Antonio Zamora Podcast
Antonio Zamora Podcast

Antonio Zamora Podcast VO001

Climbing an active volcano! Mount Bromo

Mount Bromo is an active volcano in the Tengger mountains at an elevation of 2,329 meters above sea level in East Java, Indonesia. In spite of the danger of eruptions, it is the most visited tourist destination in East Java because it is a Hindu pilgrimage site.

Mount Bromo
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Mount Bromo is an active volcano at an elevation of 2,329 meters above sea level in the Tengger mountains of East Java, Indonesia. The name Bromo comes from the Javanese pronunciation of Brahma, who is the Hindu god of creation. In spite of the danger of eruptions, it is the most visited tourist destination in East Java because it is a Hindu pilgrimage site.

The Ring of Fire is a region around the rim of the Pacific Ocean where many volcanic eruptions and earthquakes occur. The Ring of Fire is a direct result of plate tectonics, where the movement and collision of lithospheric plates in the Earth's crust cause earthquakes and create volcanoes.

The Java Trench is a very active seismic region on the western portion of the Ring of Fire. It is a frequent source of volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. The eruption of the Krakatoa volcano in 1883 was one of the deadliest and most destructive volcanic events in recorded history. The explosions were so violent that they were heard more than 3,000 kilometers away in Perth, Australia. The Java Trench is also the site of the Toba supervolcano explosion that was one of the Earth's largest known explosive eruptions 74,000 years ago.

Mount Bromo is located on the island of Java from which the Java Trench takes its name. Mount Bromo is situated in the center of the 16-km-wide caldera from the ancient Tengger volcano. A high escarpment surrounds the Segara Wedi sand plain from which Mount Batok and Mount Bromo emerged.

Satellite images of Mount Bromo always capture the cloud of white steam that emanates from its crater. A Hindu temple called Pura Luhur Poten has been built at the foot of Mount Batok, just a few hundred meters north of Mount Bromo's crater.

We traveled to Mount Bromo from Surabaya, which is the capital of East Java. Going along Highway 1, we turned toward the mountain on Jalan Bromo, a road at the edge of the city of Probolinggo. The two-lane road was in good condition at the lower elevations, but got progressively worse as the terrain became mountainous. The soil of the region is very fertile, and farms cultivate even parcels of land that are inclined at 30 degrees. Most of the fields had onions and cabbage. After a three-and-a-half hour trip, we arrived near the national park where Mount Bromo is located.

We hired a driver with a 4-wheel drive vehicle that would take us to the edge of Mount Bromo. The driver lived next to a hotel and, besides conducting tours to the volcano, he also rented rooms to tourists who could not find lodging at the two hotels in town. The driver's house was adjacent to an angel's trumpet tree with large hanging flowers and a field with green onions. The trumpet trees are common throughout the region. They are planted for their decorative flowers, even though all parts of the plant are poisonous. The leaves and seeds of the trumpet tree contain scopolamine and other alkaloids that have toxic and terrifying hallucinogenic effects.

When we approached Mount Bromo, three young men riding horses started to follow us. The Jeep ride was bumpy and noisy. It seemed like the vehicle needed a new muffler. The driver was well aware of the width of his Jeep. Several times, I thought that he was going to scrape an oncoming car in the narrow road, but every time we went through unscathed. It had rained earlier in the day. The dirt road leading to the mountain had puddles in several places. The Jeep drove through the puddles sending waves of mud and splashing the exterior of the vehicle. Even though the Jeep could take us over the rough unpaved terrain, we had to switch transportation because, beyond a certain point, the Jeep could not go further.

When our Jeep stopped near Mount Batok, we had the option of walking to Mount Bromo, but the horsemen offered to rent their horses to ride to Mount Bromo. They would walk beside the horses holding the reins, while we sat on the animal and saved our legs. We rode at a brisk pace, and both the horsemen and the horses had to breathe hard along the trail.

We rode along the Segara Wedi sand plain by the Hindu temple called Pura Luhur Poten. The temple is very important to the Tenggerese people who live in the nearby mountain villages. Every year, the temple organizes a ceremony that lasts for about one month. On the 14th day, the worshipers gather at the temple and ask for blessings. They march in procession toward Mount Bromo, and at mouth of the volcano they throw offerings into the crater.

After passing the Segara Wedi sand plain we reached a trail bordered by hills built up by a succession of pyroclastic deposits, lava, and wind-blown sand. This terrain can only be crossed on foot, on horseback, or on a dirt motorbike. Riders have to dismount from their horses at the base of Mount Bromo.

Climbing an active volcano is never a good idea. Even if a volcano has been dormant for many years, it could blow its top at any time. The eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980 caught campers and climbers by surprise and resulted in 57 deaths. On September 27, 2014, a volcanic eruption of Mount Ontake, which was a popular tourist attraction for hikers in Japan, claimed the lives of more than 60 people. Climbing an active volcano is an adventure that you can brag about if you survive.

The Hindu worshipers of the Tengger region have built a stairway leading from the base of the volcano to the rim of the crater. There is no need to trudge toward the top of Mount Bromo with mountain climbing gear. It is much easier to climb to the top by using the stairway than by trying to climb on the shifting sands that cover the cone of the volcano. Signs at the foot of the stairway say "hati-hati" in big letters. This is a warning to watch out. Additional notices tell you to refrain from discarding trash.

Several rest points in the stairway allow people to catch their breath and view the landscape. You have to pace yourself on the stairway. There is less oxygen at the height of Mount Bromo, which is 2392 meters or 7,848 feet above sea level. When I visited, the leftmost stairway was partially covered with wind-blown sand and it was difficult to climb.

The rim of Mount Bromo's crater has a guard rail to keep people from accidentally sliding down into crater. The crater of Mount Bromo is a slippery slope into a cavity, which spews clouds of steam that shift with the wind. The part of the slope closest to the guard rail is littered with the residues of the Hindu offerings thrown into the crater. The Hindu offerings consisting mainly of food do not go to waste. When the offerings of the Yadnya Kasada festival are thrown into the crater by Hindu worshipers, some intrepid, resourceful people climb inside the crater and try to catch the offerings with butterfly nets and sarongs. They also try to capture some of the sacrificial animals. Only great need would cause people to take such risks.

The crater of Mount Bromo measures approximately 650 meters in diameter from rim to rim. We can see clouds of steam rising from the precipitous funnel-shaped cavity. There is only blackness in the chasm at the center of the crater, which produces a constant roar as the noxious vapors are expelled.

The sides of the funnel are scarred with deep furrows made by stones that have rolled down toward the bottom of the crater. Some live chickens and goats that have been thrown into the crater as offerings by the Tengger Hindus have managed to fly back or climb out of the crater, but they were quickly captured by the Indonesian villagers who dared to climb into the cone of the volcano to catch the offerings with their home-made nets.

What do you do when you reach the top of an active volcano? Of course, you have to take a selfie while the crater spews a cloud of steam, and then you check off one item from your bucket list. Climbing an active volcano is an experience that you remember forever. When I descended from Mount Bromo, the horseman was waiting for me to take me back to the Jeep.

There are many ways to die. An eruption of Mount Bromo in 2004 killed two people who were hit by rocks from the sudden explosion. On the way back from Mount Bromo, the horse that I was riding tripped on the sand and fell. I stayed on top of the horse as it fell, and the horse cushioned my fall, but the momentum sent me face first unto the soft sand. I got up dirty with pumice sand and dried dung on my face, but not the worse for wear. I noticed only a tiny scratch in my hand one hour later. Fortunately, there were no rocks where I fell, and the horse did not fall on top of me, so I lived to tell the story.

My Mount Bromo adventure concluded in a restaurant called Ayam Pedas, which translates to spicy chicken. I enjoyed a bowl of Indonesian chicken soup called soto ayam. Next time, I will have to tell you about how I climbed Mount Vesuvius in Italy and then ate pasta. Climbing volcanoes always makes me hungry.

© Copyright  - Antonio Zamora