The twilight died into the dark. We were still on the way to Mount Bromo area. I sat in the front passenger seat, just beside the driver. Through the windshield I could see the line of the highway beginning to wind its way through the hills. The roads grew narrower and emptier. As we spiraled up the mountain, the air was getting colder and colder. Reaching over 2000 meters high, we arrived at Ngadisari Village where we stayed overnight. As soon as we got out of the car, the parka-clad man in front of the inn came to us and passionately hawked woolly hats and gloves.
At about half past three next day, we were picked up by jeep to Penanjakan View Point to see the sunrise. The chill in the air vanquished my drowsiness. Everything around us was hiding in the dark and the dense fog. The jeep’s headlights pierced the gloom of darkness. Owing to the low visibility, I could not tell where we exactly were. When we were proceeding on the flat ground, through the car window, I could only see the path ahead and all the rest was shrouded in the deep darkness. While on the twisting mountain road, fear welled up in my deep mind. In heavy fog and occasional drizzle, the visibility became lower, it was difficult to see very far, and we all could feel the danger around us. The red light from the rear lamp of the jeep in the front was like a ray of hope reassuring us. Following the red in the black, we arrived safely at the parking area for jeep. We had to walk the rest of the way to the sunrise view point.
It started to drizzle. After dozens of slippery steps, we were walking into a busy area where traveler could buy coffee and grilled corn in the stalls. At a distance, a flight of a dozen steps led to the sunrise view point which was covered in mist. We found a good place to see the sunrise, sat on a mat we rented from a local peddler, and waited patiently. Around us was settled expectation and tranquility. It was almost six o’clock, the darkness vanished. Little by little, the mist was dissipated by the wind. But the sun didn’t appear in our horizon, it still hid in the cloud. The mist didn’t dispersed totally, so the faint yellow top of Mount Bromo in the distance were disappearing and reappearing. Impatient people left the disappointing place, vanishing together with the mist.
On the way back, the only thing that could comfort us was grilled corns. Seeing the disappointment in our eyes, the driver took us to the hillside, where we could see Mount Bromo drowned in the vast sea of clouds. Having gone down the hill, all around us were acres of plain of wild dry brush, where jeep shuttled in front of the isolated Mount Bromo. Tough the sun was still obscured by the masses of clouds, the sunlight was trying to escape. In the distance, the silhouette of a group of horseback rider and the blue-black ridges behind them made a beautiful scene.
It was about 2 kilometers to reach the Bromo caldera. Having chosen to go on foot, we had to be more aware of the ground we were walking over. And also, we needed to avoid piles of horse dung which were a bit difficult to distinguish from the hay. The soil under my feet was so soft as if I were walking on a cotton-paved path. The way to the caldera was not that easy as we expected, and just halfway we were so exhausted that we had to rent a horse to move on. Hundreds of steps led up to the caldera wrapped in thick fog. As we reached the climax, the sound which the volcano produced was similar to the roar of the turbine of a plane. The crater which continuously spewed thick white gas along with its roar seemed to have the magic to lure me into jumping to the deep. So afraid was I that I turned to leave right after taking some pictures.
The horse I rode on began to pant. After I dismounted, it was even foaming at the mouth. I paid another ten thousand rupiah for the poor horse to drink. Beside jeep parking areas was a row of hitching posts, where horses took a rest and waited for the next round-trip. Those horses were born here and will die here. For the horseman, the duty of those horses is to carry their customers and to breed. They will never leave here until death. They are slaves of human. And we human are slaves of time and money. What stands between you and where you want to be? The answer of most of us is time and money. And ask yourself how many times have you used lack of time or money as an excuse to give up doing something? When we are young, we have enough time and energy. We want to travel, to see the world, but we say to ourselves that we don’t have enough money. When we start to work, we have enough energy and money. We want to travel, to see the world, but we say to ourselves that we don’t have enough time. And finally, when we retire, we have earned enough money and have enough leisure time. But our bodies tell us that we have no more energy.
I am lucky to be human instead of that tamed horse. That horse was deprived of freedom, and will be stuck in that place all its life. I can choose where to go. I can choose my own life. However, sometimes we human could also be deprived of freedom by time and money.
I was awaken by the continuous bumps along the way. It had been five hours since we left Bromo. We had turned onto a narrow and rugged path, barely paved, going through a thick forest leading to Ijen. Thick gray-white fog spewed from the highest volcano in the distance was mixed with the clouds, always changing their shapes and colors. It must be Mount Ijen, which is 2799 meters high.
Having slept for less than four hours in Sempol Village, we had to leave for Paltuding post where to start the trekking of blue fire. It was about 1 a.m. Along the way there was no streetlight, only endless darkness and infinite nothing. The rumble of thunder broke the silence, and the headlights of the car dissipated my fear of the unknown. As we stood at the starting point of the walking trail, deep and mysterious darkness was sneaking up on us. Trees were whirling in the dark, while leaves rustled in the wind. Moisture in the atmosphere condensed into dew, while the wind brought them to us. Unlike other professional explorers, we needed to rest almost every five minutes. There was once a time when we stopped to have a break, we took down our head lamps to avoid light direct into the eyes of each other. Just then we were all in the darkness, inadvertently looked up and saw stars shining in the sky. Not so many as we expected, but I could recognize that was a part of Gemini. We didn’t stop for this beautiful scenery which is difficult to see in our city as our goal was the more fantastic and spectacular one, that is the blue fire at the crater, which is known as the entrance to the hell.
The trekking was far more difficult than expected though it was only 3 km. It took us about 1 hour just to reach the midway shelter. The last 1 km was the long ascent and descent on an even narrower steeper rocky path. To avoid tripping over or sliding down on rocks, we must concentrate on every step.
The smell of sulphur was getting stronger and more pungent. It was time to put on the gas masks, which could prevent us from absorbing the toxic fumes though it made us a bit difficult to breathe. The path ahead was fraught with dangers. The sulphur fumes hurt my eyes. The light of head lamp barely penetrated the thick fog. The strong cold wind was whistling. With the gas mask on, I could clearly hear that my breathing was amplified, while the words from my friends and the guide sounded slurred. Fear came over me. It was a sandstorm. In a daze, I saw a girl who failed to keep up with her companions’ step was separated from others, lost her way in the desert, and finally died. I began to regret putting my life at risk. Suddenly, I was awaken by a firm and warm grasp from my friend. Then we grabbed one another by the hand, watched our steps, and moved out together in the thick fog.
Here, at the Ijen Crater rim, we were watching the video of the magnificent blue fire on the guide’s cell phone. About five minutes ago, we had finally reached the best point to see blue fire. The guide pointed to the cloud of yellow sulphur smoke in the distance, where the blue flames should have peaked out. Through the thick fog, only a piece of blue could be seen. Day broke. Along with the darkness, the only piece of blue disappeared.
The fumes were still there. About halfway down from Ijen Crater, we met a sulphur peddler who sells carved sulphur souvenirs of various shapes. Different from sulphur miners who can earn a mere 800 rupiah per kilo, these peddlers can earn 10,000 rupiah for every single souvenir. Those sulphur miners have no gas mask, only a thin handkerchief to cover their mouth from toxic fumes. Working from day to night, every 3 km trip of transferring, they will carry around 40 kg of sulphur with wicker baskets. Without good protection against toxic fumes, their health will go downhill. But they have no choice but to survive. Sulphur miners live on sulphur while died of sulphur.
When I returned home, I found a strong sense of security. Then I asked to myself if this grueling journey was worth time and money. Maybe not. I didn’t know.
And now, a month goes by. My previous regret is gone for ever. I’ve forgot all the exhausting experiences and dangers we met. Now that I have enough time and money, a new journey will be restarted.
Life is a loop.
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