Java Day 7 – Ijen volcano and its turquoise crater lake

Hiking to the stunning Kawah Ijen volcano rim and its acidic turquoise crater lake was one of our best experiences in Java, Indonesia. We haven’t seen anything fascinating like that before. Chatting with and following one of the local miners working on mining sulphur inside the crater made our experience even more interesting. Kawah Ijen can’t be missed if you’re visiting Java!

Kawah Ijen crater rim with its acid crater lake

Kawah Ijen crater rim with its acid crater lake

It’s 3:40 am when we roll out of the bed. Feeling like zombies we proceed to the ‘restaurant area’ for our included breakfast that consists of 2 white pieces of bread and boiled egg – seems like some sort of joke but looks like it’s not…

Dissapointing breakfast at Catimor Homestay

Dissapointing breakfast at Catimor Homestay

We were really looking forward to leave Catimor Homestay, never see it again and not to go on any more organised trips! If you ever have a chance to visit Ijen – DON’T go for an easy option of organised tour, DON’T stay in Catimor Homestay (other traveller’s feedback) – just organise it yourself (e.g. as a day trip from Banyuwangi) and I can guarantee that you’ll have much more enjoyable Ijen experience!

We set off at after 4:30am (even though meant to at 4am) and after 45 minutes drive on the tour mini-bus we get to the – Pattunding Post – 1.5 km from the summit of Ijen. We’re told to walk on our own to the volcano and be back between 7:30 – 8 am. This is the part we like the most – just left on our own for few hours so we can explore the area on our own terms, without being dictated by others how slow to walk etc.

Morning mist on a trail to the Ijen crater

Morning mist on a trail to the Ijen crater

We hike really fast to the top overtaking flocks of tourists and treating it as refreshing morning workout and it feels like a sweaty pleasure… Trail is very good, taking us constantly up through beautiful, covered in morning mist trees and wooded areas. As we walk up we see rushing down guys that arrived there at 1 am – they just say in a rush that it was nice up there… There are occasional resting points on the way up.

Local miner carrying heavy sulphur rocks from the Ijen crater

Local miner carrying heavy sulphur rocks from the Ijen crater

Finally, we reach local guys walking up with empty baskets (or already down with loaded ones) on their back that they load with yellow sulphur rocks – up to 80 kilos and carry them all the way down every day to sell it and get paid 5.50 8.30 US$ a day!!! What struck us was that most of these guys looked happy, smiley, posing for pictures while doing probably one of the most dangerous and least paid jobs in the world!

One of the local miners met on our hike to the Ijen crater rim

One of the local miners met on our hike to the Ijen crater rim

We start a chat with one of the guys and he happily tells us all about his life and work – very interesting to hear – we feel honoured that he shares that with us. Finally, we reach the most stunning point of the hike to the volcano: turquoise-coloured acid crater lake surrounded by steep and rocky volcano edges – it’s a breathtaking postcard like view!

By the Ijen crater rim

By the Ijen crater rim

At this point we see and feel a white smoke of sulphur coming from near the lake. It makes us laugh when we recall that our tour organiser said that by the time we get to the top there will be nothing but clouds. Instead it’s the most unusual and spectacular view in our lives and no clouds at all – perfectly blue sky!

Sign at the Ijen crater rim warning against going down the crater but many tourists, including Richard ignore it

Sign at the Ijen crater rim warning against going down the crater but many tourists, including Richard ignore it.

The newly met local miner offers to walk with Rich all the way down to the crater and show him how they ‘make’ huge yellow rocks (you don’t need a guide to walk down). With every step down it’s getting steeper and the smell of sulphur is getting stronger – luckily the wind is blowing in opposite direction.

On the way down to the acidic lake of Ijen

On the way down to the acidic lake of Ijen

At the edge of the lake there is an active vent where extremely hot, reddish liquid sulphur is breaking through- it just needs poking with stick through the thin set layer of sulphur. Once it comes out it forms rocky shapes that cools down and turn into yellow colour.

Local 'miner' showing how to get sulphur rocks

Local ‘miner’ showing how to get sulphur rocks

There are many local miner guys working there – preparing baskets full of sulphur to carry all the way back. Most of them aren’t too concerned about inhalation of burning sulphur smoke that’s much stronger down there and don’t wear any masks! There is even a small rest shelter prepared for miners in here.

Sulphur rocks ready to carry for sale

Sulphur rocks ready to carry for sale

To get some extra money some miners are making little sulphur figures by pouring the hot liquid sulphur in various shapes plastic forms or directly in cold water and cooling them down.

Local guy making figures from liquid sulphur to sell to tourists

Local guy making figures from liquid sulphur to sell to tourists

After a long photo session Rich comes back – small pollution mask he used turns out to be very useful. Surprising was that many other tourist weren’t too concerned about breathing in some sulphur smoke… As a thank you Rich gives to the miner 50 000 IDR – a day of salary for some miners in here… we feel really sorry for the hard work these poor guys and doing here. It makes us think how lucky we are.

Inside the Ijen crater

Inside the Ijen crater

We’re really happy that we included Ijen in our trip around Java – it’s a fascinating place to see and one of our favorite during this Java trip.

Baskets full of sulphur rocks

Baskets full of sulphur rocks

When we got back our mini-bus wasn’t ready to leave yet… again 30 minutes delay. On the way to ferry in Banyuwangi I ask our driver about a visit to coffee plantations that was promised as a part of this tour. So he stops for few minutes when we’re passing by one of them. It’s just enough time to take 3 pictures there- it’s far from resembling any tour at all!

Coffee beans

Coffee beans

By this point we’ve already coped with disappointment of this tour and just want to get safely to the public ferry to Bali where we arrive finally…

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