We rounded off April with a quick trip to the Ijen volcano at the easternmost end of Java.
I must admit, I thought of Ijen with a little trepidation; by all accounts the climb was arduous, and I’m no climber even in my wildest dreams. Tried to build up my stamina over the week, but it was never gonna be enough.
We flew from Jakarta, via Surabaya, to Banyuwangi – a town bigger than I had anticipated. They seem to have caught the tourist bug in Banyuwangi, with no less than 36 festivals planned for the year, starting with the Festival Toilet Bersih (clean toilet); as good start as any! The weekend after we were there was meant to be an international Tour de Banyuwangi cycling competition. One of the most exciting aspects of this town is that the island of Bali is in plain sight, and just a ferry ride across.
Cutting to the chase, we had arranged with our driver to start from the hotel at 11 p.m., which meant a quick nap in the evening was in order. The drive to the ‘base camp’ took about an hour, and as they hadn’t opened access yet, we were able to catch another hour of much needed sleep. At 1.30 a.m. the gates were opened, and we started our uphill walk with scores of other enthusiasts. The weather was surprisingly chilly, good thing we had warm jackets and scarves among the other essentials – headlamps, sturdy masks, walking shoes and camera with tripod!
I quickly realised the futility of trying to match speed with the others. The road surface is good, but the gradient is steep and challenging. I begged my friends to go on ahead and let me carry on with my barely-there pace. One step at a time, a pause after every hundred steps, if not to catch my breath then to rest the burning calves. It was a physical struggle for me, but the mind was determined, and as long as I was able to pause, there was no question of giving up. There were hundreds climbing, and once I saw that other groups also needed to rest and I was able to catch up with some of them, I was encouraged.
My guide was a patient young fellow who let me set the pace without any complaint. Once we got to the top of the crater, however, he drew the line at letting me climb down into the caldera to view the blue fire from up close. That terrain is very rocky and uneven, and I would’ve probably spent half a day getting back up. I did spot bits of the blue flame from that distance, but the mind’s eye can see bigger than the camera can capture.
After shivering up there for a while, we decided to chase the sunrise instead. More climbing, then some walking along the rim of the crater, and I was ultimately rewarded with some spectacular landscapes. (Must click on the images to see larger views!)
The unique feature of Ijen is the sulphur miners, who trek into the caldera twice a day, and carry back 50-60 kilos of sulphur to sell in town, for a paltry sum of around $5! They stop for a rest at the 2 km mark, to weigh their loads, have a smoke and sell some of their catch to us tourists.
Climbing down was much easier than going up. My monopod doubled up as a hiking stick, to take the load off my knees.
Afterwards, we had a bonus visit to a nearby waterfall. Note how green the water is, from the high sulphur content.
And fresh honey from a beekeeper.
And a foot massage back at the hotel.