After eight hours spent on a train, we finally arrived in Malang, a city Cath and I judged to be the best access point in order to climb up Mount Bromo - one of the volcanos in East Java still active today. Malang and Probolinggo were the best suited options to access the volcano. Only, we had to think ahead about our next move in order to choose our destination wisely. Going to Probolinggo meant to continue our route by bus toward the East end of Java, cross to Bali with a ferry and keep riding its North coast to Lovina. The second option - which we ended up choosing - was to go to Malang so we could climb up the volcano on a day trip and come back to the Malang airport where we would fly to Bali Denpasar. From there, we would settle in Ubud for a few days as our first stop in Bali. We simply thought it would be more practical and time efficient and we were right.
As per what we can now describe as a tradition in Asia, a sea of taxi drivers were awaiting our arrival right outside the railway station. Little did they know, I also developed my very own tradition which is to ignore them as I am walking straight through the crowd. To the sound of cannon-singing cab drivers shouting “Taxi!”, I reached out to my phone and called a Grab. So far, this app never did me wrong. The commute from the railway station to our hotel was only a few kilometers away and the app gave me the price beforehand, so there was no surprise to have at the end of the run... or at least I thought so. As the driver was just about to drop us at our hotel, he pulled a very odd move, but as a local he had the better hand over us. He passed the parking gate, left us just on the other side of it and asked us to pay for the parking he just paid. We knew he would get out of the parking within minutes and wouldn't need to pay anything as the sign clearly indicated we were still in the first few free minutes. The taxi driver didn't want to hear anything, he would not leave without us paying for his parking. My ego wouldn't hear it either! I engaged in a neverending argument with the driver, telling him that we are not fools and therefore should not accept to be ripped off by evildoers. While I was slowly succeeding to lower the price one Rupiah at a time, Cath had the idea to ask the hotel lobby staff for help. We finally settled for a price that was acceptable for both parties and let the driver leave with his money. Fortunately, these kind of situations were very seldom on Java Island. I wish I could say the same about Bali.
Street Art at Jodipan Kampung
Cath and I just came back from a local restaurant where we had some Nasi Goreng, Ayam Lalapan and other delicious local dishes. It was already late and we didn't see any tourist desk on our way to try and book the day trip to the volcano - the very reason why we were in Malang. After a few searches on the world wide web, we found an ad with a Whatsapp number mentioned on it. Soon enough, Cath was in the middle of a negotiation chat - with a stranger on the other end - trying to get the most out of the offer. The risks we take to experience the wonders of this world are sometimes beyond the usual standards of the western world. We finally settled for a full day private trip to Mount Bromo for 1 300 000 IDR. The trip included watching sunrise on King Kong Hill, walking to the Mount Bromo crater and hiking to the Rainbow Waterfall. Cath even managed to negotiate a drive back directly to the airport so we could catch our flight to Bali on time. We had ourselves a deal! The driver would pick us up from our hotel at 1:00am the next day. This meant we had the full day to discover what Malang had to offer before going to bed early and waking up in the middle of the night. One interesting sight that caught my eye from the train window as we entered Malang was the Jodipan Kampung, a favela-like neighborhood that was fully painted with all kinds of crazy colors and decorated with street art. Although some of the color choices were bold and look very odd from a distance, it was actually beautiful and an amusing experience to walk in the narrow backstreets and enjoy the paintings. It was definitely the best spot for an improvised photoshooting session. We stayed in the village for a while until it started raining heavily.
Hair Batik (or not)
We immediately called a grab to escape the bad weather toward a temple called Candi Singosari - just outside the city - which turned out to be quite the deception - nothing much to see, nothing much to do... With my glass-half-full mindset, I thought this was the perfect moment to get a haircut. We found a barbershop just around the corner that only charged 50 000 IDR - a small promotion at this barbershop had just open a few days ago. The barber and owner were so happy to have me as a client that he even promoted the hell out of it on social media. I was quite happy with my haircut, except for one small detail. At one point, the barber asked me if I’d fancy a "hair tattoo". Perhaps the term was not well picked. What he really meant was a hair design pattern made with blade. I politely refused as I never had a funky design in my hair before and wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy it. The barber was quite insistant and even showed me a few online pictures of his art. We even bragged about being a barber for several years in Bali before he decided to move back to his hometown. "Screw it! Let's go for it!", I said. The barber suggested to design a Batik in the back of my head. Batik is a traditional technique to decorate clothes made by drawing patterns of dots and lines. It is a beautiful craft that is part of the Indonesian tradition (although they can also be found in other countries of South East Asia). However, I can assure that whatever he did on my head looked nothing like it. It was actually pretty aweful if you ask me. Cath and I had a good laugh about it as we knew it would only last a few says anyway. Nothing to be worried about. Besides, this experience reminded me of a valuable lessons I was taught back in my online dating times: Never trust online pictures!
Sunrise at King Kong Hill
The alarm from our cellphones went off simultaneously at 00:30am. It was time to wake up and leave for our day trip. As instructed, a Toyota Land Cruiser from the 1970's was waiting for us in front of the hotel. The driver looked like an Indonesia version of Uncle Sam from the famous board game Monopoly. The short and chubby man with a round face and thick moustache helped us load all of our belongings In the trunk which also served as a backseat. We took place aboard and drove off to the volcano. Just outside Malang the ascent began on a very steep and bumpy road for the next two hours. I though such roads would have nothing on a born and raised Montrealer who is used to driving in chaotic road conditions, but I was wrong. I was optimist enough to think I could have used these two hour of commute to take some rest, but reality hit me hard as the backseat was shaking harder than a paint mixer. I actually had to keep my core contracted the whole time in order to keep my balance and avoid knocking my head on the frame. For the whole ride, the road became neither flatter nor smoother. How glad was I to stop for a short break at a tiny village by the road. This allowed me to stretch my legs, retrieve my balance and enjoy a comforting bowl of Bakso Ayam - a chicken broth soup served with noodles, assorted meatballs, bread crackers and seasoning to taste. After a few more kilometers of a bumby road that reminded me of a scene in the 1995 classic comedy "Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls", we finally reached the top of the mountain. When we arrived on-site, a sea of Toyota Land Cruisers parked in line on both sides of the road. It looked like it was quite the transportation mean of choice for such an excursion. It was 4:30am, it was pitch black and we had nothing but the shining stars and the flashlight function of our cellphones to find our way to the summit of what locals call King Kong Hill. I agree, it is an odd name for a mountain. My experience in Asia taught me that local governments often use commercial names pulled out of the Pop Culture in order to attract western tourists (e.g. King Kong Hill; Teletubbies Mountain; Hallelujah Mountain; etc.). We must have walked around for half an hour before finally giving up on our quest to find the secret passage. We bit the bullet - spending 30 000 IDR (2 EUR) - and hired a local to bring us to the spot we wanted to reach in the first place. He brought us to the top within seconds. We felt a little stupid not to have found it ourselves, but it was a small price to pay to avoid walking around long enough to miss the sunrise spectacle. At the top, we joind a group of courageous tourists who also decided to brave the cold wind in the attempt to admire the 5:30am sunset show. Frankly, I did not expect it to be so cold and windy at the peak as all I was wearing was shorts and a hoodie. Of course, everyone looked at me like I was out of my mind while locals kept coming every other minute to try and sell me a quilt and hot beverages. "No need for fluff, I am Canadian!", I told them. They immediately understood what this meant in my attempt of acting tough and containing my shivers. When the first sunray immerged from the horizon, a lady exclamed "Look, sunrise!" as a tourist grabbed his phone and played the famous song from "The Lion King" movie's opening scene. Everyone around had a good laugh while we admired the mountains surrounded by a harmonized layer of clouds and the view on smoking Mount Bromo looking clearer every minute.
That awkward "no"
Soon enough, the sun rose completely and it was time for us to come back down from the peak. Just as we were ready to leave, a lady within the same age range as us approached us and said: “I knew I heard someone speaking in French!”, with her Quebec accent. Her name was Alex and she was from Rimouski (Quebec). She was also backpacking through Indonesia with her male friend (also named Alex). As we were introducing each other, I asked Lady Alex what she does for a living. A question to which she answered: "I'm a model. Like, I do photoshoots for real magazines. Oh, and I work in Finance at a bank full-time." Now, if you work full-time at a bank, how is it pertinent to mention you also pose for a magazine during your spare time? The question was: "What do you do for a living?", not "Have you ever considered being a model given your ecstatic beauty?" She must have understood the question wrong. It nonetheless sounded like she wanted to coin at all costs the fact that she was a model. Tough luck, Lady Alex. These statements have very low impact on me. I tried ignoring this last comment as it did not impress me at all. We talked for a few minutes more and exchanged a few tips as the Alex’s we doing the same route as us in the reverse order - they started from Lombok and would end their journey in Jakarta. While Lady Alex was telling us about her travel, she did not seem to know that Bali is an island as part of Indonesia the same way Java and Lombok are also islands of the same country. I understand that geographic knowledge can vary from people to people. However, when you are actually visiting the country, the least you could do is check a map to understand where you are. Male Alex, obviously desperate for a nice picture of him, asked me to frame him with the volcano in the background using his single-lens reflex camera. At the end of the photoshoot, I asked Male Alex to check if the picture was good enough for his standards - a question to which he answered: "I am sure it's good. In fact, I am positive it is much better than any picture Lady Alex took of me throughout our travel." I did sense a little tension between those two. My suspicions were confirmed when I asked them if they wanted me to take a picture of them with Male Alex's camera. Normally, while travelling in pair, chances to have a picture with the two buddies on the same frame are very seldom unless you have a tripod, a selfie stick or if you are ready to trust a stranger with your expensive camera. So, I thought I'd offer to snap one for them. Surprisingly, Lady Alex answered to my offer with a very simple and dry "No", without further explanation. Cath and I immediately shared a look from the corner of our eyes and silently thought: "Ouh, that's cold!" I am guessing they must have spent a little too much time together over the past weeks. In fact, if I had to bet a 100 dollars on it, I would probably guess the following scenario:
- Male Alex is interested in Lady Alex;
- He invited her to go together on vacation to Indonesia;
- Lady Alex, very naively accepted the invitation thinking they are just friends;
- Male Alex thought she was also interested since she accepted the invitation;
- He tried making a move at some point during the trip;
- She told him she was not interested as she thought they were just friends;
- It created an awkward environment between those two, especially given that they still have to stick together for the remainder of the trip;
- Now, Lady Alex made it clear in her mind that she wants to avoid any argument until the end of the trip, but has no desire of either documenting the trip with picture or even keeping memory from it.
Unfortunately, it is not an isolated case that some ladies will avoid telling a man she is not interested because she doesn't want to be mean or hurt him. Truth is, false hope is even more hurtful than making the situation clear from the beginning. Some ladies also push it a little bit too far with their cluelessness, not thinking of the reason that could explain that a man invites her to a one-to-one trip since it is clear in their own mind that the two of them are just friends. Sometimes it's worth putting yourself in the other person's shoes and understand they reasons for such an invitation.
On our way to Mount Bromo, we made a first quick stop at the Love Hill viewpoint where we could admire a full front view on the smoking three-headed monster. It was definitely the best spot to take pictures. Just like what we have experienced in Central Java, groups of locals queued to take pictures with us. We played along and enjoyed feeling like rockstars for a moment. From there we continued our way to the crater. To get there, we had to cross a large plain with nothing but dust around us that looked like a tiny version of a desert. We had breakfast right in the middle of the plain as we had eaten nothing since the Bakso Ayam in the middle of the night. Again, the perfect moment to take some photos with the might all-terrain Toyota Land Cruiser that brilliantly brought us there in one piece against all odds. Once we reached the parking area near the volcano, another kilometer separated us from the crater which we had to walk on the dusty open area. The other option that was proposed to us was to hire a horse and ride it to the crater. Of course, we decided to walk. Although, we should have chosen the horse riding option if only to avoid all the dust we inhaled from the horses using the same path as us pedestrians. Needless to say, we looked like real miners when we finally reached the crater, not to mention we had to use the same path on the way back! On the rim, only a short fence of about 30cm high was preventing us from falling into the fuming crater. Despite this hazardeous installation, some - I want to say either highly skilled or stupid - people still adventured themselves into a hike around the one-meter wide rim. Even today, I am still trting to figure out the point of going all around the crater if the same view will be offered before our eyes. From where Cath and I were standing, we could have a full view on the crater and even see people walking all around it. Honestly, this is something I don’t understand why someone would take such a huge risk for such a small reward. I guess not everyone evaluates these parameters while travelling. As my brother would say: “Everything goes right until something goes wrong.”
Coban Pelangi (Rainbow Waterfall)
There was one more stop to make before heading to the airport and that was the Rainbow Waterfall. To access it, we exited the desert around the crater, stopped in front of what was named Teletubbies Hill (face-palm) for a quick snapshot, rally-raced against other Land Cruisers to the main road (a race our very own Monopoly driver brilliantly won), drove through rice and potatoe fields and took the final road to the park entrance. Our driver waited for us with his rally buddies at one of the coffee shacks at the park entrance whil Cath and I walked down for a few 700m before getting to the waterfall. Very quickly, we snapped a few shots right before a crew of overdressed Chinese ladies joined the party for a photoshoot session. Some of them were wearing white. It amazed me how they could still hike while wearing such fancy clothes, not to mention they probably forgot to factor that they would get wet and consequently transparent as they got closer to the fall. On that note, we headed pack to the park entrance. We had just enough time to grab lunch at one of the shacks before hitting the road again to the airport. We made it on-time, and even moreso since our flight to Bali got delayed two hours.