The way up
The Ijen volcano is located on the far east of Java island. When I arrived on Java, the first thing I did was to find a guesthouse and rent a scooter to go all the way up to the volcano. My friends met in Ubud, Victor and Sam have been all the way up by bicycle and one of them broke his chain. In fact, I was happy of my choice getting a scooter because there was seriously some crazy up hills. One of them was maybe as hard as the hardest uphill I climbed which was on Flores.
So when I arrived on top, the base camp to the volcano, it was the end of the day, my fuel tank was totally empty, luckily, I found some petrol here and met the team of lecturer from Sidoarjo University. They invited me to have a coffee with them. We started to knew each other and they invited me to speak at their university the week after.
Following this coffee, I got some information about camping here, the starting point because the volcano is closed for tourists before 1am. There is actually a huge and free campground. That’s perfect! Now that I know I can stay there for the night, I drive downhill on the other side of the mountain to reach a big waterfall with pools.
As I park my scooter and get closer to the water, I feel like coughing and my eyes are burning. The water is green / yellowish, it seems very strange… I meet some locals and they tell me to absolutely not go in the water neither touching it. The water comes from the crater lake and is loaded with sulphur. One of them show me his legs burnt by the water after he spent 20 minutes in it. It was a few years ago and it will never be gone. His skin is totally burnt. That’s impressive!
I took some shots then came back to the campground. Built the tent, set up the alarm at 2am, felt asleep, and woke up at… 1am. When I checked the tickets office it was still closed and no activity at all around… I don’t understand why as it was supposed to be open at 1… Ok I’ll try to go through without a ticket. I got stop by guards and they make me realising that here in Java, it’s one hour later than in Bali. Ok… I’m feeling a bit stupid but I have no other choice than to wait the extra time.
The climb up is really easy. I do it with a miner who is going to work.
Suryari’s miner’s life
His name is Suryari, he is the dad of two kids. It’s been 15 years now that he is a minor in Ijen working 6 days a week from 5am to 4pm. He got 1 hour trip to go from the volcano to his home. which leave him only the time to eat and sleep from 7pm to 12am.
To avoid the tourist flow, he hikes up at 1am even if he starts to work at 5am. While waiting until his shift, he tries renting his oxygen mask to tourists.
At 5am he starts the hard work. Going down the crater, and carrying up 75kg of sulphur twice a day. The minors get paid 1000IDR/kg which is the equivalent of 10cents of Australian dollars or 7cents of euro. That’s nothing for such a hard work!
Surayi speaks a bit of french, wear a hat from la poste (the french post) and he saw Nicolas Hulot 10 years ago. Well, he saw him flying over the crater with his helicopter.
By the way, both of his shoulders are broken because of carrying so much weight so many times.
A punch in the face
This hike up to Ijen has been a punch in the face. Seriously, it is crazy to see people working in those condition to get paid almost nothing for the hard work they do all day every day. Sulphur is used by big international companies to make beauty products. It looks crazy to imagine the supply chain from miners working in the heart of the crater in a lot of toxic smoke, paid nothing, all the way to cosmetic products sold a fortune in stores.
By night you can see the blue flames. it’s really nice and seems to be from another world. The volcano is definitely alive and you can feel and see it. I was the first arrived in the crater and it was a bit weird to hear the noise of pickaxes in the middle of the night. Miners are working here 24/7. I went down the crater to see the flames from closer. Look at those pics.
When I hiked up back, I realised the number of tourists. It was crazy! thousands of us! It was hard to can walk up as the track is not really a track… I can’t imagine carrying 75kg and dealing with tourists all the way up and keep smiling.
So I walked up before sunrise to reach a high point. It was worth it! I was the only one here while the crater was crowded. A few hours later a few other hikers came. Just look at the photographs it was stunning!
When I came back to the entry of the crater it was daylight and I took some more photographs of the miners while they were working. None of them asked for money but they were very happy when I offered them some water. If you plan to go there, just bring a few extra water bottles and some food to thank them for your photographs. They will love it.