THE island of Java (population 145 million, 2015) can be divided into about 20 millispheres.

Starting at the far eastern end of Java, it takes the Indonesian regencies of Banyuwangi (1.6m), Situbondo (0.7m), Bondowoso (0.7m), Jember (2.4m), Probolinggo (1.1m) and Lumajang (1.0m) to make up the millisphere I call Far-east Java (7.8m).

In 2012 my travel companion and I had journeyed from Jakarta to Surabaya during the month of Ramadan.

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From Surabaya we went by train to Probolinggo and then took a taxi-van up the Tengger volcanic complex to see Mt Bromo, which had last erupted only the year before.

Around the caldera rim, growing in grey volcanic ash, strawberries, onions and cabbages thrived at high altitude. Tourist numbers had climbed back to their pre-Bali bombing highs.

In 1996-97, before the Asian financial crisis, tourist visits to Bromo peaked at 130,000; during 2001-02, after the Bali bombing, numbers had dropped to 45,000.

These volcanoes, which include Semeru, the highest mountain in Java, are home to about 100,000 Tengger people. This ethnic group shares the same Hindu religion as the people of Bali and was driven into the hills by the arrival of Muslims from the island of Madura.

The Tengger people have coped with the arrival of the tourist hordes by writing their own development plan, enforced by community law. No land can be sold, or leased for more than a year to outsiders, and the Tenggerese handle all the transport, accommodation and catering.

Every morning the mass descent into the caldera and across the sea of sand, in the dark, to observe the sunrise on the volcanoes may seem chaotic, but the Tenggerese are in control and the environmental impacts have not been all bad.

Tourism has resulted in higher incomes for the Tenggerese, who can now afford LPG and kerosene for cooking instead of cutting their forests for firewood.

Between the island of Bali and Mt Bromo, Far-east Java tends to be a place tourists pass through and is less crowded than the rest of Java. The highway winds through national parks. Coffee trees and workers' huts share the park with the flora and fauna, with no clear separation between conservation and the economy. In small towns women turn tobacco leaves drying in the sun.

We had planned to meet up with friends in Bali, but were running ahead of schedule, so rested up in Kalibaru, a small town a short distance from the Bali ferry terminal at Banyuwangi.

Beside the busy highway we found an unprepossessing motel that backed on to rice paddies and coconut palms.

By a spreading banyan tree we discovered the motel swimming pool, fed by a freshwater spring. Apart from a few frogs, we had the unchlorinated pool to ourselves.

After a couple of days almost everyone in town had waved to us, and, between swims in "our" pool, we'd managed to have a close look at Kalibaru's market and eateries and at the coffee, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves growing outside town.

On the day we left for Bali, we discovered it was also the end of the post-Ramadan holiday week and public transport was crowded with Indonesians returning to work.

When the train pulled into Kalibaru it became apparent there wasn't any space for two more travellers. A baggage car at the end of the train had a door open and there were people inside. Boarding from the tracks posed a problem. Pushing my travelling companion up lacked decorum but I doubted if any of the onlooking Indonesians would ever see us again.

At the far end of the baggage car an agitated guitar player sat on a piece of cardboard; most buses and trains in Java had travelling buskers. Uniformed train conductors appeared occasionally to shout at the glaring guitarist, who had clearly transgressed somehow.

Still recovering from the ignominy of her entrance, my travelling companion sat sulking on her baggage, beside the brooding busker.

A little while later we were on a ferry crossing the narrow strait to Bali and rejoining the tourist hordes.

Fred Frederikse is a self-directed student of human geography. Mapping the Millisphere, "a new millennium travel story" can be found at millisphere.blogtown.co.nz