“We sometimes encounter people, even perfect strangers, who begin to interest us at first sight, somehow suddenly, all at once, before a word has been spoken.”
Fyodor Dostoevsky used to say that. A great novelist, and a wise man. And that quite exactly describes how we found Loo.
We first met Loo onboard the early morning flight to Surabaya. As we approached our seats we saw a guy already settled himself over the window, fast asleep with his face covered with the hood of a blue wind breaker. A travel notes written in crooked Chinese characters and a bulky DSLR camera were sprawling on his lap.
We didn’t spoke throughout our flight, as he continued sleeping and we were trying to find ours too. More or less it was me, cause DH was already dozing off as soon as the plane left the tarmac. I always have this difficulty falling asleep, especially after waking up, so I past the time browsing through the inflight magazine and observing the sleeping guy. He was barely moving except stretching his back from time to time or adjusting the hood over his face. I wasn’t sure what drew my attention to him; it was not my first time meeting a Chinese man and another traveler. Perhaps it was his camera and understated manner, apart from that striking blue wind breaker. Or perhaps it was my intuition – somehow my sub-concious mind was telling me that our path will cross again later.
The blue minivan to Cemoro Lawang
Arriving at Surabaya and without the check-in luggage, we passed through immigration and custom at Juanda Airport with a breeze. We took the airport shuttle to Terminal Purabaya, and in no time were already on the public bus to Probolinggo, the small town that serves as gateway to Mount Bromo. That Chinese guy in wind breaker was still sleeping when the plane landed, and was among the last to leave.
Two hours later we touched base with Probolinggo and were waiting to be transported to Cemoro Lawang, a village in the Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park where we would stay for the night. The driver of the blue minivan that supposed to take us to the village sat nonchalantly on a makeshift platform under a frangipani tree, playing a game of checkers with his friends while waiting for more passengers. We were eventually the first to arrive and his first customers of the day. I put my backpack down and slouched on the plastic chair of the nearby warung (Indonesian for food stall) while DH finishing his cigarette. From time to time we peeked outside to see if anybody turned in but unfortunately there was no one in sight. The folks were mostly at the mosque performing the qurban (cow sacrifice) as the day itself was actually Eidul Adha (the second largest muslim celebration and public holiday in Indonesia) and with the recent increase in Bromo hazard level, apparently there were not many people keen on going in our direction.
Kopi Soda in Probolinggo
It was a hot day, and we had been waiting for almost an hour. If nobody turns up that means we have to charter the whole van all to ourselves, instead the normal tariff of Rp12,000 per person on sharing basis. DH was pacing up and down the warung as if somebody would turn up from somewhere. It was a boring wait, but there’s no other way to get to the village and to charter the whole van was totally out of our budget bracket. To while the time I helped myself with some Kopi Soda from the warung refrigerator, a drink I picked up simply because of its odd name. Carbonated coffee is not your everyday thing, isn’t it? Weird at first, but after the third sips I had totally forgotten that it was not our typical cola.
While I was idly chatting with DH over our new discovery (the kopi soda that is), a white guy walked in. He introduced himself as Chris; he was looking for the transport to Cemoro Lawang and urgent need to buy the local SIM card. A blank stare was all he got from asking the warung lady. Obviously she didn’t understand English.
“Pulsa” I told him the Indonesian equivalent for the said phone subscriber card. The goodnatured lady laughed when she finally understood his words, and directed him (with my help) to the nearest selling booth. Ten minutes later Chris returned to the warung with a smile on his face. But that was not the end for him.
Installing a new SIM requires subscriber to fill up his identity and contact information, and too bad it was all Indonesian. Soon I was seating beside him, translating every words in his phone to English as he was typing it. Making new friends while travelling seems so easy; all it needs just an ask for direction, sharing public transportation or a petty SIM card to start the ball rolling. A few minutes later another guy turned up. The blue wind breaker looked very familiar. He was the guy in the plane!
Apparently he noticed us too and was somehow glad to see us. Loo; as he introduced himself, is an engineer from China currently based in Kuala Lumpur. There were already four of us, but we decided to wait some more and have some Soto Medan for lunch. Before we even finished our food another two backpackers arrived; the cute and bubbly Jeremy from Canada and his quiet friend Nick, from France. With the six of us we agreed to share the cost of the minivan to Cemoro Lawang, as the day was getting late and we were already gave up hope that anybody will come after that.
The road to Cemoro Lawang
The village in the mountain
The journey was uneventful and most of us fell asleep inside that stuffy van. Me on the other hand, the only female in the group was given the privilege by the driver to sit in front and was kept awake by the stunning view of the villages in front of me. The temperature dropped as we climbed higher and higher up the mountain, leaving the putrid hot air of Probolinggo behind. Smokes came out from a far distant chimney, and crops cultivated on the mountainside of what seemed to be a barren land (October, and a coming of a cold and dry season).
Cafe Lava Hostel
It was already 4.00pm when we finally reached Cemoro Lawang, and was dropped at Café Lava Hostel. Arriving on Indonesia second biggest hari liburan (public holiday) we had arranged our stay and all the tour to Bromo earlier (thanks to the help of fellow bloggers Zilla & Fatt), something which I rarely done during travel. I had no idea whether this was necessary (which turn out not – as Cemoro seemed to be extremely quiet), but it was better safe than sorry. The guys decided to stay at the much cheaper guesthouse opposite to us, while Loo opted the Cemara Indah Guesthouse as he wanted to wake up to the view of Bromo. Pak Ecok, Café Lava front person was giving us a good offer and overall it turned out we were charged much cheaper than their published rate. A happy sign to our trip.
Cafe Lava backyard, where we spent our afternoon
The rooftop. Don’t ask why I took this photo. I really don’t have the answer.
Our room at Café Lava was small and decent, but it was more than enough. My only concerned was how we were going to survive the cold night, as the thin Bamboo woven walls that make our room are not thick enough to insulate the heat. But I was all too excited that before long I had it totally slipped off from my mind.
Mount Batok from the Look Out Point
We went out again later in the evening, taking a stroll around the quiet village and walked to the look out point nearby our hostel. That was our first sight of Bromo. I remember Fatt said something in her blog about how painting-like they look, and it was true! Unfortunately it was hazy and night was fast approaching (the sun sets around 6.00pm), and the photos I took described nothing of its beauty. As I was busy setting up the camera a local Tenggeran came to us and offered a ride to Mount Bromo, across the Sea of Sand. I brushed him off uniterestedly, as we had already booked the tour. But he was quite persistence, and was not accepting no for an answer. Me on the other hand was down with frustration with the bleak weather and our lousy photos, that I startled when I heard him saying about photographing the sunset at Mentigen. I’d never came across Mentigen in our quick study of Bromo (it was too quick perhaps LOL!) and his word made me curious. But I was a bit hesistant parting with another Rp50,000 for some unbudgeted event (with the previous back-to-back trips to Manila and Medan we kinda broke on this one) but when DH said he’s willing to pay for the ride I jumped at the moment’s notice and heard myself cried ”Let’s go!”
The view at Mentigen
Mount Batok and the sulphur belching Bromo from Mentigen Pass
It was an awful ride so to speak, and I who at first felt a bit awkward about riding a bike with a stranger (as DH was riding with another driver) was inching closer and closer and grabbed the ojek driver’s shoulder with fear being thrown out from the bike. Controlling the bike against the sandy path was somehow difficult; he had to floor it to avoid getting stuck. Nevertheles Mentigen is not that far away, and within minutes we arrived at the very much desolated viewing point. The view was much better from the look out point in Cemoro Lawang, and apart from taking photos, me and DH spent our time there talking about life and our dream, overlooking the stunning scene until the sun finally set behind Mount Batok.
The ojek drivers
DH watching over the sunset at Mentigen
Stunning ray of lights over Penanjakan
Sunset at Mentigen
When the sun finally disappered we headed back to our hostel, and found Chris and the gang already there having dinner and we were called to join them. We had a pretty nice chat, sharing some travel stories and get to know each other better. Loo showed me the photo of KLCC he took recently and it was superb; in fact he’s really good at photography that I was so glad we met and able to pick up his brain on the matter. Chris was on his 2 weeks touring across Indonesia, and planned to end it by scalling the Rinjani or so before going back to South Africa, while Nick and Jeremy was on their way across the globe (oh, I really envy them!). We were so into eating and talking that it had totally slipped my mind about taking our photos together.
We ended our quiet day at Cemoro over dinner and some jokes. It could be our first and last meeting with some of them, but it does not really matter. The temperature was dropping fast outside, but we were all warm with our new found friendship. I guessed that’s the wonders of being in the Travel Land. William Butler Yeats once said, “There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t yet met”.