This is a story of a total noob hiker with zero exercise regime trekking one of Indonesia’s most prolific volcanoes.
Not a total outdoors noob though. I’ve had a little bit of experience, here and there – set up my own tent, lived without electricity and running water on Lang Tengah Island, walked a great few miles in rural Alaska, and climbed up vertical steel ladders to the top of Macau Tower. I’ve also gone a maximum of two days without showering. But a noob hiker nevertheless.
To combine all of the above in one expedition was just a different game for me. Even more so when exercise and I weren’t exactly best friends. Even more so when I gotta carry ‘home’ with me all weekend.
Fjallraven Indonesia Discovery
I was part of the Fjallraven Indonesia Discovery event, which was organised by one of the coolest outdoors brand in the world (its iconic Fjallraven Kanken backpack is popular among millennials). Fjallraven Discovery is a replica event of their signature Fjallraven Classic event which is dubbed as more than just a trek but a celebration of the outdoors.
Together with the other 82 participants from 11 countries, this was the first organised group to trek around the mountains of the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park. We basically circled Mount Bromo and friends on two foot. That’s an approximately 42 kilometres of clockwise trekking over three days and two nights.
Mount Bromo and friends
Located on East Java, Mount Bromo last erupted in 2015 and is one of the most well-known active volcanoes around Asia. It is part of a massif which includes next-door neighbour Mount Batok. The breathtaking landscape draws millions of visitors eager to brave the early morning cold for the magical sunrise view it’s so synonymous for.
The villages around the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park and its surrounding lands are largely inhabited by the Tenggerese people, who practice Hinduism.
Our trek started in Cemorolawang, a village located 2,217 metres above sea level. From here, I got the first peek of the magical mountains I would soon be trekking. The landscape in front of me was almost extra-terrestrial – a vast beige carpet featuring a huge massif surrounded by the sea of sand, and fringed by mountains from all sides.
If not for the early morning blue skies, the vegetation that grew on Mount Batok, and the distant movement of 4WD vehicles along the sandy caldera encircling the massif, this could’ve easily been on a different planet.
Our chirpy start of the trek, a scenic ascent through flowery shrubs and cute little winding paths before descending down to the sandy flatlands, totally did not prepare me for the challenge that was waiting down southeast.
It was the dreaded Puncak B29. Even as my feet brushed through the sandy trail heading towards that direction, I was in complete denial. That couldn’t be it, surely they won’t make us climb this monster. The task at hand seemed utterly impossible from down below.
A zig-zagging 80 degrees path up an 800-metre-tall slope towards the top of a 2,400-metre-tall mountain. Insanity level: 100%.
This particular trek was a cleverly designed hell – the kind of place that makes you question all your life choices that lead to that point. Not fun with a 20-kilogramme pack on your back.
Under the scorching 30°C temperature, it felt like the trek was never going to reach the end. Too high up to turn back down, no end in sight when looking up. Out of breath, I had to stop and sit every few steps, even almost fell asleep a few times because of the increasingly thin air. But even hell provides comedy if you care enough to notice.
There I was, sitting alone under a tree, almost dying and contemplating my entire existence, when the classic iPhone ringtone appeared from out of nowhere. It was another trekker Ibu Dina, who casually started chatting with her friend. The jolt from a state of trance to the real world was so striking I just had to laugh.
On this horrorful (a word I made up in honour of Puncak B29) trek was also where I met another first-time hiker, Ayu who came from Bandung. She candidly threw me a packet of honey for energy, possibly upon seeing how terrible I looked. New bestie made, we would become each other’s point of motivation throughout the entire trek later on.
Not surprisingly given the horror of the earlier trek, I was fashionably late reaching the first night’s campsite. Pitching tent in the dark wasn’t a problem, but realising that I was smelling of ash (I had foolishly set my pack on charred grounds along Puncak B29 earlier) was awful. Well at least I didn’t vomit like a guy near my tent. Hope you’re cool, bro.
As the campsite was set at the savannah in between rolling hills, stargazing was splendid but ain’t nobody got time for that when temperature drops to a shivering 0°C cold! Well guess the torture has not yet ended. The grounds were uneven and sloping a tiny bit, so my slippery sleeping bag went all over inside the tent. The sweet sound of silence was interrupted by generous snoring from tent neighbours.
Miserable was the perfect adjective to describe the beautiful night.
The next day started sweetly though, thanks to the pretty tangerine-pink-purple sunrise. And from out of nowhere, a wild bakso (Indonesian soupy meatballs dish) cart appeared just in time for breakfast. We were many kilometres away from the nearest village. How the bakso cart man got the idea to come here was beyond me, but I guess this is the kind of stuff you can expect when travelling Indonesia. Trust that there’ll be a bakso cart somewhere, everywhere.
The trek on day two was like medicine for the tired soul. We journeyed into Jarak Ijo, where grassy plains, lush valleys and blooming wildflowers filled the atmosphere with serenity, like an episode of Little House on the Prairie.
Everybody reached the second day campsite well before sundown, which gave me plenty of time to set up my night home, exchange stories with other trekkers, and wipe the ash smell the hell out of my backpack and jacket.
Located on top of a valley, the CMD camping grounds had a different feel from the night before. Tents in various colours lined up a narrow walking path, with views of mountains from all sides. The bright and cheery setting turned even more spectacular at sunset, as the sky transformed into a fiery orange as if ablaze.
Winds from the heavens
Soon after preparing dinner, I laid down to look at the stars painting the night sky. I would’ve stayed still all night long, but the wind grew increasingly strong, blowing from all directions.
It was a scene I had never experienced in my life. A criss-crossing of winds powerful enough to shake the atmosphere, but gentle enough not to blow everything away. A peek of just how much energy Mother Nature truly possesses. Though scary, it was humbling to have seen just a tiny glimpse.
Even with the noise of tents flapping because of the heavy winds, I managed to sleep like a log. When I woke up at 4am, the winds showed no signs of slowing down. What greeted me outside was a sky so glittery, not even Mariah Carey can outshine. A gazillion distant stars in every direction.
The universe is truly just WOW!
By the time we hiked down for the last trek towards the finishing line the next morning, we were faced with yet another brutal reality. We would be walking a few kilometres through Lautan Pasir, which literally means ocean of sand. But that was not all. As the ocean was going through a storm, it also meant sand flying in every direction. And as if to complete the package, the sandstorm was in bright prickling sun.
But at this stage even with the looming sandstorm ahead, I kinda just laughed along with the universe, because I knew that I had left the horrors of Puncak B29 behind and fond memories of Jarak Ijo became like a blanket of shield for me to keep on marching forward.
Bakso and Bromo
After an arduous march, we reached the foot of a hill where unsurprisingly, a bakso cart was waiting.
Enjoying my 10,000 Rupiah (one dollar) hot bowl, I stared at the iconic Mount Bromo crater in front me. What was it like for Frodo when he was tasked with the job of transporting the One Ring to Mount Doom for its eventual demise? Bakso finished before Frodo could answer me, so then I continued on our way through the villages in Cemorolawang towards the final checkpoint in Jiwa Jawa Resort.
Tears, sweat, burns and some approximately 60,000 steps from the start of the trek, I finally crossed the finishing line.
For completing the trek, we all received a Fjallraven Indonesia Discovery medal, an embroidered patch, as well as an unexpected applause from the other participants that reached there first. The medal was especially handsome.
Weirdly, crossing the finishing line didn’t feel like much of an achievement to me. Hungry, sweaty and covered in dirt, I was more concerned about finding shower and food. Oh, and is there Wi-Fi here?
But it was hard not to feed off the happiness of other participants. Because the event was never about competing but rather encouraging each other to make it till the end, everyone was happy for everyone. We made it through, and we made it together.
After a heavenly shower and a delightful siesta on a proper bed, I woke up the next morning and started packing for the airport. Before leaving, I went back to the spot when our journey began and marvelled the landscape.
On the left, the uphill greensie path where the odyssey began. On the faraway right, the sea of sand of the final march. Traces of joyful misery and simple delights lingered on the other side of the mountains.
The view had not changed, but I most certainly did. It was here that I realised that true honour wasn’t found in the medal earned, but felt at ground zero with a clear view of how far we had come.
And then I also remembered that Mount Bromo was named after Brahma, the one who created the universe according to Hindu belief. The experience wasn’t just a trek, it was a full circle pilgrimage around nature.
A celebration of the great outdoors.
Keen to join this cool experience and earn yourself the handsome Fjallraven medal as well as the experience of a lifetime? The 2019 edition of Fjallraven Indonesia Discovery is happening on 26 to 28 July, and registration opens on 15 March. Kindly note that there is a slight change in the actual trek, best to check out www.fjallravenid.com or follow Fjallraven SEA on Facebook and Instagram for more info.
GETTING THERE: AirAsia flies to Indonesia. Book your tickets now at airasia.com.