We took the ferry from Gilimanuk to Banyuwangi. Which was our first destination on Java. Here we booked a home stay for 2 nights to climb an active volcano called Mount Ijen. The ferry ride and the (very crappy) taxi were pretty easy going so our arrival on a new island went pretty smooth. One thing was immediately clear, the difference in people. First of all, Java is an mostly Islamic island and the call for prayer is heard 5 times a day. Secondly, the people here are incredibly friendly and curious. Everybody is smiling, waving, saying hello or come up to us and greet us. Conversations however are all directed towards Tim. We knew that would be the case here but it still takes some getting used to.
After our arrival we had a very short and crappy sleep as we had to wake up at 11:30pm to be picked up to drive to the volcano. At 00:00am we met our guide and driver, both of them were once again incredibly friendly and spoke pretty well English. When we arrived at the foot of the mountain at 1:00am, we met with the guides mother who made fried bananas and coffee for us. We received our gas masks and flashlights and we were ready for the 3km climb to 2400 meters. Once we would reach the top, we would descend down into the crater to view a phenomenon called “blue fire” which is caused by sulfur gases meeting with methane. Hence the gas masks. This volcano is also well known for two other things, its acidic sulfur lake which is also present within the crater and the sulfur miners. About 15 days per month these miners climb the mountain and descend into the crater to mine blocks of yellow sulfur while breathing in the toxic sulfur fumes. Once they gather around 70-90 kilos of the stuff they carry(!) it in baskets back over the top and all the way down to the foot of the mountain.
We started our climb which was quite easy going until 700 meters before the top. Here the path got steeper and more slippery. Luckily it did not last long and we reach the edge of the crater around 3:00am. It was still very dark when we descended into the crater. This part was very dangerous however as the regular path that we had before was no gone and we had to climb down loose rocks and slippery stones. This descent was about 600 meters. We made it to the bottom at around 4:00am.
Here we saw a glimpse of the blue fires, but seeing the miners hacking away while standing in toxic clouds of sulfur gas was more moving. We also met some of them while we were descending, as they came up with baskets full of sulfur. This must be one of the toughest and unhealthiest jobs in the world. Our guide also told us that these guy’s life expectancy is very low. Most of them reach an age of around 50. It was hard to see them work in these conditions.
We climbed back out of the crater at around 5:00am to wait for the sunrise. The view was absolutely spectacular. Finally we could see the landscape we have been climbing through for the last 4 hours. As you can see below, it was so worth it!
Tired but with a new sense of appreciation and gratitude for the things we’ve seen and our own lives, we returned to our home stay at 8:00 pm. Here we spend one more night. Tomorrow we will board a train towards Surabaya. From Surabaya we take another train to Jogjakarta where we will spend a week. You’ll hear from us when we are there! Love Tim & Ellen