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“You want see Bromo?”

From the moment I arrived in Probolinggo until I boarded the bus to leave, I was constantly bombarded with offers to see Bromo. Mount Bromo is one of Indonesia’s top tourist destinations and the nearby town of Probolinggo is the staging area for most visitors. Locals know what draws people to their town and do everything they possibly can to cash in on it.

My ten hour journey from Denpasar ended up taking 15 hours and I didn’t get into town until 2am (buses in Indonesia are notoriously late). Despite arriving in the middle of the night, my CouchSurfing host Indrah and his parents woke up and warmly greeted me with tea and cookies. His family doesn’t speak much English, but they have really embraced CS and seem to truly enjoy it.

Indrah wasted no time and quickly briefed me on the options for viewing Bromo. It seems that the best way to go is via motorbike. In true Probolinggo fashion, the going rate for a bike is 250,000 ($25) per day. The standard for the rest of Indonesia is 50,000/day.

Indrah’s cousin, Budi, was kind enough to wake up ridiculously early in the morning to drive me up the mountain for sunrise. The lookout is about a 2 hour drive from Probolinggo and should only be attempted by people who know what they’re doing. You must go up a mountain on narrow, ash covered roads dotted with scores of giant crevices in total darkness. I was very thankful to have Budi!

The breathtaking sunrise from high above the clouds and volcanic terrain were reminiscent of Maui’s Haleakala National Park. Once the sun was up, we crossed the Sea of Sand and climbed the volcano. The climb itself isn’t very demanding and there are horses for hire if you don’t want to walk. From the top you can see the crater in the volcano’s center, which has a bubbling pool of hot volcano juice.

Bromo is also home to a very old and storied Hindu temple, Pura Luhur Poten. Indrah filled me in on the background and it’s quite fascinating, but I won’t bore you with the details. He helps out at a big annual festival where the people of the temple throw offerings into the volcano. It’s easy to forget that Bromo is still an active volcano; it’s most recent eruption was last January.

After our time on the mountain, Budi took me to his home in a nearby village. His family’s kitchen was very traditional and even included 2 cows and a sheep! Indrah often has CouchSurfers spend the night at his grandmother’s house, located next door to Budi’s, but it didn’t work out for my logistically. It was still really nice to spend a few hours in the village. Budi showed me all of the various fruit trees in his backyard and even got me a fresh coconut to drink.

The food highlight of Probolinggo was corn rice. As the name suggests, corn is mixed with rice. It is then topped with a variety of vegetables and fish. This was my first encounter with such a combination and it was really good. Luckily, I got to eat all of mine, some of Indrah’s and most of his sister’s!

Mount Bromo was magnificent and is definitely worth checking out. It’s unfortunate that rather than using the visitor traffic generated from Bromo to build a diversified and robust hospitality industry, Probolinggo just tries to suck every penny out of people coming to see the mountain. Groups of people from local tour agencies have already visited Indrah’s home and asked him to stop helping visitors see Bromo for free!

Probolinggo certainly has more to offer and the way it goes about handling visitors is not beneficial in the long run. Siem Reap is an excellent example of a community handling traffic from a major tourist attraction (Angkor Wat) in a smart, sustainable manner. Probolinggo needs to adopt a “Come for Bromo, stay for Probolinggo” strategy.

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