17 August 2013
Fleeing the wave of Islam in Indonesia
I was laughing at those tourists who had paid a hundred dollars to be vehicled in jeeps... until I realised there was no road in the caldeira leading to mount Bromo. It wasn’t even solid ground: it was volcanic sand and the place was called the Sand Sea for good reason. Oopsy daisy – my manual-gear scooter wasn’t exactly equipped with monster tyres. I puffingly managed to pull through – thankfully it hadn’t rained lately – but not without a few scares of getting stuck in the sand or falling (as others did).
Bromo is actually an important religious Hindu site – there’s even a temple close to the crater – with a history dating back to the sixteenth century when the local Hindu people, the Tenggerese, fled to escape the domination of what was to become the first Islamic sultanate in Java after the Majapahit empire, the largest ever empire in Southeast Asia, disappeared.. And that’s why Hinduism is still very much present to this day in the mountains of East Java and in the adjacent island of Bali.
As often, history is meshed with myth: the legend of the Bromo crater is that it was initially dug out by an ogre using a half-coconut shell, out of love for a princess (no, the ogre’s name was not Shrek). But unfortunately, the ogre died out of exhaustion, after being tricked by the king. The half-coconut is now the conical mount Batok. Yes, it’s sad, I know, but if you want a legend that ends differently, head over to one of my previous stories.
The tourists who were before dawn at the top of Penanjakan, the mountain overlooking the volcano and the caldeira, had all hurried there, at the foot of Bromo. In fact, the easiness to reach the site, and the fact that there are actually stairs leading up to the crater, are probably additional reasons beyond its historical and religious significance as to why the crater is so popular. Surprisingly enough, there was no tacky souvenir shop that can otherwise be found at almost all other popular Indonesia landmarks.
Some tourists opted for lonely horses to transport them across a moon-like scenery to the start of the flight of yellow and grey stairs. Volcanic dust would flow all around them in the increasing heat of the day. Odourless steam could be seen continually rising up from the crater. And there, right inside the crater, the height of one of the most dangerous jobs I could witness, after the sulfur miners I had crossed in Papandayan, was that garbage collector who flimsily clung to the sides of the crater, picking up trash people had thrown – or were they also vegetables or money thrown as offerings? Most likely not, since these offerings are only flung into the volcano during the annual Kasada festival, offerings which include whole chicken!