Kaweh Ijen might be on of the most incredible sites I’ve ever seen, it’s electric blue flame that is only seen during the night disappears as dusk creeps up on the bright turquoise tranquil lake. The sky morphs from orange to pink and purple to blue as it creates the most mesmerising backdrop for such a beautiful natural wonder.
However, whilst tourists gape in awe, local sulphur miners aren’t there to enjoy the view. They descend into the womb of the volcano in search of the precious material that is used to manufacture countless products — from matches, rubber, insecticides and fertilizer to cosmetics, batteries, sugar and film. Each miner hauls 70-95kg sulphur at a time, balancing the wicker baskets upon a single shoulder. They make the perilous journey climbing 9,000 ft. to the summit and then 3,000 ft. down into the crater at least twice a day for a minuscule wage. They get 10,000 rupiah (50p) for 10 kg (22 lb.) of sulfur. The average sulphur miner earns just £7 a day depite the countless health and safety risks. Deformed spines and bent legs are common problems with miners.
HOW TO GET THERE
Book a tour from Yogyakarta or Bali. I was park of a 3 day 2 night tour from Yogyakarta to Bali with stops at Mount Bromo and Kaweh Ijen – (full details in my post about Bromo here.) So from leaving Bromo at 9am, we headed back to Probolinggo to change buses and be on our way to Banyuwang. We arrived to our hotel around 7pm, had some food, a shower and a quick nap before checking out with all our luggage at 1am, as we would be travelling straight to the ferry to Bali after we had climbed up and into the crater, saw the blue flame and the sunrise!
WHAT TO WEAR
- Thin layers, comfortable clothing
- A hoodie/jacket
- Hiking boots or good grip sports shoes
WHAT TO BRING
- Torch/Headtorch – ESSENTIAL
- Gas Mask
- Small Change – mask rental, photos of miners, sulphuric souvenirs
- Travel insurance
HOW LONG/HARD IS THE HIKE
We started walking at around 1.30am. The initial 1km was a steep climb but it evened out after that. I have never seen the stars and the milky way so clearly in all my life. They were so bright and magical – not bright enough to guide your way though – make sure you bring a torch as the path is winding. The hike is accessible to all fitness levels, just take a quick breather if you’re feeling tired. Three quarters of the way up you reach a tea hut and from there there is a short but steep incline before it flattens out again.
Upon reaching the volcano crater at around 3.30am, a rocky, steep and narrow path leads down to the blue flames, it looks like the surface of another planet! It’s a bit of a squeeze down the rocky route to the blue flame. You are encouraged to wear a mask to protect against the gases, but a scarf covering you mouth would work too. (You can rent a mask for 50,000RP). Not only are there many groups of tourists trying to get down but also heaps of sulphur miners trying to get up with fully loaded baskets of sulphur, it requires a lot of patience but is worth it when you get there.
Glowing blue fire. It is not lava you see, it is actually the light from the combustion of sulphuric gases and when they come in contact with the air, they ignite, sending the flames up. Some of the gases like you see on this picture condense into liquid sulphur, that why it gives the feeling of lava flowing. Pic credit: www.indonesia.tripcanvas.co
We walked back up in time to see the sunrise over the lake. The crater lake is said to be the most toxic of its kind in the world, with a similar ph level to that of battery acid.
I think the descent back down was more difficult that the hike up. The ground is very ashy and sandlike, every so often someone in the group would slip, which was fun to watch. The sulphur miners would speed past us with 70-90kg on their shoulder and the steadiest of feet, I guess when you do the journey at least twice a day you get the knack for it.
On the descent we saw smoke billowing from Mount Raung, the volcano that had erupted a week or so previous and delayed hundreds of flights by weeks. I can think of worse places to be stranded!
We probably reached the bottom around 9am, where our breakfast awaited – a hard boiled egg, two slices of bread and a warm bottle of water – mmm, delicious! When everyone was safely reunited, we scrambled into the mini van, squeezed in an extra French family as their car had broken down and were on our way to the ferry which would take us to Bali.
The journey was pretty straight forward from there on. The ferry was a quick and easy 25mins followed by a bigger bus and a taxi.
OVERALL, I’d say the experience was the perfect length (3D2N) and an incredible refreshing experience. I can’t recommend it highly enough.