My plans for Indonesia originally focused on Bali, but extended to include Java as I really wanted to make my way to the famous Mount Bromo volcano and Borobodur temple in Yogyakarta. The longer I travelled however the more I heard of Kaweh Ijen, the famous volcano at the Bali side of Java, with blue flames and sulphur mines, home to the world’s largest acidic lake…I couldn’t resist it.
I travelled from Permuteran in Bali to Banyuwangi in Java. I had heard that the town was nothing to write home about, and had low expectations, however, as I walked around the area near to my homestay I saw people working in the rice fields, and was greeted with smiles and hello’s from all directions. It felt completely off the beaten track, as I ate in restaurants where there were no other tourists and paid less than $1 for delicious local meals, and that added to the charm of the place.
In reality, the volcano was less of an adventure than I had built it up in my mind to be. I was expecting a very difficult trek, and I really wasn’t sure how I was going to cope with that at 2am, but I pushed myself to make the effort and travel to the volcano, knowing I would regret missing it later.
So I woke up at 12:40am after a few hours of very light sleep, and drove up to the start point of the hike, the 1hour journey was cold, and I was ready to get moving. The hike itself was not as difficult as I expected, it was just 3km and although it was steep it was a solid track. At the top we then descended into the crater itself, wearing gas masks to shield us from the fumes that the sulphur mine created. As we crept down the rocky track sulphur miners passed us with huge loads of 70-90kg balanced across their shoulders in 2 baskets with an adjoining branch.
My guide told me that the miners earned very little for their heavy loads, but that it was still a more profitable job than working in the fields. The more sulphur they could carry, the more money they would receive, so most carry between 70 and 90kg up to the crater rim and then wheel it down to the base in a small trolley. The walk alone was enough for me to work up a serious sweat and I can’t imagine how they do it several times per day with a heavy load.
Inside the crater we got up close to the mine, watching the yellow sulphur being broken and placed into the baskets. The mesmerising blue flames spouted up from behind the mine into the night sky, yes it was worth the lack of sleep, I wouldn’t see this just anywhere… Climbing back up to the crater rim on the rocky path was probably the most physically challenging element, as the gas mask makes breathing deeply quite difficult, but being only 3:30am, the temperatures were ideal.
From the crater rim we waited as the light of the dawn came to illuminate the scenery that had been surrounding us all along. I was lucky to catch a glimpse of the acidic sulphur lake through the mist and clouds as it quickly covered over. Hiking back down also showed other mountains and volcanoes nearby and as we got closer to town we passed scenes of workers going out to the fields to begin their days, it was beautiful and all happened before 8am!
The joy of being back at my homestay so early meant that I was able to get moving and catch the train to Probolinggo where I would make my way to the next volcano, Bromo, and by the time I boarded the train at 9:15am, I was so tired, I slept easily for most of the 4hour journey.