Visa extensions in hand, we slipped out of Surabaya.  Kalimantan–with its heat, humidity and hills– had left us exhausted. Downtime imposed by the dawdling  Indonesian immigration officials had done us good.  We’d satiated our appetite for internet and were eager to start cranking the pedals again.

Java’s got a bad rap as a bicycle touring destination.  Most two-wheeled travellers cite the busy roads and constant stream of settlements as reasons to give Indonesia’s most populous island a wide berth.

Eric promised he’d charted a quiet route through the Javanese highlands.  I was suspicious.

Java Bicycle Touring

The second day out of Surabaya we’d climbed to around 1,500 meters.  The road was incredibly steep (some spots up to nearly 20% grade) and winding.  Difficult to be sure, but much easier than Kalimantan since we didn’t have to deal with the heat and humidity.  The terrain was covered in terraced fields.  Not rice paddies, as you might imagine, but vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower.  At the summit, fields of luscious strawberries spread out over the steep hills.

Our biggest challenge was Ramadhan.  Most restaurants were closed until after sunset.  We took to asking around about open eateries and were often directed down a side street into a building with the shades drawn tight.  Inside were Christians and weak-willed Muslims indulging in gastronomic delights.

Chasing Volcanoes

No visit to East Java would be complete without a climb up to Mount Bromo, Indonesia’s best known active volcano.  Bromo (2,329 meters) last blew its top in 2004, killing two people.  These days jeeps ferry well-heeled tourists up to the crater rim.  We decided to bike up.

The most popular route is via Cemoro Lawang.  After consultation with Robin (the same guy whose blog we’d turned to in planning our Kalimantan route–we actually met him in Surabaya which he now calls home) we decided to give the alternative route from the southwest via Ngadas a try.

Robin had warned us of incredibly steep grades and a rough road.  He’d pushed for 20 odd kilometers.  Yes, TWENTY KILOMETERS.  PUSHING!

Does that sound like an experience one needs to tick off a bucket list?

Yeah, that’s what I thought, too.  We left our gear in care of the priest at the Catholic church in Tumpang and biked up unloaded.  Wisest decision we’d made since deciding to bail 1,500 kilometers short of the complete Borneo circumnavigation.  (Mind you we stuck Borneo out for 3,500 kilometers.  We’d suffered enough.)

The ride up to Bromo was one of the best days of biking in Indonesia.

Local traffic!

Proudly posing at the crater rim of Mount Bromo.
A late afternoon mist rolled in as we flew down the mountain.

Life’s not exactly easy in the highlands of Java but locals are always ready with a smile and a “Hello Mister!”

We’d barely recovered from Bromo when it was time to take on Kawah Ijen. This is actually a plateau, which at one time was a huge 134 sq km active crater.  2148 m above sea level lies a spectacular turquoise sulfur lake surrounded by the sheer crater walls of the volcano.

What’s really special about the lake is the sulfur collectors who work there.  These men trek up and down the mountain shouldering baskets of pure sulfur from a quarry on the lake’s edge.

It’s a labor-intensive operation and not very profitable for the miners themselves.  I imagine the middlemen make out pretty well.

The ride was fantastic–tough cycling but fun climbing through beautiful scenery.  Much of the area is covered with coffee plantations and cool shade trees.

The road started out nice and smooth and not too steep. Things got a lot tougher 50 kilometers further on.

Workers from the surrounding coffee plantations are ferried around less than ideal conditions. The road got quite rough for a short stretch.

It was fun cycling through the plantations knowing this is where some of the world’s best coffee originates.

We knocked off the last few kilometers to the base of Ijen just after sunrise. The air was chilly at around 2,000 meters.
We had to hike the final 5 kilometers of Kawah Ijen on foot. The views out over the plateaus were spectacular.

The beautiful crater lake  atop Ijen.

These guys trudge 3 miles down the mountain with a load of up to 90 KGS (200lbs) for around $13 a day.

Biking through the beautiful tropical forest back down to the coast after our trek up to Ijen.  The road was REALLY rough on the way down.

Island Hopping

Eric had been right about the route.  It was quiet for the most part.   You won’t hear me bad-mouthing Java–I loved our time touring there.

The following day we caught a ferry to Bali.   More on that phase of our Indonesia bike tour plus news from cycling Lombok, Sumbawa and Flores in the next update.

Coffee and Craters
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7 thoughts on “Coffee and Craters

  • August 25, 2012 at 12:27 PM

    Hi Guys,
    I’ve just spent the last hour looking through your blog. Fantastic Photos and amazing narrative. I feel like I’ve gone on the journey with you (much more comfortable from my armchair and laptop)
    Would love you to pop in when you’re in Australia (Queensland)
    Monika 🙂

    • August 25, 2012 at 2:25 PM

      Thanks for popping over to the site! Queensland won’t come up till Australia part II heading north after our New Zealand tour. It would be great to catch up with a fellow 365er!

  • August 25, 2012 at 1:19 PM

    Nice story, lovely pictures. I only cycled allo over Europe, but Asia is a wish. Greetins from the Netherlands

    • August 25, 2012 at 2:26 PM

      Hey Derk,
      Indonesia’s great and you can still find a few old-timers who speak Dutch. Hope you make it here one day.

  • August 25, 2012 at 3:27 PM

    Hi! Amaya!
    You are my hero! I really enjoy reading you and you inspire me. My husband and I are cycling right now in Gaspesie, a hilly part of province of Quebec, Canada, and so far we’ve completed 1100 km. Some days are tougher than ones…and I remind your text about how to deal with it and it helps me! But I enjoy most of the time the way we travel, I completely understand the pleasure you are experiencing yourself! We have a blog (sorry, in french for now) and for sure, we will continue travelling on our bicycle for a long time, inspired by guys like you and your husband. Have a nice continuation and I will read your next text with pleasure!

  • September 2, 2012 at 9:21 AM

    Hey Denise! Congratulations on making it through those first 1,000 kilometers–they’re definitely the toughest. Thanks for the kind words and keep on cycling strong.

  • December 10, 2012 at 12:05 AM

    Hi Guys
    I am only really just getting into cycling and truly feel that this is the best way to feel free and explore countries properly !
    Please can you give me pointers on how to get started as Indonesia is a place high on my hit list, it seems a lot more navigatable than China and Japan.
    Any help would be greatly appreciated !
    Thanks & Regards, Gareth


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