more less has to be put down as little adventure.

Those travelling individually or alone rarely book the bus rides starting in Surabaya or even Yogyakarta. For them the small town of Probolingo is the gate to the huge caldera located in East Java. According to Lonely Planet Probolingo is literally the origin of all things called rip-off, fraud and thievery. Partially that might be true, but when stopping there two times, respectively staying for two days including accommodation, we (a Scottish, an English and a German) never experienced anything negative like that. Far from that, two different worlds were converging at a billiard saloon next to Probolingo’s liveliest crossroad, when we were challenging the locals to a duel of the billiard cues. To some extent the ladies were looking as if beside billiard you could also get other services, but the friendly atmosphere and the game brought us together. Fraud, rip-off & Co. were not an issue at all. In Jakarta that wouldn’t have worked this way.

Tengger Caldera, East Java, Indonesia