Ijen Crater – A Place to Learn How the Sulfur Miners Working

My East Java trip not only finished after we reached Baluran National Park, Situbondo. After a very hot afternoon, me and my travel partners in crime (I love to call them as that), went inside the car together with our driver, pak Bambang. This time, we will heading to Ijen Crater. Ijen is a volcano complex which is located in 3 villages, Situbondo, Bondowos and Banyuwangi, East Java. To reach Ijen Crater, we chose the road from Paltuding, which lead us to an Industry Forest area owned by Perhutani (Government Company).

 

Before arrived in Paltuding, we took our lunch in Rawon Bik Atik, a huge restaurant which I thought the price will be expensive for our pockets. Later on, with meat on our meals, it cost only Rp. 18.000,- (USD 1,8)/portion, that’s quite cheap!, considering the place is looked so luxury and huge restaurant for a budget traveler as us. While we ate, a friend of mine suggest us to better go to Menjangan Island, West of Bali, rather than continue to Ijen Crater – the idea came because we were in the end of East Java and very close to reach Bali (west part). The idea sounded so good, so I tried to google some information about Menjangan Island. Well, later on, we thought it’s kind of impossible to go to Menjangan Island now, maybe later – the hotel in Menjangan is out of our budget and we supposed to go to diving if we visit to Menjangan, cause the area more famous for diving. We closed the discussion and back to our previous plan, Ijen Crater.

 

Arrived in Ijen Crater around 7 pm. We feel the weather is went to be so cold. I think it’s around 9 degrees. Glad that I brought my thick jacket and I put gloves and socks to against the coldness. Now we need to find a place to stay for tonight – we haven’t booked any room in advance. Suddenly a local guy approached us, his name is Imam – later on, he became our guide to Ijen Crater. He told us the Crater actually closed to public by the government because the status is standby. But the “standby” status already declared since year ago, and the local need to search for money for living, that’s why they still open the “warung” (what we called for a place which served meals & coffee) – and some guides still around to offer their services to guest. We also still need to pay for the entry ticket to the local – because official government office closed as well in Ijen.

 

We talked to him that we were looking for a room to stay. And he told us that probably we can sleep in the Office hall – it’s a big blank room with thin old carpet and dusty everywhere – but who can feel or see the dust in such a dark room with weather on 9 degrees? – electricity there already went off since 7 pm – which make us to sleep in the dark and need to use our flashlight if we wanna go to the toilet. Water is almost emptied, since they need to buy the fresh water from downhill – it’s a humble area, so don’t expect much. The idea to go to toilet was such a torturing activity to do with that such cold night. We need to go together (women) – since it’s quite spooky without any lamp on the street.

 

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We slept around 9 pm and need to wake up again at 1 am. 1.30 am was the time for us to hike to the mountain. I tried to sleep next to my friend, but he turned up to snoring a lot – which I can’t stand on it. I have such a bad mood if I can’t get proper sleep, and this coldness, loud voices of snoring – really made my night felt so terrible. I just wish 1 am already came and we can start to hike to the mountain. I can’t sleep at all no matter how hard I tried.

 

Finally a knock on our door woke us up – pak Imam, our guide, stand there and told us “it’s the time,” – with sleepy eyes, we prepared our stuff and belongings. I remembered a friend told me that she also want to hike the Crater, we did the communication moments ago, but since I arrived in Ijen, I can’t contact her anymore because my signal was lost. While in the parking area – the last stop for us to park our car and go start to hike the mountain, I tried my luck by calling her name – in case probably she was there and listen to my call. And yes, she did! She replied my calling, “Dea?!” Wooohooo, what such a good coincidence! The more the merrier, right? She also with a french couple – who they just met and shared the room together to cut the price.

 

So here we were, together the 10 of us hiked the Mountain. Ijen Crater is a mountain that lied on 2.799 m (9,183 ft) from the sea surface level. The road already good enough to walk, it’s with asphalt surface. Easy to walk, but quite snaky. Some also lots of sands and gravel – the tortuous road made us easy to be tired. A friend of mine already felt the dizzy and threw up many times because of the elevation effect. It’s very normal if we can’t adapt the elevation, we feel dizzy and sick – thank goodness, I was feeling so fine even lack of sleep. We walked and walk and walk, then arrived around 4 in the morning on the top of the mountain – it felt like never ending walk (good that it actually has an ending!).

 

Ijen Crater is very famous with blue fire that we can see close up enough by going down to the crater. Blue Fire actually a natural fire come from the Crater. Way to the Crater it’s dangerous because of the slippery road, very narrow and so many stones around. Not mention about the very limited space to step because on the other side, it’s a huge cliff waiting on us if we can’t stand firmly. There’s a tourist ever died because of fall from the cliff while she want to take the picture. Yes, it’s dangerous – but worth to try. Just keep focus and you will able to going down and up safely. I only decided few seconds beyond my doubt to going down the Crater. It sounded so scary and I wondered whether I able or not to going down and up again safely. But later on I think – oh well, it’s only once in a lifetime, I should try it and defeat my fears. So from the 10 of us, only 5 who decided to going down, pak Imam (of course, he was our guide), me, Indra, and the French couple (Western always braver and crazier than Asians) – while the others wait on us on the top of the mountain with such a terrible cold atmosphere (oh, not such a good option, actually!).

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It was so sad to see the sulfur miners who try to earn money by taking the sulfur from the Crater to the place where the sulfur being weighing. Usually, the miners break the cooled material into large pieces and carry it away in baskets. They only get paid for Rp. 750,-/kilo – which once they only can lift the sulfur for 100 kilos a way (that’s already such a Hulk!) which is Rp. 75.000,-/100 kilos. The most top they can do is lifted the sulfur twice a day, means if they get it maximum, the will earn money around Rp. 150.000 ($15)/day. Imagine if they have 2 or more kids with a housewife. That’s so sad! Not only it’s such a hard work, they also need to risk their life by going down to the Crater everyday with improper mask. The black smoke of Sulfur can damage their lungs (also for us if we’re going down or being around the crater) – that’s why it’s suggested to wear a proper mask for tourist and avoid the black smoke or going down only in certain time (usually early morning) while the smoke blows to another direction. I heard from the guide, usually miners who work there only able to work for 10 years, they usually use insufficient protection while working around the volcano and die because of the lungs problem – that’s so sad! Especially because the miners don’t have such a proper insurance and medical allowance from the Sulfur company. I wonder what’s government and the company do regarding to this matter – actually sulfur can be used for so many raw industry material – they should get profit from it, it’s just a good moral to take care of their employees/citizen. Pak Imam (the guide) told me, that he has a dream to let the world know about what happened in Ijen Crater – so they can treat the miners better than now (here’s now what I try to fill my promise to him by writing it here).

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Ok, I’m not that strong enough…

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It felt like I was out of breath when I finally able to go up again meet with my friends. It’s already 6 in the morning – so in total, I hiked for 5 hours – before we finally can able to sit on the top of the mountain and enjoy the sunrise, especially when the clouds and fog disappear and showed us the beautiful blueish of a sulfur lake. I sat down seeing the lake and mountain surrounded. The view was so astonishing. I felt terrible tired but also proud of myself because I able to go down to the Crater and now enjoy the beautiful view of God’s creation. I hold my breath and still amazed I could do it. Not to make it sounded so arrogant, but more to grateful.

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We stayed on the top of the mountain until 8 in the morning before went down to the mountain. It was such a shocking view when I saw not only adult who decided to hike this mountain. Also some parents with their kids and some of old people in their 70, walk to the top with their friends – usually are western. Wow, such a good health opa! oma! I declared that day as my epic moment so far. Ijen Crater is so pretty indeed, another gem in the island of Java, a pearl that been neglected and my experience there such one in a million thing I never forget. More than that, I was happy to beating my fears. Ah yes, nothing can’t stop you if you think you can.

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Cheers,
Dea

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