Les Petits Contes

About life's little observations, which matter. About hilarious situations, which illuminate. About stories which offer immense possibilities, open endings, different interpretations and perspectives.

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Location: Singapore

A nature lover; sun-worshipper, manic book-collector, dessert-devourer and a magnet for hazards

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Sunrise in Mt Bromo

Last November I was mad enough to visit Galle, Sri Lanka, for 48 hours, flying at unearthly hours.

I did it again this year, in Malang, East Java, Indonesia.

I had some crazy moments, some magical moments, and lots of surrealism.

The first indication of madness came when I was in Jakarta last month on a business trip. An ex colleague had taken me to a charming restaurant for dinner, and there, I found out that the owner runs unique hotel properties in Malang and Bali.

The brochure and website were irresistible and even before I returned to Singapore I had made reservation enquiries.

Then it was some background reading, some negotiations directly with the hotel for rates, and figuring out the landing and transportation issues, given the odd flying hours.

The hotel’s services and response were faultless. I was picked up promptly at night upon arrival at Surabaya, and began my two hour drive to Malang, a university town known for its culture and rich history.

I was warmly anticipated and welcomed by the very proactive and friendly staff, upgraded to a suite and suggestions were made for spa treatment for the next morning at 10 am.

Guess what, when I arrived for breakfast the next morning, the receptionist had actually traced me to the restaurant and wanted to propose an alternative time slot for my spa treatment, as the 10 am slot had already been booked the day before.

A group of locals were having breakfast at the same place, and a very loud woman was yelling non stop. Her obnoxious behaviour really ruined the tranquil serenity of the beautiful resort.

I got up and asked the service staff if I could sit somewhere else. He apologised at least twice, and as I walked impatiently away to look for a suitable spot, actually ambled to the next location – a bakery shop, also run by the hotel.

He obligingly brought the table ware and my food over, and explained to the shop keeper about the situation.

Imagine, a quiet, humble little bakery shop, but with napkin, porcelain, and silver, serving breakfast… my initial irritation turned to a stealthy smile when I noted the humour of it all. I guess I can ‘’hear it coming’’ - friends’ comments: ‘’Ah – it can only happen to Janet.’’

After breakfast, I strolled around aimlessly, and the hotel staff asked if I ‘’had any plan for today’’. ‘’Er… no plan…’’ I replied, looking a bit lost. I was still recovering from a bad flu: my over-medicated body and mind had gone on long-vacations and was not functioning. And I was still suffering from lack of sleep and rest over the past busy week.

Fancy the super-organised Janet Loh saying she had no plans….But the very helpful staff actually suggested a few ideas, like visiting tea, apple plantations and the waterfall. Soon all three of them swung to action – one to arrange for a car, another to re-confirm my flight, the other to arrange for my Mt Bromo trip the next morning…

The highlight of the trip has to be the sunrise at Mt Bromo. I was advised to set off at 1 am for a three-hour drive. They asked if I would like a wake up call, and a coffee to prep me.

While trying to take my coffee before 1 am, one of the staff offered to make a flask of coffee for me to take along. I was given a blanket and pillow to hug along too.

Then began a pitch dark, winding, narrow drive up the hills. It was extremely cold – my long sleeve T and denim jacket were insufficient.

At the foot of the hills, where there were a few little shops to buy hot drinks and souvenirs and rent warm clothing, my driver kindly lent me his gloves and encouraged me to warm my hands around a pot of charcoal the shop keeper was burning.

We had arrived early, and waited until about 5 am before we were advised to make our ascent up the hills.

My limited knowledge of Bahasa meant there were many moments when the driver and I could not understand each other. One funny incident was when he had thought that I had wanted to ascend at that very moment we arrived and he obliged, wrapping me in the hotel’s blanket over my rented jacket. It was extremely cold and windy. It was also pitch dark and I could hardly make out the steps upwards. I kept saying ‘’I could not ___’’ (I had suddenly forgotten how to say ‘’see’’).

We managed to go up a bit and then he said we should go down and go up again. How to go down in the blackness?! I panicked, and wanted to back out of the whole expedition.

I literally froze mid way at the steps and it took a lot of incomprehensible mumbling, and him trying to shift my body orientation, before we made our way down. It was then, that it dawned on me, that all he wanted was for us to get back to the foot of the hills again and to ascend later when it was less dark. What a relief.

Finally 5 am arrived and we – other tourists and I - made our climb up the top to grab a vantage point to wait for the sunrise.

It got slowly less dark as faint orange lights emerged from the horizon.

After what seemed an eternity of stillness to me (especially so when the strong wind was blowing into my face, numbing it, and freezing my fingers), we saw a thin crescent peep over the horizon.

Some gasped, and a few cheered and clapped. The crescent soon formed into a more rounded, translucent red half soft ‘’ball’’, and ever so slowly and imperceptibly, it popped up into a full, glaring orange ball of fire that fiercely challenged my eyes.

I could feel a lump in my throat forming, the way the shape ‘’formed’’ over the horizon. I did not know what moved me or why I felt that way. As I watched the indescribable beauty, all my fears, doubts and regrets (over this ‘’hardship journey’’) and hatred of the bitter cold dissolved. Almost by magic, within seconds, the darkness disappeared with the cold, as the sun appeared. I appreciated the sun all the more – for the warmth, light and cheer it brings to mankind.

I have read so much about the ‘’majesty’’ of sunrise, or how ‘’spectacular’’ it can be. But my personal experience at Mt Bromo has been quite different. It was a serene and humble scene. Yes, the sun had kept us waiting in biting cold. But it rose unassumingly, without fanfare, only when it was ready. Its movement was slow, graceful and imperceptible.

It may seem ‘’dramatic’’ to our human eye, but as I gazed hard, trying to memorise the scene, I somehow sensed a great feeling of quiet assurance, and blessedness.

Assured that the sun will appear again the next morning - whether there are anticipating tourists or not – to ‘’take over the shift’’ from the night. Blessed that the whole scene was so beautiful, beyond words and photos.

We shifted our orientation and walked over to the right. There we saw something so surreal that it made us gasp – the craters of Bromo swathed in white clouds of ‘’foam’’. Like the sun, they must have been there for an eternity in the darkness while we were waiting. But they suddenly ‘’appeared’’ in all their dreamlike glory with the appearance of light.

After taking the sights, we were driven around the crater – steep dangerous slopes and all, to inside one of the craters itself.

I had thought that the pony ride was a tourist gimmick. But no – they came in handy in the steep ascend of the sandy ‘’dessert’’. Still, I declined to take a pony ride – since I had climbed more challenging hills recently….

After a long time of wading in deep sand, I managed to get to the top, only to have to climb a lot more steps …

Oh but what an exhilarating climb, and an even more breathtaking view at the top!

Wading down and fighting the dust was another experience, not to mention going back to the hotel, exhausted, to rest…

And rest I did, for, I had to wake up at 3 am later, to get to the airport by 5 am, to catch my 7am flight back to reality.

Mad? You bet. But happily so.


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