Visitors usually arrive here from Bali or Surabaya, my journey was from Probolinggo, which is only two hours drive away. Transport to Cemoro Lawang is plentiful, in fact it can be arranged with any motorbike driver at the station. It’s actually the only thing they have to offer when you are walking by. I was told by a local tour agent that besides an organised tour, the only other affordable mode of transport was by van, which left only when enough money was collected. It meant that more people pay less, and less people pay more. Essentially one person could book a whole van and feel like a king. Otherwise people have to group together. Bargaining with the van drivers is pretty much pointless, because of the distance, fuel and limited language. Instead they offered to play a game of chess, and upon victory they might drop their price down a fraction, maybe. The tricky part was that people could turn up at any moment or never. So no one knows how long they’ll have to wait. Eventually we were lucky and three hours later a large group of Dutch travellers appeared out of nowhere, to our rescue. We quickly loaded our backpacks and departed.

Local drivers play chess with a Swiss guy for a discounted ride to Cemoro Lawang.

Cemoro Lawang is a very small village located at the north-eastern edge of the caldera (East Java) at an altitude of 2.2 km above sea level, it's the main gateway to Mount Bromo.

To start with the ride was flat, until the smooth road ended sharply and the rusty, old van began to shake. Every once in a while I looked back to check that my bag hadn’t fallen off the roof where it had been attached, along with those of the others. As we drove higher, rain drops started thudding against the windows and the rusted roof of the green van, while the noise from its engine was so loud that people had to speak more loudly, like they were in a noisy English pub. The van kept hitting bumps in the road, causing the door on the drivers side to fly open, as well as a couple of other malfunctions. Like the cracks in the roof letting the rain seep through and dripping onto some passengers. It felt like the van was about to break in half. It snaked up the steep hills as fog engulfed the van from every side, until visibility was drastically reduced. From afar I could see the clouds sitting low on the hills and eventually covering them all. This was Cemoro Lawang — a sleepy valley. A ghost place. A small village which is hidden in the clouds, away from the regular public, but pretty popular among its visitors.

After an hour of earthshaking driving on a decrepit minibus, we arrived at the small and peaceful village, which also happens to be the closest village to Mt.Bromo. The van came to a halt just before a ‘STOP’ sign, and the driver went out to speak with the people at the checkpoint. He then came back to the van to collect our money for the entrance fee. Apparently entry in to the village requires payment from visitors, we hadn’t been warned in advance.

STOP sign at the village entrance.

Due to its location, Cemoro Lawang is the most popular entry point for any visitor to Mount Bromo. There are plenty of logings available in the village, from small hotels with hot water, a luxury for Indonesia, to homestays (houses with rooms offered for rent by locals.) Which is where I would stay before going to Mt. Bromo.

Places here were cheap for sure, the only minus point, which matters a lot in such high altitudes and low temperatures, was the absence of hot water. I was brought up having to wash my face in ice cold water every morning, due to an absence of central heating in our house. Heated water was only available in the evenings. So to me a lack of hot water was just a matter of a habit, especially in hot climates. But in the mountains the water feels so cold it’s like it’s been taken straight from the fridge. It burns your body and numbs your limbs.

When I travelled in China and Indonesia such practices weren’t a culture shock to me. However, they were sometimes an obstacle, as toilet hygiene involved the same technique of using a pot instead of paper, and most public toilets didn’t have anything to dry your parts with. When it comes to bathing, some bathrooms will have nothing more than a wall valve, a bucket for water, and a water scoop. You have to fill up the bucket and dump water on yourself using the little plastic water scoop. These traditions are still well practiced everywhere in Indonesia, however for the convenience of international travellers, some high quality hotels have replaced them with standard western showers.

Putting all the drawbacks aside I decided to take a stroll around the village on my first day here. A hundred meters from my hotel was a tiny food place with colourful walls and a low doorway.

Local eatery.

It was empty, and I decided to have a meal here. Having ordered two servings of rice and noodles (I was hungry) I was pleasantly surprised to see the tiny kitchen where my food was made and its owner. The poor old lady cooked everything herself, and served it all at very low prices.

Very shy owner of the eatery. She was kind enough to come out from her steaming kitchen so I could take her picture.

Afterwards I went to buy some food from a local bamboo stall, for my night hike. The owner of the kiosk looked like a Peruvian woman, whose photos appear on postcards from Peru. One of those brown faces with white teeth, colourful dresses and cheeks turned red from the cold mountain air. Her head scarf was not worn as a hijab, which should cover the neck, head and ears. To me she didn’t look like an Indonesian woman.

Most of the local women and men also wear poncho-like covers, they wrap themselves in long cloaks that look like sarongs. Cemoro Lawang is one of the last bastions for Javanese Hindus, they once ruled the Indonesian archipelago, before Muslim traders brought Islam here. This fact, of course, makes this village even more interesting.

Smoking motorcycle driver.

The surrounding scenery brought to my mind Tuscan landscapes and villages on sloping green hills. I suppose that came from seeing the beautifully ordered farmland with rare trees and orange tiled roofs. It was a feast for the eyes, especially for someone who likes landscapes and hates traffic jams.

Picturesque landscape of onion paddies and mist hanging in the air.

Mount Bromo is easy to spot, as the entire top has been blown off and the crater constantly burps out white sulphurous smoke. It sits inside the massive Tengger Caldera, which has a diameter of about 10 kilometres and is surrounded by a sea of sand. The view is unearthly, especially compared to the bright green valleys all around the caldera. The cool mountain air, a crater filled with smoke and surreal scenery is what draws people here and that was what I would be heading to see that night.