I climbed up a volcano!

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.

Seaside at Banyuwangi

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.

Hike to Kawah Ijen

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.Hike to Kawah Ijen

Hike to Kawah Ijen

Hike to Kawah Ijen

And fresh honey from a beekeeper.

Hike to Kawah Ijen

And a foot massage back at the hotel.

The Adventures of Uju in Indonesia – #3 In the Middle of the Night

Right after our very exciting hike on Pulau Sempu, we packed up and departed Malang at midnight to head to the village of Tongas, where we were met by the jeep and driver who would take us on the sunrise tour to Bromo. Uju wanted action-packed, and she got it.

At 3 am, the driver drove us into the caldera to head to Penanjakan 1, which apparently has different views than Penanjakan 2. Our Bahasa was stretched beyond limit, because we weren’t sure what exactly we were doing, driving around in the mist. Turns out, the driver had no clue either. We followed two other jeeps who followed us, all in the dark, and we narrowly missed tumbling into the ravine in that volcanic ash. Just kidding. Anyway, our driver decided it was smarter to eat humble pie, apologised for his appalling sense of direction, and offered to take us to Penanjakan 2 instead, the tried and tested spot. We had no complaints with that. In fact, as soon as I realized we’d be the first ones there, I got excited at the prospect of ‘shooting stars’, and quickly hired the horse to haul me up. Souvik and Uju decided to take the hard way on two feet.

Starry night it was, and we were much too early.

Bromo at sunrise


So we stood around, shivering in the cold, taking some long exposure shots undisturbed by people, noise and flash photography.

Bromo at sunrise


And we waited. And shivered.

Bromo at sunrise


And waited. And shivered some more.

Yeah, you get it, right? I also got cursed by my loving companions for getting them up there so early. So we waited.

And then there was a big cloud cover, and we didn’t get to see the sun rise. It just got bright all around.

Bromo at sunrise


By which time there were hordes of people joining us and taking ‘flashy’ pictures.

So we decided to be silly ourselves.

Bromo at sunrise


Actually that’s the goody photo. Here’s the silly one. Uju couldn’t hold her pose for 25 seconds, so she’s all blurry.

Bromo at sunrise


We needed to squeeze some more juice out of our Bromo visit, so up the volcano it was for Uju. I decided to sit out this one, so that we could finish the tour on time, and not take 3 hours to climb 200 steps.

Bromo at sunrise Bromo at sunrise


I crossed the ravine in daylight, and got some interesting views. Imagine – it’s all ash, no rock!

Bromo at sunrise Bromo at sunrise

By this time the sun had started to thaw us, and all the dew from the ground started to steam up.

Bromo at sunrise

The biggest surprise for me was the greenery. Just a few months back, we’d been here, amazed at the brownness of the landscape, and now, it was showing signs of life after the wet season, even seeping into the caldera.

Bromo at sunrise Bromo at sunrise Bromo at sunrise Bromo at sunrise Bromo at sunrise

We took a pit stop at Java Banana, before driving off to Surabaya for the next leg of our journey.



The Adventures of Uju in Indonesia – #1 Chasing volcanoes

One of my favourite cousins, Uju, came over for a visit. I say ‘one of my favourites’, so as not to offend any of those who have visited already, or are planning to in future… 😉

We had an action-packed holiday, starting with the volcano outside Bandung – Tangkuban Perahu. The weather is always cool at Tangkuban Perahu, but not enough to justify sales of Russian-style woollen caps and mufflers! You can drive right up to the crater, and we usually have the driver take the car down to park at Kawah Domas. Such crowds on a Monday morning… until we realized it was the week of the Chinese New Year!

Uju at Tangkuban Perahu Uju at Tangkuban Perahu Uju at Tangkuban Perahu Uju at Tangkuban Perahu Uju at Tangkuban Perahu


After the mandatory crater photo ops and the walk through the market, purchasing unnecessary souvenirs, we hiked downhill to Kawah Domas – the crater with the hot springs. The hike is easy, and quite short, but it is still nice to dip your feet in the warm pools at the end of the trail, and rejuvenate yourself for the walk back to the car.

Tangkuban Perahu Tangkuban Perahu Uju at Tangkuban Perahu Uju at Tangkuban Perahu


Eggs are available all along the path to be boiled in the steaming, bubbling crater, if you go for that sort of gimmick. Plus, there are plenty of foot scrubs and massages on offer, as is evident from some visitors getting into their ‘avatar’:

Uju at Tangkuban Perahu


On the way back you can admire the foliage, especially the lush giant ferns.

Uju at Tangkuban Perahu Uju at Tangkuban Perahu


We skipped lunch, in an attempt to escape the Bandung traffic, but were waylaid by some fruit and vegetable stalls by the roadside, and HAD to stop for fresh pineapples (eaten slurpily right away) and pumpkins (to be turned into divine cake later).

Uju at Tangkuban Perahu