Mount Bromo: A Mercurially, Mesmerizing Janus


A trip breezing by without a glitch easily fades into the recesses of blasé memories. The foregoing description immediately disqualifies Mount Bromo, an active volcano, towering at 7,641 feet in East Java, Indonesia. It has reverberating texture: motorbikes regurgitating dust, horsemen vigorously trying to sell rides, chickens running in circles and exponentially growing throngs of people compressed into microscopic, subway-like spaces, stumbling vertically to the object of their desire, Mount Bromo.

Promises of serene and surreal topography beckon adventurers. Sapphire, turquoise-imbued skies and emerald jewel-toned foliage draping against the taupe desert floor, dance through my dreams like sugar plum fairies the night before this planned extravaganza. Admittedly, these crystalline visions, deny the duality of Mount Bromo. Like Janus, the two-faced Roman god, this volcano emanates an exoskeleton of quiescence but deep within this placid facade resides a fire-breathing dragon. The mercurial monster awakens January, 2011. Locals scramble. Thousands, find their flights cancelled or diverted as volcanic ash spews more than 18,000 feet upwards. April, 2011 the Indonesian Centre for Volcanology and Disaster Hazard Mitigation signals it’s safe again to witness this natural wonder.

Arriving at Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park we regrettably exchange our comfortable car for a crusty, brown Jeep that long ago left its' good days and its' shock absorbers in the dust. Serpentine corners framed by lush, verdant vegetation cascading into cavernous hills, draws us forward. Suddenly, the scenery shifts; miles away, Mount Bromo juts out from a lunar-like landscape.
After many hair-raising, hairpin turns, we descend into the gray sandy caldera and discover the perfect locale and the “extras” for a Mad Max sequel. Lava dust swirls into cyclonic shapes as viral-like contagions of motor bikers ascend like flying apparitions. This backdrop would undoubtedly complement Mad Max’s story, a tale of dystopia, followed by apocalyptic social destruction and decay. Dreams of tranquility are replaced with cacophony and panoramic idealizations vanish as my 360 degree dust-ridden visual field is reduced to about eighteen inches.

My fictional expectation of 250 actual steps leading to Mount Bromo evaporates. Invisible mini-mountains drowning in volcanic ash and my suction-less feet challenge my ability to complete this spider-woman like climb. This allegorical journey of “a thousand steps” feels like a thousand miles. Time to initiate battle mode; I fuel my upward crawl with positive affirmations.
Breathless, I arrive on the summit. Bromo rewards my efforts by releasing a billow of sulfurous-laden smoke and gas. Through a veil of ashes, emerges a steep, conical profile which is a defining characteristic of stratovolcanoes as are intermittent, explosive eruptions.
Incessant chattering, clanging off-key musical instruments and clucking chickens obliterate any hope of spiritual serenity. Wall-to-wall masses clamor for a piece of the rapidly dwindling bleached-beige turf while pilgrims throw offerings to mitigate the known wrath of Mount Bromo.

To bolster my downward trajectory, a cadre of positive affirmations crystallize . First, I'm given a free dental procedure, each tooth skillfully sandblasted by fine gritty dust. Second, my ever-stylish, neon-green snorkel mask that seemed like histrionic overkill when originally packed, allows some visibility. Third, I receive a complimentary micro-dermal abrasion treatment. Fourth, my lungs work despite the likelihood that I’ve inhaled the equivalent of five packs of cigarettes. Seeing my ascending compatriots, I want to yell: “Turn back before it is too late” but I cannot waste my oxygen.

Reaching the flatlands, I congratulate myself on completing this hike on my own “woman-power” as the persistent purveyor of horsepower surrenders. Mad Max motorbike aficionados reappear with accompanying eardrum-breaking, ground-shaking bravado. Makeshift stands selling hats, art, chickens, goats and produce dot the lava-scape. In a mirage-like hallucination, I spot my husband, horseback riding to our Jeep that now resembles a golden chariot.
Days later, we meet an Italian couple, Elisabeth and Lorenzo, on a boat going to see the famed Komodo dragons. They too were at Mount Bromo. They had a "mesmerizing" encounter, untarnished by noise or crowds, but I wager that my jagged memories will long outlast their blissful recollections.

Feel free to glow in your glorious, glossy, postcard pictures of perfection. Meanwhile, I'll relish my eidetic images of Mad Max motor bikers and ash billowing Bromo. Truly, it is in the eye and experience of the beholder as to whether or not Mount Bromo records as a mercurial or mesmerizing adventure. You will not know until you go and when you do, only then can you weave this strand of multi-colored yarn into your travel tapestry.

K McFadden

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