November, the 25th 2014
The Kawah Ijen...have you heard about it?
It seems like a very popular spot especially among French traveller but I have to admit that I've never been told about that volcano before getting to Bali for my holidays.
on Java at night
One evening having dinner we spoke to locals about our wish to climb volcanoes and they mentioned the name of this special place located on Java, the island “next door”!
We were in search of an adventure and beautiful photos at sunrise, but in Indonesia, there is quite a few mountains that offers that, so we had to choose only one because of our lack of time and money...
They description of the Kawah Ijen attracted all our attention, it's not everwhere that you can get blue fires, turquoise acid lake contrasted with yellow sulphur, gas and smoke! Clearly something unique to go and explore for ourself.
Ok but how to go there? On our own with a torch..? No it seems pretty dangerous, gases are very toxic and won't be safe to go down the crater without a gas mask. So with a guide? Ok but who? Many tourist operators offer their service but their prices are not very competitive and the satisfaction of the guests is not always the best from what we can read online on forums. We are a bit overloaded with info and interrogations until we randomly read a brilliant blog post on Novo Monde (French bloggers traveling the world for a year). Thanks to them we booked our trip within a few minutes and here we are excited to go to Java in the next days!
But you may be curious and know more about what seduced us in their story?
The concept is to visit the region with locals and not any local, but actually former sulphur miners. After years and years working very hard in the crater to collect sulphur and carry up to 100kg on their back 3 times a day every day of the year, they got a clever idea. Hosting tourists in their village and guide them to the volcano. Mister Paing, Eddy and Chung were then our special guides.
Because this is still a very familial thing (they are brothers), you can customize with them your stay (what you want to do, where to go, how long to stay etc). This is very convenient! Max and I were the only ones they came to pick up at the ferry terminal and took care of everything (food, transfer, gear for the volcano, accommodation). How great does that sound? And in addition the whole price of the package was really accessible (1,400,000 rupiah so about $US 110 for two).
Once we arrived to the ferry terminal in Java, we were glad to meet with them as already 5 taxi drivers offered us insistently their service...It's also quite a different atmosphere than in Bali.
We hopped on the colorful red van and here we go to their village. We had fun on the way talking in English and teaching them a bit of French. We realised how good at learning new languages they are in Indonesia, we were impressed how quickly and easily they remember words and expressions!
One hour later we got to the village and for us it was like a big step in the past. These people are not living in luxury at all and their homes are pretty simple and rustic. No running water in the houses, they sleep on a mattress on the floor, chunks running in the main “street”...But we really enjoyed sharing their place for a day. They were so nice and hospitable. Everyone offered us to come and have a drink at their place, it's true that we were a bit the attraction of the day, it's not every day that they see Europeans or simply white people wandering through the village :-) Many shots were taken this day!
The day went perfectly: walking through the rice fields near the village following by a swim in just breath taking waterfalls. We would have never found these amazing places on our own!
Knowing that we were going to wake up at midnight to climb the volcano, we did not go party after dinner! A bowl of rice and straight to bed for a few hours.
I was so excited that I couldn't fall asleep...when the alarm rang, I was ready to go explore the Kawah Ijen! 1 am the van took off full of avid travelers :-) About 1 hour later, we arrived to the car park and indeed the site is well known, we were not the only ones!! Not to worry as a few minutes after having started to walk we were already just us. Most of the time, we could hear the silence of the night, amazing! It was hard to distinguish any silhouette in the night, I thought that was great, it would be the surprise on the way back :-)
The hike up to the summit (about 3km) in the dark was easier than expected and not that I'm the fittest person in the world...Just one hour later we were there. But now, it was not over at all, we had to go down the crater, which is actually the most difficult to me. It's steep, dark and full of rocks, the gas are to be smelt plus the crowds from all around the world trying to make their way down...But we had the best guide with us so no big deal! This man has been there again and again for years to carry the sulphur, so he knows every step by heart. But it's true that we saw a bit of everything happening there...people wearing flip flops, others only putting a scarf to their nose...some lamentably regretted it...
Perfectly well geared up with our gas mask, we could easily breathe down there. But the most shocking we discovered at this moment was not the silly tourists, but the reality of this world: poor men working all night long, a torch on their front, carrying sulphur from down the crater to the car park, around 4km in total with...80kg on their back...Seeing them struggling to walk up and down was the worst. Chung explained to us that for every basket of 80kg carried back to the car park, they earn about US $ 5... They do that from midnight to midday to avoid the heat and can manage usually up to 3 return walk to the crater. We wanted to help us but with our little muscles and even physic resistance we could not do much...I found out that they really enjoyed some biscuits, and that was perfect as I was carrying a lot! (I'm always scared to starve I reckon...). Some of the miners also make some souvenirs out the sulphur, there is no price shown and this is according to what you want to give, for us it's not much and for them, it's a really good way to make a bit more out of their tough job. Hello kitty, crocodile or turtle shaped, they have imagination! I bought a collection for my nephews and nieces back home. The story behind these little creatures is an important one to tell.
We keep descending to the guts of the volcano and what a show happening there: blue flames everywhere!! First time I saw that and it's just wonderful. It's a reaction between the gas and the air, i'm not the best to explain the phenomena but wow! Judge for yourself with this shot :-)
But before we could realise, the first lights were to be seen and they simply disappeared...this is when another show began: sunrise! And this is when we could see the beautiful turquoise acid lake and strong gas and smoke going out sort of chimneys. The yellow of the sulphur contrasted with the blue of the lake and the white of the gases, my eyes wide open!!
What a place!! So glad to be there in the heart of the volcano, and we are enjoying every second of it. We could have taken million of shots!!!
We had to go back though...The scenery was spectacular all the way up and down. Once we got back to the van, we finally felt how tired we were! True we didn't get much sleep, anyway the excitation was stronger! Chung, our guide was happy we were happy!
We stopped in a coffee plantation on the way back to the village, an occasion to learn about a pretty special (and expensive!) coffee called Kopi luwak, produced only in Indonesia. What's so special about it to justify its crazy price : around US $1000/a kg..?! Actually it's because the coffee cherries are eaten by the luwak, a little animal, which digest only the pulp and the not the stone. Once defecated, the seeds are collected. Read more about it, here (thank you Wikipedia is here:-)
We also touched cannela and clove trees. Amazing to see all they grow in these islands.
Unfortunately we had to leave them already. We went quickly to the village to pick up our stuff and
say goodbye to our new mates. They drove us to the mini airport of Banyuwangi. Mind full of awesome memories, camera overloaded of photos taken, we went away. A question though: why are we always such in a hurry?!? If only we could have taken the time to spend more days with them and see more of Java...the recurrent long-distance traveler problem...
If you too you would like to climb the volcano with Chunk, Paing and brothers:
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