The Volcanic Wonders of East Java

Indonesia is pretty famous for its volcanoes.

As some readers may have noticed in my previous posts, I like a good volcano (except for when they are unleashing mass terror and devastation upon local populations, of course).

A couple of hours east of Surabaya, Indonesia’s traffic choked and just generally unpleasant 2nd city, lies Mount Bromo. On our first trip to Indonesia, in January 2011, Bromo was erupting. I remember being blown away by two Dutch guys we met in Yogyakarta and the images they captured of a truly amazing spectacle of nature. When we visited in July 2014, Bromo remained active, spewing out gas, but it was safe enough for us to stand on the rim of its crater. This was our coolest volcanic experience yet, as the morning sun rose to reveal other worldly views of the National Park.

After Bromo, we headed to Kawah Ijen. We first learned of this fascinating place on David Attenborough’s Human Planet Series in 2010. From the moment we first saw it, we told ourselves “We have to go there one day”, and so we did. It was a long, hot and bumpy journey from Bromo, and we were less than impressed when we arrived at our guesthouse, if you can call it that. It was grim, and there was nothing in the surrounding area. It was back to basics!

Ijen is famed for its sulphur miners, local men who make the arduous trek up, down, back up, and then down the side of the crater every day, carrying 70-80kg of Sulphur on their backs, at presumably great cost to their health, for a few dollars a day, and have done so for generations. We were under no illusions, life out here was tough and brutal, despite the stunning surroundings. Workers from surrounding coffee plantations were trucked around as if they were cattle on the back of lorries. We thanked our lucky stars that we were born British.

We woke up at 12:30am for our hike to the summit, and then down into the crater to see first-hand the blue sulphur flames that burn brightly at night. It was a tough slog up, and waking at such a ridiculous hour wasn’t exactly our favourite thing ever, but fortunately the hike up to the crater was better than we could ever have expected. There was a full-moon, which illuminated the surrounding valleys and mountain tops, like nothing I’ve ever seen before, it was utterly stunning. It made the wholly inappropriate start time, awful “guesthouse” room, dinner, and exhausting trek up seem that bit more worth it.

As we walked into the crater, the smell of the toxic sulphur became noxious, and burned our throats and lungs. By the time we’d walked down, we wanted to get out again! We then waited for the sun to rise over the ocean and Bali to the east, and looked down to the west, and the turquoise lake and surrounding countryside that was now visible below us. And then we walked down and back to Surabaya to extend our visa. All before 8am. Productive hey?!

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