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At East Java Island, the Kawah Ijen active volcano attracts hundreds of tourists interested in seeing a phenomenon known as “Blue Fire”. Every day at night time, a blue flame of about 5 meters high is expelled from the crater. In order to see the phenomenon, it is important to climb up the volcano at night (normally at around 1 am) as it is not possible to see it when the daylights break through.
Obviously, there is no light and everyone has to make the 3km trekking with torches to get to the peak. At the rim, there will be a sign saying: “It is forbidden the entrance of visitors – danger”. Clearly, the organisation which operates at the area releases itself of any responsibility from that point onwards. It is up to you. We decided to carry on and after about 1 hour descending the crater, we were finally in. The smell of sulphur and the toxic gases constantly eliminated by the volcano makes you dizzy and visitors are strongly advised to wear breathing masks.
When sun rises, it is possible to observe the volcano’s beauty: enormous rocks of different colours, the path of lava formed in some parts, an acid turquoise lake (actually, the most acid lake in the world which is capable of destroying a whole car within a few minutes). All the scenery makes you feel ecstatic.
Nonetheless, it wasn’t the incomparable beauty of Ijen which caught our attention, but the 300 mine workers’ hard job collecting sulphur from it. These men go up and down the volcano twice a day carrying about 80kg of sulphur on their shoulders each time. The sulphur is sold by kilo, being 1000 Rupiahs/Kilo (less than US$0,10). It is a very poor paid job considering the high risks which the workers are exposed to, albeit quite above the Indonesian average salary of about US$100.
The atmosphere is extremely toxic and the smoke never ceases. The great majority of the men do not wear masks and you hear the constant coughing and groaning coming from some of them whenever the smoke takes over their bodies.
Some of the gaseous sulphur expelled from the crater goes down through ceramic tubes constructed over there and becomes liquid. Fast enough, the sulphur condensates and the miners begin the hard activity of breaking the material, putting into baskets, balancing it over their shoulders, climb up to the rim, put it into a two wheel barrel and bring down the 3km of dirty road. Many of them work 7 days a week, all year long in order to bring to the world the sulphur used for cosmetics, medicines, fertilisers, gunpowder, clarify our sugar, amongst many other things.
How to get to Ijen
The majority of people arrive from the cities nearby to Ijen (Anyuangi for example) and book a tour through an agency. A pack will cost up to 350k Rupiahs (US$25) with the entrance of the park included in the price. A car comes to pick you up at midnight at your hotel and a guide will do the trekking with you. When you finish it, the car will be there waiting to take you back to the hotel.
Now, if you are not very kin on the guided tours, there is a much nicer and cheaper way to visit the volcano: rent a motorbike (US$2,50/day) and go on your own. Only few travellers know, but it’s possible to free camp at the bottom of the mountain. The place is full of locals, who arrive there at about 7pm, making bonfire and waiting until the time to go up the mountain. They are all very nice and you will surely have a good time with new friends.
The entrance for the volcano costs 100,000 Rupiahs for foreigners (US$7,50) and 5,000 Rupiahs (US$0,4) for locals. On weekends and holidays the price is raised to 150,000 Rupiahs (US$11) for foreigners and 10,000 Rupiahs (US$0,8) for locals. In case you choose the second option, keep in mind the price for parking as well of 5,000 Rupiahs (US$0,4).