Sunday, 4 May 2014

Through the Ashes to the Golden Sunrise - End of Java

Our rest day in Jogja started well. We got up late, had a tasty breakfast at our hotel, then relaxed whilst drinking acceptable coffee. Ideally we would have done little else, but unfortunately needed to sort out payment for our new tyre. The front has worn rather quickly, so we were arranging for a replacement to be shipped to Bali. Luckily, like Thailand, it is possible to easily make payments to a local account just by popping into the relevant branch.


Although it was Saturday, we had been informed that some branches should be open. We usually have no trouble finding ATMs, so assumed it would be the same story with the bank itself. To be fair we left without the faintest idea as to where we should go, so following considerable fruitless wandering we stopped to ask somebody. After much discussion with their colleague, they informed us as to where we could find what we needed. Not to be put off by the intense sun, we ploughed on, weaving our way through the busy streets. Of course when we arrived at our intended destination we discovered that this was not the bank we needed, and that it was closed anyway. The walk back to the hotel rounded the waste of time up to a solid hour, and we were feeling a little put out.


Never sad for long, we thought we would cheer up by going to collect our washing (always an eagerly awaited event whilst on the road). Unfortunately this did not turn out to be the treat we anticipated. Whilst it did indeed smell beautifully clean, my riding top somehow came out dirtier than before. Thankfully the rest of it seemed alright, so I just washed the offending top again in the sink. The evening did look up though, as we enjoyed a brilliant dinner in the pretty courtyard of our hotel, followed by a much needed early night.

Alex (the surfer guy we originally met in Krui) had recommended that we visit Pacitan on our way east. We have heard that the way to find the relatively unknown, super beautiful spots in Indonesia is to follow the surfers, so we definitely couldn't pass up on his advice. The drive there was actually very easy, with crazy traffic seeming to be a thing of the distant past. As a bonus, the roads were mostly excellent, and we arrived in Pacitan to find that it was a very quiet, pleasant and clean little town.

After a filling noodle soup lunch, we decided to head for one of the smaller beaches and see if we could find anywhere to stay. We snaked along narrow, twisty and very steep roads, passing through countless pretty villages on the way. Eventually we arrived at Whatu Karung beach, and what a place. We pulled up the bike, pottered along the sand, then sat for a while in awe of the scenery. Islands of rock stood tall amongst the surf, the blue water crashing down in gloriously blue swells. It was beautiful, so we were keen to stay close by.


We left our seats, and went to turn the bike around. Unfortunately the narrow gravel road was edged by soft sand on both sides. It looked firmer than it was, so Oli rode through part of it, promptly sinking the front, losing it, and dropping the bike. Cursing, we picked it up. In his eagerness to right it, Oli ended up taking almost all the weight and doing his back in. My body decided to help matters by promptly feeling unwell, which was not ideal. We cruised around the village for a while looking for somewhere to stay, only spotting one surfing lodge that looked a bit expensive. In our confusion we ended up riding all the way back to Pacitan, definitely feeling like we had failed a bit.

Happily the feeling of failure didn't last too long. We ended up finding a very reasonably priced guest house, run by a lovely, kindly man. At first we were the only people staying, but were later joined by a young Swedish couple, in Pacitan for the surfing. We got chatting, and all went out for food together at a brilliant family run restaurant. Oli and I went to bed happy, rather pleased that the evening had looked up.

We toyed with riding towards Bromo the next morning, then decided to have a rest day instead. Our brakes have seen more action in Indonesia than possibly the rest of the trip put together, so we thought it would be worth checking the pads. Amazingly they were still fine, but we discovered that one of the pistons had seized ever so slightly. We spent a few hours cleaning it and bashing it with a socket wrench (Oli would like me to correct this and say that it was a little more technical than that). It is no longer stuck, but is not moving as freely as it should. Hopefully we will sort it out properly in Bali.

Having spent most of the morning on the bike, we decided to try round two of making the bank payment for the new tyre. We had spotted the relevant branch in town, so thought it would be quick and simple. This started to unravel at the first hurdle, as I found myself unable to withdraw any cash. Some of the machines in Indonesia use software that will not work with international cards, despite proudly stating that Mastercard and Visa are accepted. Unusually, almost all of the ATMs in Pacitan used the cursed system, and we drove around for almost an hour before finally finding the goods. We got back to the bank ten minutes before closing time, where the very friendly and efficient staff sorted the payment out in two minutes flat. Phew.


By the time we returned from our expedition it was late afternoon. Thinking we had better check out the beach, we just took a quick pit-stop at home then headed back out. The beach was beautiful and wild. Steep hills formed a horse-shoe shaped bay, with waves rushing in to the shore. Lush green mountains ring the edge of the sea and the flat valley beyond. The currents make it too dangerous to swim, but even so it made for a very pleasant walk. We strolled along in the evening sun, spending an embarrassing amount of time drawing pictures in the sand with a stick Oli found.


The Pacitan area definitely deserved more time than we were able to give it. We regretted leaving the next day, but were also very excited to get going. The roads were amazing, almost traffic free for the first part of the day. Java has a bad reputation amongst overland travellers as one long jam, but we found that it is possible to escape from the madness by taking the back roads...sometimes. We twisted and turned our way along pristine asphalt, cruising past rice paddies, looming mountains and volcanoes. The traffic did catch up with us towards the later part of the day, but all in all, it was a pleasant drive.


We hadn't expected to make it as far as Bromo, but progress was good and we got further than anticipated. We spotted a road sign that disagreed with our GPS, and weren't quite sure which to trust. We stopped at a petrol station and asked the way to Cemoro Lawang (the village we wanted to stay in), and were pointed in the direction that corresponded with the road sign. Still not 100% sure, we acquiesced, and off we went.

The road began to climb rapidly, snaking through the mountains in a narrow, twisted ribbon. The scenery was incredible, but the light was rapidly fading so we didn't feel like we had time to stop for photos. Riding in the dark is never ideal, and sometimes driving through the last hours of daylight feels decidedly like a race against time. With this in mind, we were not impressed to find that this road took us through a national park gate. Knowing that we only wanted to use the road, and that it would be necessary to exit the park again before Cemoro Lawang, we didn't want to end up paying the entry fee twice. We tried to explain this, but one man put his hand on the bike and started aggressively yelling that if we didn't pay we could turn back. Come to think of it, I'm not even sure if he worked there. The actual ticket guy was far more reasonable, and when I explained we had just taken the wrong road and wanted to visit the park the following day (when we would buy our tickets) was happy to let us pass through.

The road became even more beautiful, but ridiculously steep in some sections. We climbed higher and higher, leading us to remember what it actually feels like to be cold. Sunset was well on its way by this point. We were getting a little worried, but thought we would be okay as long as the road remained in good shape. However, our anxiety disappeared entirely when we rounded a corner and were suddenly confronted with the most amazing views over the Bromo crater. The sunset lit everything in soft pastel colours, whilst the mist rolled gently over the mountains. It was amazing, and we would have loved to have stopped to see the sunset through to its conclusion, but thought this would be a little foolhardy.


We continued up the road, pausing again to look at the colourful sky over the other side of the ridge. All was going well, and according to the GPS it looked like we were getting close. This was until we came to a dead end. Somewhat understandably, we were confused by this. I even got off the bike and had a look around to check whether we were missing something. We concluded that we had missed a vital turn-off in our excitement at seeing the volcanoes, U-turned, and went back.

From this point the road plunged steeply down the mountain side in a series of hair-pin bends. Unfortunately, although our GPS was still in all confidence showing a line, the road abruptly ended. We swiftly realised that we were supposed to carry on through the crater itself. Forget asphalt, the surface here was a thick layer of volcanic ash. In places it was nice and compact, but alas in others it had the consistency of very soft sand. The route was not at all obvious, and when we coupled this with the failing light and our crappy headlight, it was a rather dubious situation. We limped along, occasionally straying from the route, and correcting it with the aid of the GPS. I really don't want to think about how difficult it would have been without the aid of this, as with no artificial light it was pitch dark down there. On the plus side it was pretty epic, and I have now found something I dislike more than riding in sand... riding in volcanic ash in the dark.

After what seemed like an age and a few u-turns, we triumphantly rejoined the asphalt. The village turned out to be a lot smaller than we anticipated. The only place we knew of to sleep was full, but one of the guys hanging out there said he would show us to a home-stay. The first one he took us to was ridiculously overpriced, 250,000 rupiah for a damp, tiny room off a smoky lounge and with a shared bathroom. As we walked out the price instantly dropped by 100,000, but it wasn't enough.

From here we went to another place just up the road, where we had a super clean room with hot water and nothing living in it for 150,000. Fair enough it was basically an extension of the garage, but it was definitely the better option. As the nights get pretty cold in that area we asked if we could use one of the extra blankets (there was nobody else staying), and were told we would have to pay for it. This surprised us a bit, so we just said never mind, and settled on just wearing all our clothes instead. On a positive note however, we could park the bike right outside our door.

By the time we settled into our room we were starving, so made our way up the hill to find food. The restaurant was a bit of a tourist trap, but served decent food and was nice and warm. After a month of mainly eating in local warungs and padang restaurants, the price definitely hurt a bit. Usually we can both eat for £1, so paying tourist prices was a shock. Still, it wasn't bad food. We left the restaurant to find that one of the volcanoes must have done a burp, as the air was thick with the smell of sulphur. It burned our throats and stung our eyes, but none of the locals looked too worried about it, so we just covered our mouths and noses and walked home.

Most people come to Cemoro Lawang to watch the sunrise over the crater, otherwise known as the Sea of Sand. We usually are too lazy for such endeavours, but had been assured that this was worth it. The alarm went off at three a.m., and in our excitement it was surprisingly easy to get up. We were relying on what we had read on Wikitravel the night before for our directions. Some might say that following Wiki for information involving active volcanoes is unwise, but it seemed straightforward enough.

We located the correct road, and set off through the night. The Bromo area has almost no light pollution, so the stars were incredible against the dark sky, that alone making the early start worthwhile. We trekked our way along, not seeing another soul for the majority of the walk. It was quite a climb, and admittedly we are not at our fittest these days. We reached viewpoint one with some time to spare, but decided that we probably didn't have time to push on to point two.

For the first half hour or so we were completely alone, watching the orange glow of the sun begin to creep over the horizon. The silhouettes of the volcanoes rose out of the mist, set off by the slowly lightening sky. We were eventually joined by a few other tourists, but there was still hardly anyone there and the place retained a quiet and peaceful atmosphere. As the sky grew lighter and the fog in the crater swirled, Semeru gave out a gentle puff of smoke, as if to compete with the constantly smouldering Bromo. This cloud was colourfully lit by the rising sun, completing a truly awe inspiring scene.


There was not a doubt in our minds that the effort involved to get there and the early start were completely worth it. Photos and words cannot even begin to do it justice. We stood there for over an hour in the freezing cold watching the steady progress of the sun, the scene constantly shifting in the changing light. Eventually we left the view behind, strolling back to the village for a well deserved breakfast.  We decided to skip visiting the crater itself, as there was a lot of cloud. The owner of our guest house also warned us not to go, as apparently people had become lost the previous day in similar conditions. As a further disincentive we weren't completely sure whether the mist was water vapour or sulphurous volcano spewings. Anyway, we had accidentally experienced quite enough of the crater the previous evening!


After a short rest at our hotel we got back on the road. The mountain scenery by the light of day was epic. As we descended, the fresh weather gradually changed back to the normal heat, the sun beating down on us as we rode. Fortunately the traffic was mostly minimal. Quieter conditions always lead to us riding in much better moods, and we felt far more appreciative of just how beautiful Java can be.

We could quite easily have made it to Bali that day, as we arrived in the vicinity of the ferry port by the mid-afternoon. However, we were very tired form the early start and also keen to do a little research before we ventured that way, as lack of internet over the previous few days meant that we didn't have a clue. We spotted a hotel right on the edge of the sea, and thought we might as well ask about rooms. It looked far too nice for the likes of us, but the prices were actually very reasonable. We surprised the receptionist by asking to see the most expensive room (the only one with hot water), and the cheapest one.

We actually liked the cheapest one (£4) best, as it was bright and airy, and we don't mind the bucket shower at all as it is kind of refreshing. It was on the top floor, and had the most fabulous views over the narrow stretch of water separating Java from Bali. The only downer was seeing how much rubbish was flowing in the current. Sadly all over the world some people tend to view the sea as a giant bin.


Although our hotel was equipped with wi-fi, our computer was no longer willing to cooperate. We had experienced the same problem the previous evening, but had put it down to whatever modem was being used. It quite happily finds the wireless networks, but just refuses to connect to them. As Oli and I are too stingy and behind the times to have smart-phones, this knocked out our only internet device. With our planned research no longer being an option, we chucked it in and went out for a lovely meal at the restaurant next door. We would be going into Bali blind, without much of an idea as to where we should start. Still, this is sometimes how the best adventures begin, so we decided to wait and see.


  1. Came across your blog by accident but what a good read it has been! Brilliant photos and plenty of detail in your stories. Good luck for the rest of your journey and keep the stories coming!

  2. Hello;
    Glad you are enjoying the blog. We hope it is informative and entertaining :)
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    O & C