Always faithful to their posts in Surabaya and zealous for that particular mission, the pair of Indonesian Ministry of Tourism officials Widarto and Bambang assure us that the awakening must be at three in the morning.
We frown, but we are mere strangers in those distant lands of Bromo Tengger Semeru.
Even reluctant, we obeyed the indication and returned to the room resigned to the certainty that, once again, little or nothing would go to sleep.
At the exact hour, there is a knock at our door. Already dressed in his olive green semi-uniform, Mr. Bambang makes sure of our awakening with a stamped smile that tastes of sadism. "Are ready? We wait for you inside the jeep.” We left prepared for everything but the outside temperature.
We've been traveling for months. Certainly, bordering 4 or 5 degrees, that was the only cold worthy of the name that Southeast Asia offered us. We got into the jeep.
Having exhausted a few words of ceremony, the local driver turns on the lights and, slowly and slowly, he makes him plow through the pitch of an almost full moon over the sandy soil of the 50km caldera2 who had admitted us.
The Night Ascent to Mount Penanjakan
More jeeps appear out of nowhere. Some surpass us.
Others remain in the background. This motorized dance ends in a caravan of six or seven vehicles that then make their way to the steep and worse-than-goat path that would take us to the top of a hill called Mount Penanjakan.
When we reach the 2770 meters of its summit, even without a big wind, the frigidity intensifies, we estimate that it skims 0 degrees. A battalion of resident vendors profit from the plight of the most incautious visitors.
Minute after minute, they rent coats, sell gloves, bonnets and scarves and serve teas, coffees and hot chocolates at prices inflated according to the early hour and the urgent need for their services.
The lights that illuminate the operation make it more difficult to recognize the configuration of the surrounding landscape. At the same time, foci of different spectra generated by the lanterns and headlamps of hikers on their paths across the Sea of Sand in the depths, spotlight the blackness.
We could be in the dark about the landscape, but we knew one thing: in a little while, that section of the summit would be full of people and, as Sylvia and Rafael, a Spanish couple of travelers had told us, the dispute for the ideal contemplation of the dawn would be fierce. returning colors to the sky and to the renowned volcano constellation of the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park.
The Shining View of Java's Great Volcanoes
We inaugurated a reconnaissance tour. We do our studies. We inquire enough not to make harmful mistakes.
Following the process, even though there was no competition, we set up the tripod at the end of a concrete slab facing where we had concluded the volcanoes were, to the detriment of the direction from which the dawn would appear.
For half an hour, we endure the cold practically alone.
Soon, more and larger caravans composed in other hotels and inns intersect at the base of the mountain and complete its ascent.
Gradually, the brightness increases. The newly arrived passengers quickly form the crowd and animosity that had been augured for us.
The sun re-emerges from behind opposing mountains. Much of the public prefers to accompany him. We, like the evolution of tones from the volcanic ensemble onwards: Mount Batok below. Behind, slightly to the left, gray instead of ocher, with its sides also striped, the steaming volcano Bromo.
Finally, in the apparent projection of Mount Batok but at a great distance to the south and much higher, the upper mountain of the island of Java, the Semeru volcano, with its majestic 3.676 meters, well above the poison crater of Ijen where we had recently been.
Semeru: a Giant of the Ring of Fire
The great star reveals itself in all its splendor and warms the atmosphere above the caldera. At that time, the first illuminated – and visible – eruption of Semeru occurs, which generates them at regular intervals.
Stunned by the spectacle of the inverted cone fluttering with ash and gas, the crowd runs from the side facing the dawn to the side facing the volcanoes and disputes every vacant nook.
With the strongest luminosity, that eccentric volcanic assortment revealed to us its shapes and lines in detail. Informed that Semeru's mini-eruptions repeated every twenty minutes, we waited for three more.
All proved to be spectacular. All had their burning clouds swept west by the wind that blew steadily in that direction.
With the last cloud gone, around seven in the morning, we return to the jeep, descending to the bubbling flatness of the Tengger Sand Sea, the only protected ecosystem with a somewhat desert look in Java.
Tengger's complex is as eccentric as possible. Product of the incessant volcanic activity characteristic of the Ring of Fire, five volcanoes share the interior of the 200 to 600 meter walls of its caldera.
They are the Batok and the Bromo, the Kursi (2.581 m), the Watangan (2.661 m) and the Widodaren (2.650 m). Of the quintet, Batok is the only one inactive.
Several other mountains above 2000 meters rise around the Tengger caldera. The Semeru volcano, which had kept us busy all dawn, – also referred to by Mahameru (The Great Mountain) – polarizes its own complex.
At that moment, it was Bromo that interested us. That's where we point.
To the Conquest of the Sacred Bromine
With so much reverence for Semeru, when we arrived at the base of the Bromo, the flow of visitors was already coming down the slope, on their way to the vehicles. Some descended on foot, others on horseback.
Dozens of natives from the village of Cemoro Lawang and elsewhere had tried to rent their little horses to them and thus spare the more indolent or unprepared strangers from the drudgery of ascent.
We went up the long wooden staircase. On the edge of the summit, we can see the smoky and sulphurous bowels of the volcano. As a rule, Bromine is limited to expelling gases. From time to time it becomes capricious and erupts.
In 2004, two people succumbed to rocks thrown up by their explosion. In 2010 and 2011, the lingering prospect of a truly catastrophic eruption worried authorities and people more than ever.
The establishment of an exclusion zone that ranged between two and three kilometers has ruined tourism.
Eruptions that released huge amounts of ash at high altitudes forced the cancellation of dozens of flights to Bali, Lombok and other destinations with nearby routes.
The authorities also warned the natives of the risk of roofs collapsing in their houses due to the accumulation of ash, from time to time wetted by rain.
The Balinese Hinduism Legacy of the Majapahit Empire
But the threats from volcanoes are nothing new for these people who have inhabited villages in the Tengger Mountains since the 1293th century. The Tengger are believed to have originated in the Hindu Majapahit Empire (1500 – XNUMX) which, at its height, conquered or subdued much of Southeast Asia.
In the XNUMXth century, in a context in which Portuguese navigators and conquerors already had their role based on the recently taken over Malacca, the Muslim Sultanate of Demak achieved political-military supremacy on the island of Java. Defeated the descendants of the Majapahit Empire who were warring with each other,
Of Hindu faith, these were forced to seek refuge. Courtiers, artisans, priests and royalty moved to Bali where their lineage and religion are now predominant.
With the strengthening of Muslim rule in Java, the Hindu kingdoms gave way where they still resisted there. Only the havens of Bali, Lombok and the eastern Java ranges saved them from more than likely annihilation.
The Tenggers, today farmers and cattle raisers, including the horses that carry visitors, “guardians” vulnerable to the whims of Bromo and other volcanoes but believers in their mercy and that of the gods, come from these conflicting times.
With the subsequent overpopulation of the island of Madura, its powerful Muslims began to settle in the fertile and sacred lands of the Tenggers. Many Tengger eventually converted to Islam.
This concession displeased their leaders. They turned to Balinese Hindus to help them reform their culture and bring it closer to the purest Hinduism of Bali.
The Divine Stronghold is now Protected from Bromo-Tengger-Semeru
In much more recent years, the authorities of the Indonesia they chose to respect the Tengger's demands. They declared “their” mountains and volcanoes a natural and cultural reserve. They banned several of the earlier blemishes.
From the top of the Bromo, as Widarto and Bambang wait and despair in the car park, we detect the rectangular silhouette of the Luhur Poten temple.
This temple embodies the Tengger's faith in the blessing and mercy of Ida Sang Hyang Widi Wasa and the god of Mahameru (of the Semeru volcano). But the temple, by itself, does not seem to satisfy some of them.
On the fourteenth day of the Yadnya Kasada festival, after meeting and praying, the Tenggers from a village called Prolinggo climb to the summit of Bromo.
Over the narrow edge of the volcano, overlooking the effervescent abyss and certain death, hundreds of worshipers throw fruit, rice, vegetables, flowers and small livestock into the crater's interior, as offerings or sacrifices.
The ceremony was conceived with the dignity and elegance so typical of Balinese Hinduism. And yet, over time, this very double characteristic contributed to admit that several needy natives began to risk their lives armed with nets and other tools below, prepared to collect as much as possible of what was thrown close to them.
Some believe that, more than precious food, the offerings will bring them good luck. Truth be told, the day is yet to come when volcanoes drive out or destroy the Tenggers.
Until then, these once marginalized people will continue to thrive on the fertility and geological exuberance of their mountains of fire.
More information about PN Bromo-Tengger-Semeru on the respective page of UNESCO.