We got up at 2:30 AM to catch the sunrise over the Tengger crater. Most tourists take jeeps across the Sea of Sand and up a 4×4 track to a high point on the crater rim to do so, but to save money we decided to leave earlier and walk there. The dark walk up the road and then onto a small, steep dirt path through the forest took a couple of hours and was a little unpleasant at that awful time of day, but turned out to be totally worth it. We found a grassy hill away from the tourist hordes that we only had to share with a couple of fellow backpackers we had met at the hostel the night before and hiked up with. Soon the sky began to turn brilliant hues of pink and orange and the stunning scene ahead of us was revealed. The Tengger crater rim stretched around in a giant circle into the distance on both sides and within it lay the smaller volcanoes surrounded at their bases by a thick, swirling layer of fog that totally hid the Sea of Sand. Bromo belched a continuous cloud of smoke and Mount Semeru in the distance erupted every 20 minutes or so, sending big plumes of ash and smoke into the air. Our pictures don’t really do it justice, as is so often the case.
After admiring the breathtaking view for an hour or two we headed back down the path and spotted an interesting looking stick insect on a railing beside the path. A little ways further we bumped into Norbert and Ula again who had watched the sunrise from a view point a little farther down the hillside. We had breakfast with them and then said farewell. They were headed back down the mountain to Probolinggo, then on to Yogyakarta and to Sumatra for the holidays. Emily and I had other plans to climb Mount Semeru, one of the most active volcanoes in Indonesia. We grabbed our bags from our hostel and headed off hiking across the Sea of Sand. The landscape was really amazing, a barren wasteland of ashen sand dunes covering a huge area to the southwest of Bromo. It had dumped these new layers of ash during fairly large eruptions as recently as 2011, during which time the villages and farms in the area were evacuated. As we circled around the volcano our surroundings became lush and brilliant green with newly establishing ferns and other plants. The giant vertical crater wall circling around to our left made the whole scene look like something out Jurassic Park.
Shortly after this section we began the long but gradual climb east on the road out of the crater and doubled back westward toward Ranu Pani once we reached the top. The main road to Ranu Pani was especially terrifying and I was glad we were walking instead of being in the hands of some crazy Indonesian driver. The road had been built right on the crest of the crater rim, a veritable knifes edge ridge of rock, and the drops down on either side into the jungle must have been about 100 meters. Still vehicles sped along in typical Indonesian fashion and we often had to step off the road into the tiny shoulder to accommodate for two way traffic on the single lane road. Soon thunder boomed over our heads and the skies opened up. We were drenched instantly, but still warm until it started hailing, something I never thought I would see in the tropics, but I guess at that elevation it is possible. We stumbled into the village of Ranu Pani looking like drowned rats at a funeral but were warmly welcomed by the elderly lady running the homestay recommended in our Lonely Planet. Despite a bit of a language barrier we managed to arrange to rent tents and hire a guide for our hike up Mount Semeru the following day.