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Ijen Plateau, also known as Gunung Ijen is Javanese for 'Lonely Mountain'. Being one of the most famous volcanic regions in indonesia visitor numbers are not as high compared to other volcanic destinations due to solitarity and poor access roads. Even tough tedious, the hike up to the plateau is worth it when you arrive and find the incredibly beautiful crater lake of Kawah Ijen.
It was another lengthy drive to Ijen, taking 5hours with an hours lunch break. We were in a group with 9 others from Holland, France and Denmark. Unfortunately, standard for these countries, our minivan didn’t have any windows apart from the two front windows and the Aircon was poor so everyone, except Max and I sitting at the front, suffered from the heat.
Arabica Hotel, located in a coffee plantation was a nicer hotel in relation to the night before. The rooms were ensuite and semi detached. Buffet dinner was available and it was an early night for us again as this time we were being woken up at 1:30am to make our way by 2am! The reason being that we had to get to the top of Ijen before sunrise in order to see the Blue fire produced from the centre of the volcano. Ijen also charges an entrance fee of 100,000/pp which was not included in the package. After an hours drive our guide greeted us at the base of the mountain in an area dedicated for tours. There was a vast difference in the number of visitors here compared to that in Mount Bromo, maybe because there was poor access and a very steep long trek requires, but it was still popular.
Gunung Ijen (2368m), one of the volcanoes part of the Ijen Plataeu, has a crater lake, Kawah Ijen, lying 2148m above sea level. The trek up to the craters ridge took around 1 hour to climb with a canteen near the top. Be aware it is a very steep walk in the dark and is very tiring. Once at the top we could see torches down below and individual lights making it’s way down a path leading to the lake and sulphur deposits. We declined the offer of using face masks which we terribly regretted when we reached the bottom but thankfully one of the workers accompanying us rented some out to us. The path was uneven and gravelly, easy to twist an ankle especially in the dark but with care and torches we managed to find our way down safely, taking around 20 minutes to reach the bottom. Once there we could see the blue fire clearly.
A section of the blue fire visible only in complete darkness
Visibility on our way down to the crater lake
Sulphur smoke often covered the blue flames but when it cleared we could see it in certain areas. The sulphur fumes which could be smelled all the way from the beginning of the trek got unbearable as the wind blew it towards us. We could feel the burn in our throats (despite having masks) and eyes. A few of us called it a day at this point when tears ran down our faces and the smoke smothered us until we could barely breathe so we climbed quickly back to the half way point where the smoke had cleared. The view from there was divine once the sun had risen and the smoke had cleared. The turquoise sulphur lake, flat as can be filled the centre of the volcano, surrounded by the volcanoes crater walls resembling mountains, the cloud of sulphur and the workers, all together might just be one of the best views I have seen not only because it is a magnificent view but because of the story behind it.
We could feel the burn in our throats and eyes as we got closer to the sulphur lake
Another lovely random wanting a photo :)
Pristine landscape of Ijen
Max didn’t even have a mask on and he remained at the bottom the entire time. Later on he told me he ended up crouched down with his scarf wrapped around his face, nearly suffocating! Everyone came back up after a while and as the smoke cleared I quickly went back down to join Max and visualise the lake properly and its turqouise warm water.
Workers hacking away for Sulphur and carrying it up the mountain slowly
A worker wearing his mask whilst mining for Sulphur
Workers hacked large pieces of sulphur to carry up the volcano and back to the town in baskets attached to bamboo sticks, each weighing around 80-100kg! The strength and hardship these 300 men demonstrated was incredible, we couldn’t even lift these baskets and there they were carrying them on their shoulders for hours, beginning their working day around 2am-4am Not only did this seem impossible to do, they had to make do with what they had, bamboo and baskets, scarves to protect them against the fumes and wellies for shoes, definitely not the most ideal and comfortable equipment. This is what you call working for your money.
They did this twice a day in the morning and earned 2,000 (10p) for every kilo sold, earning 400,000 (£20) per day if they manage 100kg each time. Experiencing this opens up yours eyes to how comfortable and easy we have it back home, and yet there is always room to complain. It kind of made me feel a little bad that I was there to see the volcano and watch them work, taking photos, whilst they were struggling but they still had time to say hello or smile.
They carried 80-100kg on their shoulders...the strength and hardship these 300 men demonstrated was incredible!
Attempting to lift it…failed hehe
We reached the bottom right up to the lake. The water was really warm and bubbles surfaced from below from the heat being emitted. Depending on the level of sulphur you can walk up to the lake, but when the sulphur levels are too high you are not allowed to go that far, or more like it, you wouldn’t want to go that far.
Taking about 15-20mins to reach the ridge at the top we could view the entire crater. We had lost the group when I joined max so we took our time to enjoy our visit and on the walk down could appreciate the spectacular views of the densely forested region.
The ridge of the volcano
At 8am the driver called us all back and we headed down to Kampeng ferry port. Unfortunately we were set back over an hour after the brakes of the minivan gave up and the driver could no longer use the hand brake to stop! We had to all walk down the road with a local and wait until a contact brought oil from the near village. During our walk I chatted to the local boy who explained why there was a motorbike hidden in the bushes as we passed. Hunters illegally hunted tigers, pigs and monkeys in the area. He continued to tell me that tigers could be seen an hours walk into the forest and that they have ventured to the road we were walking on before…eek!
It was a relief to see our minivan appear after an hour. We had a lengthy travel ahead of us and spent the entire day on ferries, buses and bemos. From Ketapang port to our next destination, Gili Meno, it took us 22 hours.
Tips For Travellers:
Travelling from Java (Ketapang port) to Gili Meno:
Ferry from Ketapang to Bali (Gilimanuk) – 55 mins; 7,500
Express bus to Denpasar – 3 hours; 70,000. The bus will drop you off at a minivan station in Denpasar but this is NOT the bus terminal. From here you can get a minivan to Padang Bai for 200,000 privately or 150,000 2pax sharing with five others. However, insist on being dropped off at the bus terminal where you can get a bus to Padang Bai or a bemo to Batibulan (15,000) and then a bus (~50,000) to Padang Bai.
Ferry from Padang Bai to Lombok – 5 hours; 50,000; 24/7 service.
From Lombok to Bansal port – 1 hour 20 mins; 150,000 with a lot of haggling and waiting.
Boat from Bansal to Gili Meno – 30 minutes; 14,000
Walking down after the break down, at least it was a beautiful walk