Sitting precariously above the Pacific Ring of Fire on the Malay Archipelago, Indonesia is home to numerous active volcanoes that can erupt unpredictably, making it a destination worthy of both awe and fear. This made my team’s escapades in East Java all the more exciting, providing us with stark reminders of the dangers these volcanoes pose. In fact, two Singaporean tourists were killed in 2004 at Mt Bromo when it suddenly erupted without warning, in the very same spot where I stood on the volcano’s crater. Yet the breathtaking scene that emerged in the morning mist drove away my fear, reinforcing my decision to experience the area’s stunning beauty.
Initially, I was met with many raised eyebrows when I told people I was planning to travel to Indonesia’s second largest city, Surabaya. ‘What inspired you to go there? Are you sure? Is it safe?’ I answered them all with confidence, saying the trip would be a new and unforgettable experience that would give me a chance to discover two awe-inspiring natural creations – the active volcanoes of Mt Ijen and Mt Bromo.
Getting to Indonesia from Bangkok is an easy affair. There are several flights available through Indonesia’s national carrier Garuda and low-cost airline Air Asia, which offers two direct flights daily to the capital city of Jakarta. It was late evening when I departed Bangkok for the three-and-a-half hour flight to Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, which arrived close to midnight. The following morning I caught a quick one-hour flight to Surabaya.
As one would expect, the Surabaya airport was designed in the traditional Indonesian style, offering a sense of harmony between the terminal and the native way of life. The first impression we had of the Indonesian people was derived from the genuine smile on the face of the local tour guide who greeted us at the exit hall.
Hari tells us he has been driving for the tour company for a long time, and eventually became an English-speaking guide as well. After giving us our itinerary briefing, Hari drives us out of Surabaya to bring us to our first destination, Mount Ijen, which is a seven to eight hour drive. Fortunately the traffic is moving at a nice pace, allowing us to enjoy the scenery which includes the greenery of local plantations such as rice and sugar cane fields.
We aren’t cruising for long before Hari stops at an interesting but odd attraction near the outskirts of Surabaya, dubbed ‘mud village’. Here, many deserted houses sit in a sea of mud, a surprisingly beautiful sight through the camera lens. Beauty aside, the village’s deserted state is actually a source of great bitterness for its former residents, given the flooding was caused by oil drilling. The controversial situation remains an unresolved issue between the villagers and the government, however the site itself is still included on many tour programs for foreigners to visit.
As we near the mountainous Ijen area, the rain pours down to make the plantations appear even greener. The sun is setting as we approach the Merapi-Maelang Reserve and although the rain continues to pour our van keeps right on rolling down the bumpy road. The front headlights of the van shine through the twilight, allowing us to view the white fog that covers the whole mountain. Eventually we arrive at the home stay where we will spend the night, and from the aromatic smell wafting around me it’s quite clear I will be sleeping in the middle of a coffee field.
When we step into the home stay, there is indeed coffee brewed for us to enjoy. It is a setting as comfortable as an international resort, yet with the surrounding coffee field, nearby hot springs and the friendly smiles of the local hosts the home stay offers something even more special, a feeling of joy and contentedness.
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