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The Balaclava Rider

by Steve Roe - IG: @steveroe_

My body was beginning to tell me that I should rest, but I had one more big push, one more extremely early alarm clock and one more night time hike before I would give in to its aching protests. Travelling requires such arduous tasks, but it sure is the way to make the most of your time on your trip.

Mount Bromo, Indonesia, an active volcano that erupted in 2016 and is a must-see if you are travelling through the series of islands that make up Indonesia. So what’s the best way to enjoy said volcano? Wake up at 2 a.m. and hike the mountain opposite it, because you will be given the most stunning display of sunrise colour imaginable, maybe…

Bleary eyed, dazed, cold, and hungry I adorned various and random items of clothing and gave my camera equipment one last checkover before opening my bedroom door. My friend Tom was in the room next to me and both of us were showing the signs of extreme sleep deprivation over the last few days. In three days we had definitely accumulated less than ten hours sleep each and this sun rise hike sounded like the last thing that neither of us wanted to do.

As soon as we started hiking our excitement arose and the hike was underway. This is where we really started to feel like we were travelling. We had both lived in Seoul, and then travelled to: Tokyo, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore. All very safe cities and whilst they were all amazingly fun, none inspired adventure quite like hiking in the pitch darkness.

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We were tired though and mistakes were probably unavoidable. We walked towards the road which our host had pointed to when we had arrived; and at the end of the crossroads was a man. We thought we had better ask to check we were going the right way.

“Mount Bromo?”

“That way.” He pointed to the right and off we set. And that was it. We had made a huge mistake just like that, somehow we had not realised that the idea of this hike was to view the sunset rising over Mount Bromo; a pretty difficult task if you’re on the volcano itself.

Oblivious to our error we set off, when a man on a bike approached us. He was young and only his eyes were showing underneath his balaclava, and in hindsight, a masked man approaching you on a bike in the complete darkness should set off alarm bells but we were used to the very same proposition he was about to ask us. For the equivalent of £3 each he said he would take us wherever we wanted to go.

“No thank you, we enjoy walking.” We continued on our way and he shouted after us, presumably with a different price, but we would soon learn we had presumed incorrectly.

A long time went by, I’m not even sure how long but we had certainly made very little ground. It was an uphill struggle hugging the road side in the darkness as the jeeps came racing by. It all felt a little wrong, even a bit dangerous, at any moment we could be hit by one of these screaming jeeps as it turned a blind bend. 

We looked at Google Maps and still thought we were going the right way. Neither of us had realised that the sunset was to be viewed from another mountain.

A motorbike drove past us and stopped in front. Guess who? A familiar looking balaclava turned around and said to us: “Where are you going? I think you’re lost” We explained we wanted to see the sunrise over Mount Bromo. “Turn around… you see that light up there in the mountain?” We both turned and squinted through the darkness. Way up high and what seemed like an eternity away was a tiny little white light twinkling in the distance. 

“That’s where you want to be…” Of course, how stupid we were to try to take a photo of Mount Bromo and a sunrise whilst actually being on Mount Bromo itself.

Now, that motorbike ride was looking very tempting, and I casted my mind back to what this man had shouted at us as we walked off. He was probably asking where we were going because we were going in the opposite direction to everything else.

I’ve never been on a motorbike before and neither had Tom. The man made another offer and we both looked at each other wondering if this was truly safe.

“Do you wanna?” Tom asked.

I glanced up to that tiny light which had may as well of been a star for how far away it seemed, and with no space rocket to hand I nodded.

“We may as well.”

Oddly, Tom ‘shotgunned’ the middle which was fine by me because that was the last space I wanted to take up on the bike. We spun around and off we set through the night to our original destination. Our legs were weary and I had aches and pains everywhere; sitting on the back of that bike was bliss as we weaved in and out of the cumbersome jeeps and even as we bounced over the potholes in the road.

We reached the end of end of our ride as our saviour of the night nodded; his eyes smiled as we gave him our money. Thankful, full of energy and still red in the face from embarrassment with our error we walked the rest of the way up the mountain that now stood above Mount Bromo.

We were the first to the viewing point. The viewing point was a lot quieter than the one higher up where all the jeeps took people. The stars twinkled above us and a lady had set up a shop offering hot noodles and tea which were gladly received. 

As darkness omitted on one side I noticed a thick shadow enveloping exactly where the sunrise should be occurring. Confused I pulled out my phone’s compass and realised instantly what was happening. The beautiful clear skies were being swallowed by a mass of cloud that was rolling in from the East and it was happening fast. 

Before we knew it darkness had transcended upon us again and a thick fog was coming in that had reduced visibility to about ten feet. This is just my luck, every time I have climbed a high mountain I have never once seen the view beyond a wall of grey.

We waited a while, and knowing it wasn’t going to pass we called it a day and started making our way down the mountain as the sun light battled through this blanket that had swept down upon us. As light began to win I looked around to find the most awesome effect of the low hanging clouds around us, and before I knew it my camera shutter was blinking away ferociously. 

The trees poked their heads above the clouds and reached their long branches out embracing them. Mountain tops escaped beyond the thick fog to show their strong presence and all around me the fog formed into magical shapes as it fought to cover everything, winning battles here and losing battles there.

We walked down the mountain and this time we found a short cut to get on to the black sand plains that surround Mount Bromo. 

We listened to a new wave of protests from our muscles as we started to climbed the volcano. Horses and other transport were offered to us but we ignored them all. This became a leg of the journey where the both of us had some making up to do for our mistakes. After hopping from volcanic rock to ashy sand dunes we had finally made it to the staircase that would lead us to the top. At this point the smoke coming from the volcano was filling our lungs, the putrid smell of sulphur was fighting its way through our masks making it all the more difficult to climb. The staircase too was a narrow steep set of unevenly spaced stairs but still we continued.

Reaching the top of this volcano was without a doubt one of the greatest experiences of my life. All of a sudden a ferocious roar committed from a huge creator right in front of us. The ground was rumbling beneath us, the sheer power of mother nature flexing its muscles right beneath our feet. It felt like a monster was somewhere down there, restlessly moving, angry, growling with a smokey breath that now threatened to all but consume us. Truly breathtaking.

We stood up their for a long time, mesmerised by watching something so potentially destructive butoutstandingly beautiful.

From the top of the volcano we had a different angle on everything that surrounded us. There were vast plains of black ash, various fascinating rock formations twisting out of the ground and a few small caves tucked into the side of surrounding mountains.

We walked away from the volcano exploring the plains before we heard a motorbike engine rattling its way over to meet us. I turned around and who should I see but the Balaclava Rider, the man who had saved our whole night. His eyes were smiling as he pulled up to us and he must have also been thinking why on earth we were walking so far beyond the volcano where no other people were. But thinking better of trying to understand our malfunctioning brains he asked us for one more ride.

We declined the balaclava rider as we wanted to explore these plains a lot more but nontheless, wherever you are you must know that I appreciate you thinking of us to come to our rescue down that long road leading in the wrong direction. So my thanks, to you, the Balaclava Rider.