This post was originally published in READ ME magazine. A weekly magazine in The Dubai Metro. For this post, I added more narrative details of our adventure which I edited out because of the magazine’s word count limit. Also, this is a continuation of a series of blogs from my previous #TripOfWonders tour from the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism.
Whenever we (most of us) dream about traveling around Indonesia, all we can think of are white sand beaches, clear crystal waters and thriving marine life. Although Indonesia is known for its numerous volcanoes (around 130 active ones), we hardly hear tourists who actually put this as part of their “Wonderful Indonesia” trip.
When I got an invitation from the Tourism Ministry of Indonesia, I was ecstatic to see that part of our 11-day exploration involves a visit to one of its volcanoes called Kawah Ijen (Mount Ijen).
Kawah Ijen is part of the Ijen Volcano Complex found in Banyuwangi Regency at the eastern most end part of Java, Indonesia. It is famous for its blue- fire (flame), sulfur mining and the location of the lake with largest hydrochloric acid concentration water in the world.
After getting the invitation, to be honest, I didn’t really research further on the places that we will be visiting (I trusted the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism that much–haha). On a casual talk with one of the bloggers who was part of the trip, she told me that she was planning to make an excuse (maybe pretend to be sick), on the day of the hike. She said, based on her research the trek is dangerous, hence it was tagged as the ‘jaws of hell’, and she’s not built to do that. Ok, what did I put myself into?
Note: my blogger friend still joined the trip and it became one of her most memorable experiences in Indonesia (check out her funny Mt. Ijen blog from this link)
We were hosted by the Ketapang Indah Hotel during our stay in Banyuwangi. This place is adorbs. Some lifestyle bloggers and I explored the hotel and did some “lifestyle” photoshoot (I am not fit for lifestyle poses but ended up trying as well haha). We were advised to sleep/rest early, as we needed to wake up around 11:30pm and meet-up at the hotel lobby around 11:45pm. I didn’t sleep because I know that I will not be able to wake up on time (might press snooze on my phone alarm so much and will end up sleeping the whole night). So I decided to hike sleepless than miss it because of oversleeping.
I arrived in the hotel lobby wearing my (almost) winter outfit complete with thermal under garments. The temperature at the mountain can drop drastically so we were advised to bring clothes fit to protect us from the cold. The expressions on people’s faces were either excited or scared…or confused, hahaha.
We started our journey at 12 midnight. Drove around 45 minutes from our hotel to the base camp. Mid-journey, our car broke down and we had to ask for the assistance of other passing 4x4s . Our driver assured us that it wasn’t a biggie. After jumpstarting our car, we finally arrived at the base camp. Obviously, we where the last group to arrive. We went directly to our group and collected face masks that were handed over to us for sulfur fume protection. Aside from our group, there were also a lot of visitors from different countries who were getting ready to go up to the crater. I guess people really didn’t mind that this place is called the ‘jaws of hell’.
THE HIKE AND THE BLUE FIRE
Off we go! Mountain climbing is not a new thing for me, I have been to several mountains during my previous trips around Scandinavia, Australia, Kyrgyzstan and the Philippines. So, seeing that there was a clear pathway heading to Ijen’s caldera, I already know that the hike will not be so tough. The challenge arose when sulfur fumes started to spread in the atmosphere. I didn’t mind the smell of rotten eggs, as this seems like Iceland all over again, the hardest part was trying to catch your breath with the gas mask on (the fumes can also irritate your eyes).
Our group was divided into 3 sub groups, the experienced hikers, the adventurers who occasionally hike (me!!), and those who wished there was an escalator/walkalator heading to the crater. Although I consider myself to be part of the 2nd group, I chose to tag along with the 3rd group, to assist those who don’t normally hike (naks!!). I hiked along side my good friend Gael. We paced our walk slowly to not shock our bodies. While most of the people from our group already reached the crater and we were still halfway through, we really didn’t mind it. Although we can’t see the view of the surrounding mountains around us because it was still dark, what caught our attention were the numerous stars looking back at us. They were BEAUTIFUL! Some of our co-3rd group hikers even saw some shooting stars.
After almost 4 hours of hike, we finally reached the mouth of the crater. Now, the main challenge is going down to the where the blue fire and the volcanic lake are.
The main attraction in Kawah Ijen is its blue fire. When National Geographic made a documentary feature about it, tourism started to boom. Who wouldn’t want to see a volcano expelling an electric-blue fire from its fissures? Ijen’s blue fire can only be seen in the evening until 5 in the morning. That is why the best time to hike is around 1 am so you can be at the crater before 5 (am) and you’ll have enough time to ascend from the crater to enjoy the sunrise at the summit.
It was very challenging to go down the crater. As when we arrived at 5am, people were starting to climb back up. It was a bit frustrating that those who are climbing back up were rushing and not giving us a way to go down. Where, we should be the one who should rush down to see the fire before the sky will light up (bye fire). Aside from the people climbing back up, you also share the pathway with locals who are mining solidified sulfur (I didn’t mind this, it is actually their right, they should be angry at us for blocking their way and making their hard job even harder).
Seeing the blue flame was amazing! I can’t believe that there is such a thing. According to National Geographic, the flame is a result of the combustion of sulfuric gases. The landscape around the crater looks like a scene from Star Wars. Imagine being surrounded with white jagged rocks with a stain of yellow sulfur, which made dramatic by smoke coming out of from different fissures around the crater.
Along the crater, you will also see locals who are mining for solidified sulfur. Seeing them carrying baskets full of big sulfur rocks (weighing around 70-90kg) made me realized that this place is real. That this dangerous path is actually a working space for other people. Talk about the hardest (and most dangerous) job in the planet.
We had a mistake of not getting the a mask being rented out by a local before we head down the crater. We thought that our simple surgical mask was enough. Well apparently not. It was hard to breathe without a proper gas mask. Aside from that, the fumes will make your eyes (super) irritated.
With all those challenges pushed aside, I was actually happy that we arrived just dark enough to see the fire and also, late enough to see the crater with a little bit of daylight. The view is totally amazing once the place got lighted up. You will start to see the texture of the place. Plus, you’ll find yourself with only with a few people (everyone left already by this time).
CATCHING THE SUNRISE
When the sky started to light up, it was a signal for us that we should ascend back to the summit. If going down the crater was hard, going back up was a bit confusing (I got lost on my way up, spent 10 min of vertical climb on a wrong path. toinks).
After a tiring hike, it was very apt to end this trip with a view of the sunrise along the summit of Kawah Ijen. Most of the people thought that after visit to the crater, the enchantment of this place is done. I think 80% of those who visit Kawah Ijen skip watching the sunrise from the summit. Only a few of us from our group stayed and walked towards the end of the caldera. Good thing one of my friends dragged me.
Everything looks so magical. The light reveals the large turquoise lake that I didn’t even know was there during my blue fire encounter. The view made all effort of climbing for hours and enduring the sulfuric atmosphere worthwhile. Although called as the ‘jaws of hell’, everything about the view at the summit looks so heavenly.
This part of our #TripOfWonders adventure surely one for the books. To think I was having some second thoughts about this trip. The world is full of surprises and definitely this one will shock you.
More adventures coming up in the blog soon!
HOW TO GET THERE
My blogger friend Gael, who writes her adventure in her blog www.thepinaysolobackpacker.com (@thepinaysolobackpacker) gave a detailed DIY guide on how you can reach Kawa Ijen: Check it out in her blog at The Pinay Solo Backpacker.
This post is in collaboration with The Tourism Ministry of Indonesia
Check out more information about #TripOfWonders: