Mt Bromo: "A Natural Performance"

Gunung Bromo

East Java

May 23, 2005

My Dear Family and Friends,

No shave. No shower. Just dress warmly against the frigid, high-altitude night air and follow the flashlights to the Toyota LandThe wake-up call came at 3:30am. A polite, firm wrap on my guest room door at the Lava View Lodge.

Rovers waiting to carry us along dark, rutted mountain roads to Penanjakan - the volcano lookout, one hour away.

A few weeks before, thanks to the early fall weather in Perth, I bought an otherwise useless 100% polyester jacket that, in mild weather, instantly heated me up beyond any degree of comfort. But here, at 2392m, (1.5 miles high), well before sunrise, the jacket worked better than a pot of tea and a cup of brandy, which come to think of it, would have been quite lovely.

At the lookout, the drivers built an impromptu fire; we all huddled and awaited the dawn.

The first red flares revealed our location: above the trees; above the blanket of mist; above the clouds; high above everything.

Then the performance began. The "lighting director" replaced the red-orange sky with bright white blue. The "stage manager" cued the gentle steam from within two or three volcanic craters.

The awesome show continued for more than an hour. Fluffy white smoke rising, stopping briefly, then re-emerging to climb into the cloudless sky. Awesome.

Next stop: The rim of Mt. Bromo.

The Land Rovers brought us to a staging area where dozens of small horses stood patiently.

For about thirty minutes, on horseback, we crossed the high plain through the thick morning mist. Dismount and climb a steep stair to the top.

On my right sat a savagely sculpted peak. In front, the deep cauldron of Mt. Bromo, thick steam hissing up: amorphous, beguiling, utterly destructive. Another awesome performance.

Down the stairs. Saddle up.

My wrangler saw that I was comfortable aboard my mount. He handed me the reins and walked behind. After a few minutes I coughed out a modest vocal sound, kicked the horse in the ribs, and he responded into "second gear" and a steady canter. For a moment I considered another "whoop" and another kick in the ribs and a "third gear" gallop.

Now, I haven't been on a horse since the Rocking Horse Ranch Resort in Highland, New York, more than twenty years ago. And, I asked myself, "How many orthopedic surgeons are available in this neck of the woods?" So I avoided the gallop and a broken back and allowed the horse to lead me home.

Back at the lodge. Time to freshen up, enjoy a full breakfast and a hot cup-a-joe. Lucas and I sat outside overlooking the barren lava plain below and yet another volcano in the distance.

I was reluctant to leave such a sight, but Lucas was anxious to head out. It would be a long day's drive back to Yogya.

We stopped briefly at a Hindu temple, snacked on a dish of "Miami" ice cream, toured an "antiques" factory, and passed through and down a finale of steep, artistically cultivated mountains.

In the early evening, we stopped to visit Lucas' wife and young daughter for dinner. And then a black, night time drive over a narrow winding high mountain pass and our return to Yogya.

One more day of shopping, dinner with my young friends, and, finally, and now unavoidably, my twice-postponed flight to Singapore.

On March 29, before "heading south" from Thailand, I wrote the following:

"I don't know what to expect in Indonesia. I am reading about green terraced rice paddies. Ancient Hindu Temples. Volcanoes. Bali Beach Resorts."

My expectations were accurate, and now those words seem so simple and incomplete.

The "green terraced rice paddies" are indeed green. But also so beautiful as they form a massive staircase up the sides of the mountains.

The "Ancient Hindu Temples" are indeed ancient; and intriguing, and powerful, and delicate and motivating. I feel humble in their presence.

"Volcanoes." It's something we watch on The Discovery Channel. I feel so fortunate to have seen them and touched them.

"Bali Beach Resorts." Yes. They are what they are. There is one for every pocketbook. Yet even the Budget spots have delightful gardens and spotless beaches and cheerful staff.

Yes my friends, I can read a map but I just never anticipated the great size of Indonesia. I must return to see Sumatra and Borneo and Salawesi and Flores. I know that they will be wonderful places with more wonderful, cheerful people to meet.

And finally, to my new friends in Bali and Java, Thank you for your patience, your guidance and hospitality. There is so much more for me to see in your beautiful country. I expect I will see you all again very soon when I "return to Yogya."

Terima kasih. Matur nuhun. Selamat tinggal.

Jan

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