I had read up a bit on Surabaya prior to the Bromo trip and because it was reputed to be mainly a commercial metropolitan area without many attractions, I had decided to instead head straight for Probolinggo which lies about 45 kilometres from the Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park on the North coast of East Java. To get to Probolinggo from Juanda International Airport, I had to board a Damri bus that was heading to Surabaya's Bungurasih bus terminal (also called Purabaya) and board another bus to Probolinggo from there. The Damri bus (pronounced 'bis' in Bahasa Indonesia) just lay outside the airport arrival terminal and the fee only amounted to IDR15k.
Upon reaching Bangurasih I armed myself with a look of determination and urgency and just kept on repeating "Ng gak" whilst shaking my head in order to avoid the touts that were seemingly ubiquitous. Bangurasih itself was not unlike many bus stations in South-East Asia, albeit the fact that the Surabaya buses and the intercity buses were located at different terminals did tend to reduce the chaos somewhat. I managed to find the bus that was heading to Probolinggo fairly quickly although was quoted a price of IDR23k when I inquired as to the cost. I then made a retort indicating that the cost should be about IDR15k instead in which I received a sardonic laugh and wave of the hand to indicate where the bus that I was looking for was located. I initially thought that the laugh was a nervous laugh at the tout having been caught out for trying to overcharge but little did I know that it was to turn out to be more of a "Here is another dumb tourist who has no idea what he is getting himself into"!
The bus that I had been directed to was the 'economy' variant that most of the local East Javanese took that cost a mere IDR15k. The bus (according to me anyway) was practically full when I boarded although I was fortunate enough to get the last unoccupied seat. The seats were arranged in 13 rows with 2 seats on the port side and 3 seats on the starboard side with a full row of 6 right at the back bringing the total to 66 seats. It turned out however that the bus was nowhere near full as more and more passengers boarded throughout the journey. The bus managed to cram another 5-6 passengers near the elevated platform at the gearbox next to the drivers seat as well as a further 15 or so standing along the aisle, amazingly bringing the number of passengers to close to 90!
I was surprised at how fast I got used to the cramped, uncomfortable conditions of the bus. The close proximity and the stares of the other sweaty passengers, the pungent scent of sweat, grime, and vomit mingled together that permeated the air, along with the shuddering rickety frame of the bus made for quite an unpleasant experience as one would undoubtedly expect. Although all of it inundated the senses, I somehow found myself at ease. Sellers of a wide variety of items would periodically board the bus and would somehow manage to navigate through the bus saying "permisi" (excuse me) repeatedly despite the cramped shoulder to shoulder conditions. Most of the time they would just shout out the wares that were being sold, from peanuts to keropok (crackers), and from things as strange as green bars with the label 'Klepon Wahyu Sejati' to packets of utensils such as pairs of scissors and can openers. Some of the sellers would even go to the extent of disrespectfully dropping whatever it was that they were selling onto your lap and on their way back to the front of the bus would collect the pack or the money if one chose to purchase whatever it was instead. We would also on occasion be 'entertained' by musicians and singers that would board the bus, perform and then go around asking for donations with explanations such as it would help them get married, that they would need to make a living doing honest work, or the like. There was one that had a very catchy tune but it was sung in Javanese, so I could not comprehend it despite being able to speak Bahasa Indonesia. The singer in question also seemed to end all his sentences with the suffix "gi".
After a few hours and after passing hundreds of signs saying "Tambal Ban" (tyre repair) - an indicator of the prevalence of motorcycles - the bus reached Probolinggo. Whilst 'santai-ing' at a nearby warung waiting for passengers of the so-called minibus (which was basically a van), a man suddenly ran across the road with what looked to be a shotgun. I was alarmed at first and was actually contemplating my options when I realized that it was just an air gun and that he was targeting one of the birds on a tree just outside the warung. Recordings of Joshua Bell drowned out the drone of the Honda EM1500DX generator (electricity supply to the warung was somewhat irregular) and the book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' by Richard Dawkins helped pass the time. Just as my patience was beginning to wane, the group decided to split the IDR300k amount between the 5 of us (IDR60k each) just so that we could get going.
The 1 hour and a half ride up the misty hills culminated in rain although it turned out to be a short spell that was over by the time we disembarked at Cemero Lawang. The van brought us directly to a home-stay that was supposedly the cheapest place to stay offering IDR150k a night but I was not going to be easily fooled by such a blatant ploy that touts tried to pull off everywhere I went so instead decided to walk around to get my bearings and to see what else this tiny town had to offer. The famous Cafe Lava with their IDR160k rooms turned out to be full but after a short while I managed to find a homestay that asked for IDR75k a night called Tengger Permai. The accommodation was very basic (as one would expect from such a low price) with just a double bed, 2 pillows and a blanket in the room without any air-conditioning or a fan. The temperature (18 degrees) was low enough at this elevation (2109m) so as to not make a fan necessary, although (in my case) it would have been more comfortable with one present.