Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Mt. Bromo erupts 

In eastern Java, Mt. Bromo erupted this morning, firing rocks from its crater as if it were a geothermal morter:
Police said a Singaporean man and an Indonesian were killed when Mount Bromo, a popular tourist destination in East Java province, hurled rocks the size of footballs. Five other Indonesians were badly injured, police said.

This is interesting to me, only because I have done this:
Visitors climb Bromo's slopes to watch the sunrise...

Just under eighteen years ago, a buddy and I traveled the length of Java, mostly on trains. Along the way and with mint condition Indonesian flashlights in hand, we went to a village a few miles from the base of Mt. Bromo, presumably one of the villages that this morning are covered in ash. My memory is that we stayed in a grubby little guesthouse and dined at an even grubbier restaurant -- I recall eating only white rice and drinking the local beer, which was a Heineken derivative and adequate to distract me from my hunger.

In any case, the idea was to get up a couple of hours before dawn and hike up the shoulder of the mountain, picking your way via flashlight across the lava fields at the base, hunting for lava rocks that the locals have painted white to mark the trail. The final leg to the lip of the crater is a long staircase cut from the rock up the side of the cone.

Once at the top, it was considered best practice to sit tight until light, since the path along the edge of the crater is quite narrow. Back in the day there were no safety precautions -- perhaps there aren't even now -- and oral tradition had it that tourists occasionally fell in. But you could peer into the void of the crater, eyes watering from the sulphuric smoke that billows up from the darkness inside.

And then the sun rises from across the volcano and therefore through Bromo's smoke and steam, and it is more than beautiful enough to justify the journey.


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