Hike to the Mount Penanjakan and stunning views of iconic volcanoes and the ‘Sea of Sand’ were a highlight of our trip to Java. It takes about 1.5-2 hours of hiking from Cemoro Lawang village in darkness by the torch light but it’s worth every single step! If you don’t mind walking make sure you hike there instead of going with an organised tour and I can assure you that you’ll have memorable experience!It’s 4 am in the morning, dark and a bit cold when alarm goes off… we don’t feel like getting up. We feel half dead but that’s perhaps the only chance to see one of the most amazing views in the world! That’s fair enough reason to get ready as quickly as possible and set off on a hike in darkness alongside few others. Most tourist opt for easy organised jeep tour to take them to the Mount Bromo (2392 m) and Penanjakan viewpoint (2700 m). Option of hiking to the Penanjakan view point sounds much more rewarding to us and it is! We aren’t jealous at all when smelly and noisy jeeps full of people are passing by as we enjoy our workout in darkness. Most of the hike takes us through the asphalt worn out road – easy walking but up the hill. Once we get to the Penanjakan viewpoint 2 (lower one) there are only few people around but soon after there are more and more of them flocking. Finally, the sun arises on the horizon – the view of volcanoes is getting nicer and nicer as the sun gets brighter – it’s breathtaking – it looks like on the pictures that inspired us to come here!!! Definitely worth an early morning start sacrifice! After admiring the view and taking photos for about 1.5 hour we climb to the Penanjakan viewpoint 1 (upper one). By that time light is even better for taking more spectacular photos – all volcanoes and surroundings look fascinating – view that we’ll always remember! The later it gets, the quieter it is – seems like coming here around 9 am in the morning is even better idea – there are no crowds, only a couple of tourists around and views are also stunning. Hiking back from the Penanjakan back to the Cemoro Lawang village is a pleasure itself. We are passing by fields covered with all sorts of crops, unusual flowers growing by the road, occasional cottages with beautiful volcanoes in background. All under clear skies and warm sunrise – perfect light to take interesting shots. It would be great to spend more time in here but we need to get back to Cafe Lava for a breakfast, pack up stuff and set off to Kawah Ijen – Java’s iconic volcano with turquoise-colored acid crater lake. This time, not really wanting to go on any organised tour we decide to follow others and pay for organised tour to take us to the Ijen. It just seems so much hassle to organise it any other way and get there on our own by public transport. We’re not convinced but the deal we get seems not bad at all (at least we think so). We agree with the guy who brought us here on mini bus to pay 400 000 IDR ~ 35 US$ per person for transport from Cemoro Lawang to Ijen area, 1 night accommodation at the Catimor Homestay (located 13 km from Ijen) + breakfast, drop off to the Ijen head trail, then drop off to the ferry point and ferry ticket to Bali. The journey turns out to be very very long – we set off around 10 am. First, we get a flat tyre – it takes a while to change it but once done we’re good to go. We’re dropped off in Probolinggo with other tourists near the tour office and wait for mini bus. At least it’s a good time to catch up with other travellers – couples we met before. Finally after about 30 minutes waiting we are on the hot mini bus without A/C. We’re luckier than others though as sitting on the front seat within the fan reach… Next stop is at the eating place that’s a bit pricey so for sure some commission is involved in here. As we’re getting closer to the Ijen our driver is driving faster and faster on winding roads exceeding speed limit at least twice and overtaking anything that’s on the road- it feels like the most crazy drive we’ve ever experienced! When we booked this trip we were told that it takes only a couple of hours to get from Bromo to Ijen and that we’ll visit coffee plantation on the way and there is a hot spring near the hotel but everything turns out to be a lie! We get to the grim Catimor Homestay around 8 pm (!), it’s already dark so it’s too late to visit coffee plantation, hot spring is just a hot tub in the hotel that’s already full of people… our room isn’t much better – the worst place we stayed in Java (even though are backpacking standard aren’t that high). We’re also asked to pay fee for the entrance to the park which is fine with us. And then additional fee if we decide to go the Ijen crater rim at 1 am in the morning… Another option is going at 4 am at no additional cost. The tour organiser guy says: “Recommend 1am – amazing blue flame – doesn’t matter to me either way… but really recommend 1am if you want to see something special, 4am, clouds, can’t even see lake”. We’re really exhausted and already disappointed with what we got so far and decided to take our chance and go at 4 am. After chats with other tourists looked like many of them got tricked into paying more and going at 1 am – many worried that the view will be obstructed by clouds if they opt for 4 am.
Finally it’s time to shut our eyes for at least a couple of hours… but sleeping in the Catimor Homestay is impossible – we can hear very loud call to prayers until at least midnight and then many other tourist get up at 1 am so it’s noisy and we need to wake up at 3.30 am!