A magical blue fire on the edge of a turquoise lake, lighting up the dark night. Workers with huge yellow chunks of sulfur making their way through rocky paths. A lake that experts call the largest acid barrel in the world and breathing masks to protect against the acrid sulfur vapor. An adventure that has it all, but is one of the greatest memories of our travels so far.
We started our tour to the Ijen massif in the town of Ketapang, which is located on the coast of Bali. Theoretically, you could also explore the massif on your own, but we opted for a guided tour. We moved into our room in a hotel, let the evening end comfortably and early, we had admired the sunrise at Gunung Bromo this morning. And also this night should become short again, because already at 01:00 o'clock at night we waited for our pick-up. With about half an hour delay our driver arrived and we got into an already full minibus. After 1.5 hours of driving on winding roads, we reached the Paltuding parking lot with a slightly queasy stomach, which was also the starting point of our hike. For all those who travel themselves, you can simply park your car here.
After a short refreshment with cookies, bananas and tea, we were equipped with breathing masks and flashlights. We started with a few other tourists and a guide the way up to the Ijen massif. This first meandered flat through forested area until it wound uphill in narrow switchbacks. Partly there were many people on the way and some let themselves be pulled up the mountain with carts by the locals. Which is extremely absurd in our eyes! The higher and closer we got to the crater, the more intense the acrid sulfur smell became. Thanks to the breathing masks, we were able to get through the last part unharmed. After almost 1.5 hours of walking, the narrow path led around the ridge and we were standing at the apex. If you continue straight you will reach the crater rim with great views of the lake and the crater valley. However, it was still dark, so we turned left first, down to the lake. The blue fire is hardly visible during the day, for this reason the tours start in the middle of the night. But beware, from here on it becomes dangerous. The path leads steeply downhill over boulders. In addition, there is constant oncoming traffic, people pushing their way to the front and the workers who, in the tumult of the tourists, transport their fragile goods out of the maw of the volcano. There were quite a few people on the way and so the chain of lights snaked down into the depths in the darkness.
Once down on the shore of the lake, we finally saw the blue fire and any effort was forgotten. However, the lights are not visible throughout and we had to be a bit patient to spot them. Again, we must appeal to your common sense, some of the visitors left the trails during our stay and went right near the danger spot. The fire miracle is caused by escaping sulfur gases that ignite in the air, because the Ijen volcano is one of the 38 active volcanoes on Java. If you let your eyes wander a bit, you will notice the pipes at the bottom. Here, sulfur escapes in gaseous form, is cooled by the pipes, and is deposited on the earth's surface. Later, the workers can transport it away in large chunks. This form of sulfur mining is only found on Java in the world. It is one of the toughest jobs in the world, as the sulfur workers descend into the crater several times a day to bring their baskets, weighing up to 100 kilograms on their shoulders, to the surface. Compared to the effort and the dangers the workers are exposed to from the escaping toxic gases, the earnings sound downright ridiculous, as for one kilogram the workers receive about 900 rupiah, or a few cents!
After some time in the crater valley and admiring this unique scenery, we went all the way back up to the crater rim, because we wanted to watch the sunrise over the lake. We were traveling with a guide, however there was no sign of him far and wide, which made us a little nervous. Since they didn't give us a time, we didn't even know when we should be back. But what could happen we thought to ourselves, left our worries to the left and enjoyed the sunrise, which made the turquoise acid barrel glow. It was magical. Up here on the crater rim, we first became aware of the size of the volcano. Descending into its crater, we had been unable to get an overview of the extent of Fire Mountain and the size of the acid lake due to the darkness. Both exceeded any imagination. We enjoyed the panorama, the atmosphere, the colors and the warming rays of the sun on our skin. After some time we discovered our guide, who was apparently also happy to have found us. He just told us that it was time to go back.
Fully arrived at the bus we were driven back to our hotel. Here we had a rich breakfast. As mentioned at the beginning, the hike to the crater was an adventure that had it all in itself, but also an unforgettable memory that is one of the highlights of our Indonesia trip, as well as our travels in general! For us it went after the exciting night with the ferry further to Bali. You can find the exact departure times in our blog transfer. A relaxing day at the sea in Pemuteran and a beautiful accommodation of a German owner were waiting for us!
A small note about our booked tour. We had actually booked a tour that includes only 8 people per guide, because we had also hoped for some nice background information. However, it was already clear to us at the starting point that this will not be the case here. There were about 25 people on 2 guides, so you might as well hire a private driver and explore the Ijen massif on your own. The gas masks were quite necessary though.