The Blue Flames of the Ijen Crater

Most people who visit Indonesia will go to a certain number of places. These places usually being Jakarta, where people try to get out of asap, Bogor, Malang, Yogyakarta and Bali. They travel from place to place either by plane or bus, passing many of the great things Indonesia has to offer. This is why we decided to travel from Yogjakarta, via Mt Bromo (hardly an original but still amazingly lovely attraction, read more about Mt Bromo HERE) and the Ijen Crater to Denpasar, Bali.

Ijen is a volcano located in Eastern Java. Ijen is still active despite the fact that it houses a thriving sulphur mine in its crater. Deep down in the crater you can witness a natural phenomenon called ‘The Blue Flames’.

After a short night and great day at Mt Bromo, we drove for another eleven hours. This too was supposed to be significantly shorter but oh well, Asia. At some point were told that all accommodation was fully booked, even though we had already booked ours, and then we’d have to wait it out in the bus, a couple of kilometre outside of the city. I had heard that this sometimes happens and was a bit of scam but after sitting outside the bus, staring up to the milky way, we were finally told we would move on to the town and with that our hotel for the, I want to say, night.

Three hours later, at one o’clock in the morning, we drove to the drop-off point and started, what would be a three-hour hike up a 40% increase hill. Here too we were met by fumes but luckily we had prepared this time by renting full on gas masks (read about our previous experience with volcanic fumes HERE),

When we finally reached the top it was still pitch black as we prepared to descend into the crater of the volcano. We were informed by our guide Ali, a former mineworker, that we had to be extremely careful as the paths down were very narrow and dangerous. Not to mention that there would be sulphur mine workers making their way up to the crater to off-load the sulphur they had gathered. The work environment is extremely harsh and the workers carry up to 80 kilos of sulphur on their shoulders, up a dangerous, narrow and steep path, filled with annoying tourists, twice a day. For every kilo, they get paid 600 RPH (about 30 p) and for this, pay the price with their health as they inhale the toxic gases day in day out. No masks, no glasses, no gloves to protect them.

We waddled down past the miners who tried to earn some extra money by selling little bits of sulphur and could get a glimpse of the flames as we descended further into the crater. Finally, at the bottom, we saw how hard the miners work and I have nothing but respect for these hardworking men. We saw the flames, which were less high than expected but impressive nonetheless, walked around the moon-like landscape and started our ascend back up the crater to watch the sunrise.

Covered in dust, smelling of rotten eggs and deeply humbled by the people we met down in the mine we watched the sun rise. Shades of red and orange filled the sky and there was a moment of tranquillity as the world quiet down and we were sat upon a beautiful mountain in Indonesia.

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