Saturday, August 31, 2013

Twisted Vagabondage Tale From Bromo Volcano

The British explorer and linguist Sir Richard Burton once said “travelers like artists are mostly an angry race.” This comment may seem odd to those who have the misconception that travel is a relaxing luxury. Yet, those who've walked the unknown paths and lived outside their own cultures for long periods often grasp that travel is an artistic lifestyle. Like any art form, it takes time to aquire the needed skills.

My own artistic journey began when I was traveling on the island of Java in the archipelago of Indonesia. I had been on the road for a few months, after completing a 4-year stint in the U.S. Navy. I had flown in from Malaysia and spent a few days in Jogjakarta with my girlfriend. From there, my plan was to take a bus to the city of Malang and see what unfolded.

After our tearful departure at the airport, I boarded a small commuter bus for Malang. The ride was supposed to last 10 hours but was closer to 14. When I arrived in the city, the sun was already down and I was ready to crash. Walking into my hotel, I was greeted by a Dutch woman and her Indonesian husband who owned the place. They invited me to a party. So, I dropped off my bag and headed out with them.

The party was interesting yet uneventful, though I did manage to meet Farriean and Johanna. I would spend most of my time in Malang hanging out with this German couple. We even decided to split the cost of renting a jeep, so we could drive to the Bromo Volcano.

The next morning, I set off to find an electronics store, so I could buy a new camera. Mine was either lost or stolen in Jogjakarta. I had no map or clear conception of where I was going, but your internal GPS tends to sharpen after a few months on the road. So, I eventually found an electronics store and a camera very much like my old one. Before buying it, I needed to find an ATM, since I never carry more than a few dollars when I travel.

Returning to the store from the ATM, I searched in vain for the debit card I had just used. Rushed back to the machine, but the card was gone and the bank was closed. There was a guard in the security shack just outside the ATM. In my limited Indonesian, I asked if anyone had given him the card or if it could be retrieved from the machine. He offered little. Since Malay and Indonesian are similar, I called my girlfriend to communicate with him more effectively. He eventually told her I could return the next day to get the card from the bank. I then went back and bought the camara to avoid walking around town with thousands of Rupiah in my pocket.

It was no trouble to retrieve my card the next day, though it would still be many days before my card worked again, because the bank had suspended it when my girlfriend reported it lost. Such hassles and delays occur much more frequently on the road than at home, plus you generally have more difficulty communicating and fewer close friends to help you overcome the obstacles.

Just days after that, the real adventure began, when my new German friends and I set out for the Bromo Volcano. Our rented jeep had no suspension. This accentuated many hours of bumpy road through mountains, jungles, villages, and a waterfall. The road itself was hand-laid brick skirting cliffsides with no guard rails. Close encounters with tumbling into bottomless valleys were frequent and frightening.

We finally emerged from the jungle into a big beautiful green valley with waist-high grass and flowers. A single road stretched down the middle, until almost everything became dry and brown. We seemed to be in the middle of a desert, but the sea of sand was actually volcanic desolation. On arrival, we were approached by horseback men with covered faces like Arab Bedouins, but these were Indonesian locals from the village across the desert plain, offering to rent us horses for our ascent up the volcano.

We parked and walked to a Hindu temple at the base of the volcano. Leaving the shrine, we were set upon again by the horsemen, repeating the only English words they knew: “To the top - 20 rupiah.” Before it was over, Johanna was riding up the side of the volcano, while Farrian and I were left to hike on foot. This turned out to be quite difficult for me. The mountainside was steep and covered in sand. Take one step forward; slide a half step back. I eventually arrived at the top to be greeted by clouds of black smoke billowing from the crater. It was an impressive sight.

Checking into our hostel for the night, we were exhausted.
 Blame it on hours of shaking in the jeep followed by hours of wiping windblown sand from our eyes. Only when I got to my room did my illness - either altitude sickness or malaria - set in. The village is on top of the mountains, so it was freezing in my unheated room. I shivered all night unable to sleep and my thoughts were unclear. I was confused and afraid I might die in that village with only the Germans I had just met to care for me.

By morning, I was still feeling horrible but able to walk around irritably. I could swallow none of my breakfast. On returning to Malang, I experienced several nights of sweaty disturbed dreams. I somehow sleepwalked from Malang to Bali to Malaysia to London to home. T
he word “Malang” means bad luck. This seemed to fit with my experience, but I still had a thrilling time. I came to understand the woes of solitary travel as well as the joys of newfound friends. I wouldn't change a single memory.

Matthew Stanfill is a navy veteran from Tennessee, who speaks Indonesian, French, Spanish and Malay. He likes to travel and see what is not generally seen by the crowd. He idolizes Richard Burton and Teddy Roosevelt. He dreams of living with nomads or being a cowboy.


  1. Quite a journey, Matthew!

    Something about volcanoes has always fascinated me.

  2. here is 4 place you can visit at bromo mountain : View point sunrise (Penanjakan mountain), bromo crater, sea sand and savannah. Helmi -