Disclaimer: It was incredibly difficult to take pictures under the volcano’s complete darkness, so most of them came out blurry. No pictures have been edited and no filter was used. This is exactly how we saw it.
For the next 3 days, we decided to get a tour that will take us to Kawa Ijen, Mt. Bromo and get dropped off at Surabaya. This is not a touristy route at all but we decided we wanted to explore the real Indonesia and not only the 5 star resorts in Bali.
We got woken up by our driver that was taking us to the ferry terminal; he came 1.5 hours early without notice because it is a holiday that day so we needed to avoid traffic. The customer service at our hotel was wonderful and they packed up our breakfast for us to take it to go. After 5 hours driving we finally made it to the ferry that will cross the strait of Bali into Java, the biggest island of Indonesia. Eitan slept the entire drive but Sarah decided to take in the beauty of Bali one more time observing all the towns, rice fields, tropical forests and culture that we drove through. We were the only western tourists on the ferry as it shows how not touristy the rest of Indonesia is.
The ferry takes 15 minutes to cross but it always needs to wait about an hour for an empty dock. That’s what I call third world efficiency. One of the same ferries we took sank 5 days ago killing 71 people, you can see the shipwrecked from there, but we are glad our driver didn’t tell us about it until after we arrived safely. Don’t worry we don’t need to take that ferry again!
After docking it took us another 20 minutes to get to the restaurant where we would have lunch (again, we were the only ones there) and we got dropped off at this unexpectedly amazing resort hotel where we would sleep only 3 hours. We decided to utilize the resort as much as possible so relaxed by the pool for a bit and a delicious dinner at the hotel restaurant. Eitan got a 4 dollar steak!
We woke up at 12:00 am in order to reach the crater of Ijen Volcano to see the famous Blue Fire. Our 1 hour drive with our maniac driver in the pitch darkness was really scary; he could be a really good Rally pilot though.
We finally got to the hike entrance where we met our local guide Madi, he guided us all the way to the crater and provided us with gas masks so we didn’t die, he was so patient with us and showed us very carefully where to step.
We hiked 3 very, very, very steep kilometers in complete darkness with only our headlamps to the rim of the creater, doing this at 2:00 am doubled the difficulty. Most Indonesian people doing the same hike were smoking cigarettes which can only be explained by their iron lungs.
After reaching the rim there is another 45 minutes of going down into the bank of the crater, this is where we started to see these incredible miners carrying around 80 kg (175 lbs) of sulphur. They do this trip twice a day to sell the sulphur they gather for around $13 a day and they don’t really use gas masks. I assume their life expectancy is really short as you can see all of them coughing like crazy and do not look healthy. Next time you think your job is hard, remember these workers.
We felt we entered a national geographic photo, or another planet or the end of the world. We slowly reached the bottom of the crater and got our gas masks from our guide to be protected from the sulfuric toxic fumes. During the walk down Sarah had thoughts of why on earth is she doing this but I guess this is the gift and curse of marrying Eitan Nudel (we got legally married exactly one year ago today!). This is a picture of all we could see at the crater, the only lights where from the headlamps of miners and other guides. You can see the blue fire on the middle-left of this picture.
We got rewarded by one of the most amazing and unique natural sights this planet has to offer. Ijen’s Blue Fire, during the night this active volcano’s toxic flames get ignited and with the combination of the surrounding sulphur, the flames look blue. The flames can be up to 5 m (16 ft.) high. We couldn’t stay too much time as the gases are so powerful it burns your eyes and the gas masks start becoming ineffective, our throats and lungs started to burn and our visibility got to almost zero. Surprisingly our guide thought we would want to stay for another hour and we said we were ready to be out!
Escaping volcanic gases are channelled through a network of ceramic pipes (picture bellow), resulting in condensation of molten sulfur. The sulfur, which is deep red in color when molten, pours slowly from the ends of these pipes and pools on the ground, turning bright yellow as it cools.
The miners break the cooled material into large pieces and carry it away in baskets.
You can see this miner making sulphur souvenirs by melting the sulphur into some very cheese heart shape molds. I’m assuming every Indonesian girl would want a sulphuric heart for Valentines Day.
We climbed back up, but now the smoke was covering the whole crater making it extremely difficult to see, breath or move. Usually people stay there until sunrise, but the conditions were very toxic; it looks like a post-apocalyptic scene, sulfuric smoke giving us a visibility of no more than 5 feet, everybody using gas masks, people passing out on the side of the trail, people coughing. We decided to head back and live a few more years instead.
When we were around half way though the way back, we finally were able to remove our gas masks and we were able to see the beauty of the other volcanos surrounding Ijen, the view was stunning. You could tell we were one of the few white tourists when two Indonesian guys asked to take a photo with Sarah.
We were super tired but still couldnt resist the guides recommendation to visit this waterfall on the way back to the hotel.
After a quick stop we were on our way eat breakfast at the hotel. This was a large buffet all sorts of bizarre and authentic Indonesian breakfast foods which we got try. We then packed up and got to sleep another 5 hours in the car until we reached our hotel at Mt. Bromo. The first hotel spoiled us and we were hoping for another unexpected surprise of a fancy hotel but this one was probably our first hotel of the trip that has more so-called hostel standards but is still quite cozy and cute as it is nestled in the mountains of Bromo.
Bonus photo of the day: Sarah being reminded what happens when you marry Eitan. Sometimes you need to wake up at 1 am to hike an active volcano to see an amazing sight. In this photo Sarah is clearly having a great day!