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1km down and to the right, 20km to the top

Mt. Bromo at twilight as seen from our mountain
Mt. Bromo at twilight as seen from our mountain

Surabaya was a bust. The US consulate told me I need to go to Indonesian immigration to get my visa extended. When I got to the place my consulate and Google told me the local immigration was, it wasn't there. Their website didn't have an address or phone number listed. There was still no word from my friend so we decided to get out of town. 8hr in Surabaya was enough anyway.

Around we hit the street with a sign for Mt. Bromo. The people here are very friendly. In general there aren't too many beggars or people trying to sell you things. Everyone wants to get you in a vehicle though. A bus, taxi, angkot—it doesn't matter. Literally non-stop there's people hassling you: "Where you going?" "Where you gooing?" "Where you go?" "Where you goiing?". They stress the vowels. A lack of sleep and food was starting to set in. Temperatures were running high. I could feel myself getting ready to snap.

Someone finally pulled over. He said he could take us part of the way so we hopped in. He dropped us at the point where we headed opposite directions and we grabbed a local specialty for dinner then headed back to the road. This was a far less traveled road. That's when the itching set in. Apparently I had gotten bitten last night when I was trying to sleep. Everywhere.

A man and his wife stopped to pick us up. We seem to always get the fastest car on the road. This guy was texting while passing people that were passing people in oncoming traffic. You wouldn't have guessed it from looking at him but he was a motocross racer in his spare time.

Where our paths went a separate way he dropped us off. He stressed that if we just walk 1km and take a right we'll be on the right path and that a farmer returning from market will likely take us to the mountain but not all the way up. We started walking. 3km later there was no sign of a road. We asked for help and the person knew exactly what road we were talking about. It was just 1km further and to the right. 2km later the only road we passed lead to a haunted forest. We asked again. This person was sure, it's just 1km down and to the right.

This time it was. We put up our sign and started to wait. The hassling in the county is just as bad as in the city. We do our best to get away from people so they don't hassle us but that's hard to do. 7min later a farmer stopped to pick us up. We tried to get him to take a picture of us and it was clear he'd never seen a digital camera before—perhaps never any kind of camera.

Miguel and I in the back of a farmers truck with two sacks of potatoes

We hopped in the back of his truck with two sacks of potatoes and were off. 5min later he pulled up in front of a house and got out. Is this our stop? He started yelling at the house. No one answered so he got back in and pushed on. The same thing happened again 5min later. The third time someone answered. It seemed our driver wanted to buy some corn. Whatever price the person offered must not have been good so he went back for the truck without saying anything. The person called him back so he walked up, grabbed some corn and threw it in the back with us, gave the person some money and started driving again. We started going up. And up. And up. This guy really farms up here? We must have picked the only farmer that lives up here.

Near the top of the mountain around 10pm he let us off. He said the top was 20km further. We decided to walk. Before he had driven away another truck came by and we flagged it down. They would take us further so we hopped in back. Before they dropped us at the top of the town and said it was just 20km further.

The night was perfect. It was almost a full moon and it was so bright you could read the fine print in a contract with no additional light. The weather was perfect—what I assume it feels like back home right now. I miss the cool crisp air. 5-7km later we felt good about our location. We'll make the top before sunrise which people tell us is 3am.

That's when three constructions trucks came by—the only vehicles we'd seen since we left the town. They were willing to take us further! The back was full of re-bar so we crammed in the front with our packs. Around we were right at the top when they pulled off onto a road which had a gate blocking it. It seems the main road goes to a mountain overlooking Bromo but they were building a road TO bromo and they were willing to bring us to the end of it!

From here on out the road was rough. We got to the end and they began unloading. It was starting to get cold. It was great to see how these people worked. They unloaded the truck by tying a cable to a tree and the other end to the re-bar and then driving away. They were all wearing flip-flops and winter coats. When they were done unloading they told us we could walk to Bromo—only 60km further.

Then they realized I was wearing a t-shirt and carrying a really heavy pack. They threw our stuff back in the truck and motioned for us to get back in. They took us back to the main road and went back down. We started walking up. Around we'd reached the top of the road so we started bushwhacking to the top.

I can't describe how beautiful it was. Bromo was there in all it's majesty, surrounded by peaks sticking up through the clouds. A distant peak was particularly beautiful. The moonlight cast everything in an enchanting glow.

I suggested we build a fire and Miguel agreed. We had to go back down to find wood. At first I was worried because it was the end of the dry season. I quickly learned that the dew had fallen so as I pushed through the tall wet grass, drenching myself to the waist, my worries about starting a forest fire washed away.

The fire saved our life that night. It must have gotten down to near freezing and neither of us had winter cloths. We were huddled very close to the fire. I looked back at the distant peak I had thought was so beautiful and now it was light up a magnificent orange. Glowing and shimmering the color moved down from the top. It was lava. We watched it all through the night. That and a little ramen we made in my Nalgene were probably the only things that kept us going. We were determined to make it to sunrise.

came and went and no sign of the sun. At the moon disapeared and it became really dark. is when we saw the tourists riding to the top of a neighboring peak. At we saw some color. By the sky was light up pink. I took out the chocolate. I had brought the best chocolate I could find for my friend but since I didn't get to see her there was no use saving it. I associate chocolate with the tops of mountains anyway, and all the candy I carry gets heavier every day.

The sky turned orange. Then red. Still no view of the sun. I think it was around when I collapsed. I remember standing up and then around I woke up face down in the grass with my head pointed down the mountain a fair distance from the fire. I had missed the sunrise.

Miguel was passed out by the fire. The clouds surrounding all the mountains were gone and everything was drenched in unflattering sunlight. The scene wasn't so beautiful anymore. I wasn't disappointed though, I had gotten the best experience. The other bules didn't hike 15km to the top, fight to stay warm, watch lava flow down a mountain or see everything lit by moonlight.

At it was still freezing and the fire was dwindling so we decided to move on. We could see a village from our location and it was in the direction we wanted to go—the opposite direction than we came from. We descended to the road and started following it. It kept going up—apparently we hadn't reached the top. 5km later we finally made it to the highest point and were ready to descend. The only problem is that the road stopped at the top. That would explain why there were no cars coming and going. The tourists had already left.

The view from this other peak wasn't as good as from our mountain and I don't think the lava would have been visible. The end of the road was like the construction in the jungle all over again. What are we gonna do? It's 45km down to the village we came from and there are no cars to hitch a ride with. We considered climbing down but it was far to steep and we were too weak from climbing yesterday and not sleeping or eating.

We asked one of the vendors at the top how to get to the village we could see and they told us that 1km down the road and to the left was a dirt path leading down the mountain. We had to go for it. I doubt you'll find this path in the Lonely Planet or any other guide books. It was for locals. We passed one pair of people carrying supplies from the village. The view was stunning. This is what I was looking for. This was nature.

5km straight down and we hit a dirt road. Well, it was more volcanic ash than dirt. About 4 inches of it. Every step kicked up a cloud. It was only 3km further to the remote village, or so we thought. As soon as we got there we saw the bule. This was a tourist town. We ate breakfast and started hitchhiking again. We had to borrow a pen to make our sign since apparently we had both lost ours.

After days in the big cities and dirty mountains we were ready for the ocean. Bali was our final destination but there was no way we'd make it there today. We discussed which town we should put on our sign when we decided to circumvent the problem and just wrote "Pantai" which is Indonesian for "Beach".

Being a tourist town the only vehicles leaving were buses and we didn't want anything to do with them. The hassling continued. Finally someone was willing to take us. 1km later we were in a village of locals and he dropped us off. From that point on several vehicles took us 1-3km down the mountain. Finally someone took us out of the mountains and dropped us at a big road.

5min passed and no luck. That's when we saw it. "This is the one" Miguel said. It was a red and gray 1969 VW van playing classic rock, soul and r&b. The guy pulled over and we got inside. He asked us what beach we wanted to go to and we told him it didn't matter. He said it's a shame we were stopping here since the beaches aren't very good and he was on his way to Bali.

Us with the guy that took us to Bali

We were now on our way to Bali. They guy told us he was an architect and had designed several houses in Bali. Hitchhiking is the best. You meet so many different people and when you have a question about what you see out the window you get an answer immediately.

He treated us to lunch. Miguel and I took turns sleeping in the back of the van. He asked us where we wanted to go in Bali and we said we didn't know. He was going to the capital and offered to take us there. We'd had enough of the big cities so we declined. 45min onto the island he dropped us off and pointed us toward a road that lead to the beach.

15min later a man and his wife picked us up. Again we were in the back of a truck and again the temperature was perfect and the moonlight was magical. An hour or so later he dropped us off. We surveyed our surroundings and saw resorts. This was not the place for us and the beach was nowhere in site. We put our pantai sign back up and waited. 20min later someone finally stopped. He explained that the beach was just 1km down the road and to the left. That would explain why no one was stopping.

Tired and sleepy we started to walk. We got to the beach. It was like chocolate tapioca pudding. Black sand speckled with pearly white rocks. We walked back to town to look for a place to eat, drink, go to the bathroom and maybe use the internet. Nothing was open. So we walked. And walked. And walked. Finally a place was open. Food and toilet but no drink or internet. We could see a city 3km in the distance so we decided to walk for it in hopes of some juice, internet and a decent place to crash. Everything there was closed too and the beach was even worse. It was like the last beach but more polluted.

We were too exhausted to do anything else so we cleared some space on the sand and hunkered down for the night. It wasn't the best sleep but it wasn't the worst either. The next day it was hot, very hot. We decided this town sucked so we went looking for the internet to find a better place to go and maybe a place to stay when we get there.

Even internet was hard to find here. We went into a grocery store in search of wifi but they didn't have it. We did get some pens though. Finally we found some internet. It was very slow and in some sort of a sauna. I started looking for better places and Miguel started posting on CouchSurfing. An hour later we had no leads. I found some beaches but they were all in the south and east, about as far from us as possible. No hits on CS either.

That's when I walked back to the convenience store and bought a bottle of arak(local spirits) and whiskey. With nothing to do here and no where to go we walked to the beach, booze in hand. We found a shady spot on a ledge overlooking the sea of water and garbage and began to drink.

We had to keep moving. There's no way we could stay here. Again we discussed what to put on the sign and again we had a bright idea. Let's make two signs! So we did. Mine said "Di Manapun"(anywhere) on one side and "Tidah"(no) on the other. Miguel's said "Bersama"(together) on one side and "Terima Kasih"(thank you) on the other. Together we made "Anywhere together" and "No thank you". The second one worked wonders when people harassed us. It didn't stop them but it got them away much quicker.

With two half bottles of booze and a sign that read "Anywhere together" we went to the road began to wait.

Soundtrack: Don't Dream It's Over (Crowded House)

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