Kawah Ijen, The Story of Exploitation behind Exotism

Kawah Ijen Exploration

I decided to stay a little bit longer to explore a less touristy mountain (Mount Ijen 2380 meters above sea level) which is further east of Java Island.

First of all, it’s less touristy because it’s hard to get to. I would recommend you follow closely to what is advised in your typical guide book (mine’s Lonely Planet) in terms getting there. DO NOT try to go there by public transport, other than the fact that you probably can’t, you really don’t want to get lost in the middle of nowhere.

The road towards Mount Ijen is not one of the nicest roads you could experience, in fact it may be one of the worst – So your travel time can be tripled because the car has to drive at snail pace.

Kawah Ijen Road Sign

Ok so I’ve mentioned all the bad things, do I think it was worth it? You betcha, When you finally reached the top it was like another world. A massive crater on top of the volcano (which famous as Kawah Ijen), inside the crater surrounds a lake of sulphuric acid.

Unless you really love a hike, getting up the Ijen isn’t the easiest nor the funniest thing to do. It is a 3km hike up of rubbles, gravel, and dirt-path. At some point the incline was 45degrees. If you do plan to do this, definitely grab yourself a pair of hiking boots.

Local Sulphur Miners at Kawah Ijen

While hiking up I was fascinated by the number of local people carrying 40 kg basket (locals told me up to 70kgs) of sulphur up and down the mountain (I guess I shouldn’t be complaining huh?). When you see these hardworking people, make sure you buy souvenir (nicely crafted sulphur in the shape of animals) of them as I was told they only make USD 4 a day.

Sulphur Miners taking materials everyday

Well, calling them orcs is unkind to the Javanese who are doing “the worst job one can get on Java” (the phrase is from a guide). Consider: going up a steep mountain path ascending 550 m with two empty baskets, going down into Ijen crater descending maybe 150 m, filling your baskets with pure sulfur rocks amid the fumes, carrying up to 70 kg of sulfur out of the crater – don’t lose your footing or you’re done for – and then downhill the mountain path; all for IDR 600 per kg (October 2009). And there are some who do two of these trips in one day! Their shoulders are quite numb and callous.

The crater of Ijen(Kawah Ijen) looks beautiful. It has a wonderful color (turquoise) and feels magical. If you look at my pictures (yes, look carefully), you can see the tiny people are standing around a massive crater. It’s smoke (because of the sulphur) told us that the volcano is active. You can go down to the crater but I suggest not to because it can be dangerous.

The beautiful color (turqouise) of Kawah Ijen

A French tourist fell down the crater some time ago!!! But if you do decide to go make sure it’s before noon! As it approaches noon the sulphuric cloud gets bigger and bigger. Don’t fall into the trap of being down there when then cloud hits you. It is NOT pleasant

The beautiful (turquoise blue) crater of Kawah Ijen

The volcanic cone of Ijen dominates the landscape at the eastern end of Java. Crater of Ijen is filled by a spectacular turquoise blue lake, its surface streaked in wind-blown patterns of yellow sulphur.

Kawah Ijen is the world’s largest highly acidic lake and is the site of a labor-intensive sulfur mining operation in which sulfur-laden baskets are hand-carried from the crater floor.

Many other post-caldera cones and craters are located within the caldera or along its rim. The largest concentration of post-caldera cones forms an E-W-trending zone across the southern side of the caldera. Coffee plantations cover much of the Ijen caldera floor, and tourists are drawn to its waterfalls, hot springs, and dramatic volcanic scenery.

Kawah Ijen at Night

Kawah (crater) Ijen can be reached from either the east or the west. The latter is the more popular approach, since the climb from the road’s end to the edge of the lake is only one and a half hours. The road from Banyuwangi, on the other hand, involves a six to seven hour trek from the village of Licin. The western route starts from Wonosari, a few kilo-meters outside Bondowoso, the town famous for its bull fights. A narrow road, full of potholes, runs east and up from Wonosari, rapidly deteriorating into bone shaking loose rock and gravel. Seemingly endless hairpin bends ascend into forests of Casuarinas (cemara) trees, giving way to pine forests and coffee plantations. The temperature drops. At night, near the crater rim, it can fall to about 5 degrees celcius. The road ends at Jampit, where very basic shelter is available. It is also possible to sleep in the old volcanologist station further up the hill near Kawah Ijen, now the station is used by sulphur collectors, but permission must be obtained in advance.

By Hara C.

(Copywriter at Visitingjava.com)

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