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I’m irrationally afraid of a few things. Included on that list – horses, heights, and sudden geologic activity. So when we were planning what to do in the port of Probolinggo on a recent Indonesian cruise, why not just throw all three of those into one activity? The sleepy port of Probolinggo is a great jumping off point for a day trip to Mount Bromo, an active volcano in East Java. And by active, I mean erupted within the last four years and still steaming.
After researching the various things to do around Probolinggo, a trip to the volcano seemed like the marquee activity. Nothing else jumped off the page. And yet the idea of being stuck on a ship organized tour for such an active venture had the potential to be an exercise in frustration. Most of the private tours for Bromo that I found elsewhere were overnight excursions departing from Surabaya. After doing an overnight expedition to Prambanan and Borobudur, I didn’t want to spend another night off the ship so I approached my travel agent Michelle to she if she could help cobble something together.
In the meantime, my travel friend Rachel – who unlike me does not hate travel planning – did some research on her own. She figured out a way to get to and from the volcano using a variety of shared and hired transport. It would be tight but achievable if all the pieces fell into place. I wasn’t convinced though. The tough thing about traveling on a ship is that it will pull out of port whether you are on it or not. I wasn’t wiling to take the chance, especially given how difficult it would be to get to the next port – and if we missed that one, we’d have difficulty rejoining the ship until the very end of the cruise. We had a bit of back and forth debate, colored on my end a bit by the fact that I’ve already visited another volcano in Indonesia (Batur).
At the eleventh hour – two weeks before the trip – Michelle found a great trip that was similar in price to the ship’s tour but would allow us to do the same activities privately and also have time to visit the Madakaripura waterfall on the way back to the ship although it would be a tight itinerary with little margin of error.
On the day that we arrived in Probolinggo, our ship did not clear customs quickly and as a result, we were delayed. This was made more complicated by the fact that its a tender port. The ship had not made a clearance announcement when we realized the first tender was already leaving. It turns out they were allowing the organized tour guests to leave first before announcing that other guests could proceed to the tenders but they still allowed us to catch the second tender before the announcement.
Our guide met us at the pier, a bit worried that we were already delayed. We took off on the windy roads for the 90 minute drive to Mt Bromo. We got as far as the last village near the volcano and then had to switch from our SUV into a small covered 4×4 vehicle. We switched off at a small hotel/restaurant where we were able to use the bathroom before heading out. Rachel and I climbed into the back of our vehicle and held on tight as the vehicle bumped its way up the hill for the last couple kilometers.
The 4×4 deposited us at the edge of the Sea of Sand, an elevated plain of volcanic sand leading up to the slope of the volcano and the trail to the final steps. Individuals have the choice to slowly walk across the sand or hire a pony to carry them to the final steps. Our guide hired us ponies which were led by guides. (The ponies work two jobs – after the morning tourists leave, they go back down to village farms to pull plows and perform other farm work.)
I mentioned above that I’m scared of horses, so balancing on a pony while trotting uphill on slick sand took a leap of faith. We were given face masks to wear as the air was thick with dust and smelled heavily of sulfur.
But the physically hard part was still to come. After the horses deposited us at the final steps, we still had approximately 250 ash-covered stairs to climb. There was steady traffic up and down the stairs without a great deal of room to pass. One side of the stairs was almost completely covered in ash and thus slick. We chose to go both up and down via the less covered set which still required some balance and concentration.
When we reached the top, we had a view of just how far we had come – not only up the stairs but across the sea of sand.
We were able to peer down into the steaming caldera of an active volcano! We had a few minutes for photos but then it was time to head back down as a rain storm was approaching and we did not want to be stuck up top in that.
The walk and ride down was – for me – much scarier than going up due to my fear of heights (and horses). Going downhill I felt like I might fall the entire time, especially as my pony picked up speed. I was shaking by the time I got off the horse – and I’m sure the poor sweet pony could feel my fear. (I remember just continuing to mutter “good horse” as I stroked the horse’s neck!)
We passed members of the ship’s tour just climbing on their ponies as we dismounted ours. We were sticky dust covered but we had done it!
Our 4×4 took us back to the hotel/restaurant where we started. Our tour included lunch so we were given a credit amount we could spend to order what we liked from the menu. We split an appetizer platter before diving into Indonesian entrees that were excellent.
In my haste, I didn’t get the name of the spot, as it started raining buckets and our guide needed to get us moving back downhill before the roads got bad.
My one disappointment of the day was that we were unable to see the waterfall. It’s located about a one kilometer walk from the turnout along a slick path. Our guide said it would not be possible to safely visit due to the conditions. Instead he offered to give us a tour of the town or take us shopping, but tired we decided to head back to the ship.
We got the chance to see the colorful boats and caught the tender just at the right time as the sky opened up shortly after we did.
All in all, we beat the ship tours back by a couple of hours which allowed us time to relax while they were stuck in the rain.
Our private tour cost $262.20 per person – although more than two would have brought the per person rate down as low as $186.30. We followed the same path as the ship’s tour but were able to further into the villages before having to board the 4x4s which saved us time and allowed for more comfort. We also did not have to wait for others to finish which allowed us to tour at our own pace.
I have now declared I’m officially retired from visiting active volcanos – twice is enough for me, especially when horses are involved. But I’m glad I took this day trip and would highly recommend the excursion to any active individual with a day to spare in Probolinggo. Tours can also more easily be done from the port of Surabaya although they require an overnight stay that allows for a sunrise view of Bromo and her sister peaks.