Passage to Mount Bromo invokes a traipse on some long-forgotten moon. Craggy rock formations, gnarled and veined as of some ancient pulmonary system, stab at the ebbing mist as shadowy figures fade in and out of perception. This stark setting creates a sense of discombobulation and befuddlement, but the effect remains undeniable. It is here, in the cauldron of Java’s Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, that lies the figurehead of Indonesia, the symbol of its atavistic, otherworldly power.
Awaiting across the Segara Wedi, the Sea of Sands, are the collapsed crater of Bromo itself, dormant Mount Batok and in the far distance Mount Semeru. This final goliath, a gigantic cone rearing over the entire landscape, a constant plume of grey smoke, ash and stones rising from its peak, reminds visitors of the destructive, and most definitely active, force bubbling beneath the surface. The crags of the explosive triumvirate are cold and grey and alien: there exists no frame of reference for the eerie nothingness emanating from the rocks. Should they move and form shapes away from the support of their cousins would be of no surprise. As with the rest of Indonesia, the unspoken gaps between spaces imbue the country with power both obscure and mysterious.
Only physical symbols suggesting great might can adequately convey the intrinsic, unknowable force. Bromo, in the same way as Lake Toba, or Kelimutu or the Ijen Crater, broods with spectacular might. These sites wield great elemental strength, proving, again and again, the unpredictability of nature. As the fog clears around the volcanic crags ghostly figures on horseback form through the murk, their gaits jilted, their pace unsure. In the distance, Semeru bilges forth great plumes of smoke, an ever-present symbol of the vanquishing power throbbing gently underneath Indonesia’s aged skin.