It was around midnight when my wife Shawie and I got into our hotel room in Malang, East Java, Indonesia. We have been traveling for what seems like a whole day and we were bushed. We left home before dawn to beat the early morning Metro Manila traffic to get to the airport and catch our two-and-a-half-hour flight to Brunei. After a two-hour stopover there, we boarded another two-and-a-half-hour flight to Indonesia, landed at the Juanda International Airport in Surabaya, and then took a two-hour shuttle to Malang. It had been a long, long day.
Thus, it was with some trepidation that we accepted our Indonesian host’s invitation to be at the lobby by 2:00 AM so we could be driven off to catch the sunrise at the mountains. Catch the sunrise at two in the morning? You’ve got to be kidding me.
Catching the Sunrise
By 2:15 AM, we were packed into a 1975-1984 Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser driven by an Indonesian 4×4 enthusiast. We learned that some members of his 4×4 club take tourists up the ridge around Gunung Penanjakan not just to earn money but to help promote tourism in Malang. We also learned that almost all of them drive FJ40/BJ40 Toyota Land Cruisers, which is not the most comfortable of vintage SUVs, but definitely one of the most capable.
Along with what seem like an endless line of Land Cruisers, we reached Mount Penanjakan before the crack of dawn. We were compelled to rent a thick winter jacket because the temperature at the peak was almost freezing.
We moved with the crowd up the stairs to reach the view point and, at around 4:35 AM, the sun began to peek over the horizon. The slow, lazy sunrise over the mountains and the cold climate were worth the two-hour trip from the hotel and the lack of sleep. It was simply magical!
Active Volcano Nearby
With sunlight allowing a clearer view of the surrounding mountain range, we realized we were standing in a ridge overlooking Gunung Bromo or Mount Bromo, an active volcano. Part of the Tengger massif and included in the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, the volcano is 2,329 meters (7,641 feet) tall and is the most well-known and one of the most visited tourist attractions in East Java, Indonesia. The name Bromo was derived from the Javanese pronunciation of Brahma, the Hindu creator god.
To reach Mount Bromo, we drove down from Mount Penanjakan into the middle of a sandy plain called the Segara Wedi in Javanese or Lautan Pasir in Bahasa. The “Sea of Sand” is a protected nature reserve since 1919 and sits at the base of the active volcano.
Our organized 4×4 tour stopped near the foot of Mount Bromo, where an organized horse tour took us to the mouth of the volcano. Depending on the degree of volcanic activity, the Indonesian Centre for Volcanology and Disaster Hazard Mitigation issues warnings against visiting Mount Bromo, which erupted and killed two people in 2004, spat 2,300-foot columns of ash in late 2010, remained active in 2011, and showed signs of activity in 2015. Thankfully, the crater was just grumbling when we got there but it was still a spectacular (and scary) sight to behold.
Admiring our Cruiser
While our tour group was having some refreshments at Sea of Sand, we can’t help but admire our reliable and rugged vintage ride. Our Land Cruiser was one of thousands made by Toyota from 1960 until 1984.
As traditional body-on-frame SUVs, most FJ40/BJ40 Land Cruisers were built as 2-door models with slightly larger dimensions than the contemporary Jeep CJ. The original FJ40s were powered by carbureted 6-cylinder gasoline engines while the BJ40s sport a 4-cylinder diesel.
The interior of our vintage Toyota Land Cruiser still has the factory steering wheel and the front bucket seats, as well as the folding seats at the back. There are some aftermarket accessories added by the owner like the wheels, meaty tires, and period-correct under-dash air-conditioner but it remains mechanically stock like when it came from the factory.
It has the 135hp 4.2-liter Toyota 2F engine mated to a 3-speed manual transmission, and 4-wheel-drive transfer case with manual locking front hubs. Its 285 Newton-meters of torque made easy work of uphill mountain passes and steep climbs and got us back to our hotel in record time.
We can only guess that vintage Toyota SUVs can be easily imported into Indonesia since it is a right-hand-drive country like Japan, thus the large population of FJ40/BJ40s there. We can only wish that we have a left-hand-drive vintage 1975-1984 Toyota Land Cruiser in our garage because we now appreciate them even more!