This article was published by Digital SLR in their July 2014 issue. It is reproduced here with their consent.
East Java, Indonesia. The least densely populated of Java’s provinces offers a wild, rolling region with dizzying peaks, smoking volcanoes and unspoilt panoramas.
GET ON BOARD
Watching the rupture on the earth’s crust overflow with hot lava while volcanic ashes and gases escape the magma chamber is one of the most fascinating natural processes that’s worthwhile experiencing first-hand. So, are you set to unearth two amazing spots in East Java with Maxby Chan for this On Board issue?
Indonesia has the most active volcanoes that are also part of the Ring of Fire, where a large number of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur in the basin of the Pacific Ocean. “East Java is all about the raw, rugged appeal of its volcano-studded scenery and awesome landscapes, including the sublime Bromo-Tengger massif, the volcanic peaks of Mount Bromo while the Ijen caldera ranks very close with a stunning crater lake,” Maxby said.
To reach here, you can fly to Surabaya’s Juanda International Airport – there are direct flights from Kuala Lumpur daily – and from there, you need to make your way to Mount Bromo by hiring a van or car to drive through the Surabaya-Pasuruan-Wonokitri-Mount Bromo route that will take about two to three hours.
Standing at 2392m, Mount Bromo may not be the highest peak of Tengger Massif but it is the most well-known thus it is one of the most visited tourist attractions in East Java, Indonesia.
About 6 hours drive away from Mount Bromo is a small town called Banyuwangi, which is the nearest township if you plan to visit the Ijen volcano that Maxby highly recommends. It is the largest active acidic volcanic crater — measuring up to 950 x 600m in diameter, it is rich in sulphur deposits that are quarried daily. If you prefer a less tiring journey, there are also daily flights from Surabaya to Banyuwangi via a domestic airline carrier called Nusa Trip.
WAY OF LIFE
When you’re in Mount Bromo, temperatures range from 3°C to 20°C which is similar to the climate in Cameron Highlands, Pahang. “If you can’t stand cold weather, bring a jacket, gloves and a head cover or cap with you. But after the sun rises, the weather becomes hot pretty fast,” Maxby cautioned.
Food will be the least of your problems as there are restaurants all around Mount Bromo providing various types of Indonesian traditional dishes such as ketoprak, fried rice, rujak cingur, bandrek and many more.
Maxby also urges travellers to meet and experience the strong Tengger culture and its estimated population of 600,000. The Tenggerese tribal members are either agriculturalists or nomadic herders, whereby the agriculturalists live on the lower altitudes while the latter reside on the higher altitudes and can be seen riding on small horses.
The Tenggerese also have a main festival called Yadnya Kasada, which lasts about a month that falls on December or January every year. Around the 14th day or during the full moon of the Kasada month, the Tenggerese will go to Poten Bromo and ask for blessings from the main deity Hyang Widi Wasa and the God of the Mountain (Mount Semeru). Devotees often present offerings of rice, fruit, vegetables, flowers, livestock and other local produce.
A few hundred kilometres away from there, photographers will be able to witness brave men who toil the volcano, battling noxious gases. Life is hard for sulphur miners at the Ijen caldera as they carry about 100kg of slabs of sulphur from the mine to the factory. The journey takes them more than four hours for a round trip, including hiking upwards for about 1.5 hours to the caldera and half an hour down to the mine. Most of these miners will do two trips a day, if the weather and conditions permit, just to earn a mere sum of USD15 (approx. RM48) per round trip.
“One has to wake up and leave the hotel around midnight if one intends on catching the sunrise at the mines. Alternatively, one can camp out near the Ijen Caldera the night before,” Maxby said.
If you’re avid in photographing street or portraitures, there’s a fishing village called Pulau Santen that takes a short journey from Banyuwangi where Maxby personally loves snapping portraitures. “The fishermen in this village still practice the traditional drag net fishing from the shore that was widely used in the past.”
NOT TO BE MISSED
Watching and capturing the spectacular sunrise over Mount Bromo will be one of the many highlights of your trip to East Java. It is said to be one of the best places for sunrise in Indonesia and is starts as early as 5.30 in the morning. “In order to make sure that you arrive the crater rim before sunrise for setup, leave from Surabaya around 11pm or stay overnight at a nearby hotel and leave by 2.30am as it will take an hour to get to the shooting location in a 4×4 vehicle,” Maxby said.
“There are many viewpoints to choose from when it comes to shooting the sunrise at Mount Bromo. As a matter of fact, there’s a space specifically allocated for visitors to catch the scenic view. Nonetheless, I’d suggest that you venture and search for another spot as there are a lot of tourists who gather there, plus the fences around it might pose a challenge to your framing,” he added.
After shooting the sunrise, travellers can walk down to the foot of Mount Bromo where many photo opportunities await. “If you are an ardent fan of black and white photography, do not miss out on the desert-like landscape. It’s best to be there early so you can witness how the side lighting illuminates the sand dunes — it’s amazing!” Maxby said.
Other than that, one may even hire a horse and horsemen to perform for the camera here! Horse riding around the valley floor is a common form of entertainment. But be cautious when you’re on the floor of the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park as there are regular occurrences of dust storms. (OPTIONAL)
Surely you’ve heard of the term “red hot” that describes searing temperatures, but what about “blue hot”? That’s the surreal hue you’d get at the mines of the Ijen caldera as it glows with an unusual blue flame. “It’s completely surreal — the mountain contains large amounts of pure sulphur and this emits an icy blue colour as it burns,” Maxby said while recalling his unforgettable experience while he was there.
One should also consider visiting Kampung Muncar, which is about one and a half hour’s drive from Banyuwangi as Maxby reckons that the annual Petik Laut ritual is a photographic opportunity not to be missed! “Petik Laut is usually held during the full moon with the objective of invoking blessings for sustenance, safety as well as an expression of thanks to God. The fishermen will also decorate their boats with colourful flags and fill them up with all sorts of cakes, fruits, opium, raw saba bananas, plantains, rice cone, savoury rice and other various kinds of agricultural products. The ritual certainly has unique cultural values that will be great for photographers or travellers to experience!” Maxby explained.
- DO be early to find a good spot at Mount Bromo as the ‘official’ shooting space is often flooded with tourists
- DO wear a protective mask as you will face corrosive gases when in the Ijen caldera
- DO take the time to explore the small villages nearby; you’ll never know what photo opportunities you might come across
- DO take it easy on photographic gears when climbing up the high grounds
- DO bring a good pair of trekking shoes
- DO pack a torch light or a head light
- DO bring your tripod along
- DO bring along zoom lenses like 24-70mm and 70-200mm
- DO carry plastic bags and rubber bands with you to protect your gears during dust storms if they are not weather-sealed
- DON’T travel into the volcano complex if there are predictable volcanic activities — a warning signpost at the entrance will have these notifications
- DON’T push yourself too hard when hiking up the high grounds, especially if you have respiratory problems
- DON’T overexpose yourself to noxious gases from the sulphur mines at the Ijen caldera
- DON’T worry about the travel visa as Malaysian passports are exempted from this regulation; you’d have up to 30 days of exploring!
- DON’T forget to bring along a jacket and a pair of gloves when you’re in Mount Bromo if you can’t stand cold weather