Kawah Ijen

by Pippin Barry – Australia

Sulphurous gas fills the air, we gasp for breath, the chalky soil slides under our feet and we tumble towards the acid lake. Welcome to Kawah Ijen one of the natural wonders of Java. This Volcano formed a crater lake that turned a chemical blue due to sulphur deposits. Pasquelle and I have taken the trip to see this marvel and explore the local area. But before we get our brush with fate on the edge of the crater, we should go back to how we got there in the first place.

Kawah Ijen was one of the few places I knew about before I came to Indonesia. Its bright blue aura can be seen from satellite photos on Google Maps. We left from Surabaya early Monday morning taking the bus to Probolingo. Pas and I are on the second page of the Java Post or Jawa Pos this morning and we get a few looks from people riding along – so famous! We get out of the bus and find ourselves at the local tour operators. We join a bunch of frenchies, in a beat up Toyota, who have just come from Bromo Mountain.

The car makes it way around the coast and we are treated to some nice views of the oceans surrounding Java. We stop at a seafood restaurant and I eat some good calimari. Europeans are the stingiest travellers ever and everyone at the table is complaining that they have to pay 20,000 Rupiahs for nasi goreng (about $1.30 euro) instead of 10,000. The restaurant is a nice place and right next to the ocean so I order before they can ask to leave.

Back in the car it is another two hours before we reach the arabika homestay. This small complex was a great place to stay for a two nights. The people at the hotel can’t understand that we want to stay for two nights since they are so used to people just staying one!

On Tuesday we walk into the little village down from the hotel and order some nasi pecel. All the kids in the town shout out “hello mister” as we walk past. Afterwards we walk up the hill to get a better look at Kawah Ijen which we plan to climb tomorrow morning. In the afternoon we walk down to the strawberry farm but are disappointed to find we can’t go in. That night we meet a Dutch guy who has been studying in Yogya for six months. Its cool to meet someone else who has been in Indonesia for a while instead of people who are just passing through.

In the morning we wake up at 4:30 and it is freezing!!! We huddle around the tea pot waiting for a cup, as a our bread turns to toast in the toaster next to us. We pile into the car and drive up the mountain to the start of the trek. We pile out and start a brisk walk up the slope. It is pretty hard going but we are all motivated to heat our bodies up. Due to my athletic accomplishments as a half marathon runner I find this relatively easy while Pas struggles and slows me down.

We make it to the crater before the sun has rise or matahari sudah terbit and it is a sight to behold. The sulphur smoke blocks our view of the lake but the crater edge looks like the surface of the moon. We find the path and begin our descent. The smoke shifts in the wind and we catch glimpses of the bright blue water as we meander down the steep slope. The ground is chalky and covering in yellow sulphur dust. Directly below us is the sulphur vent from which men are collecting huge chunks of sulphur to drag down the mountain.

We continue until we reach the vent where we observe the process of collection. One man continues to throw water on the pipes to keep them cool – I enquire as to why – “it stops them cracking,” he replies. We venture past the smoke cloud that blocks our view and come out on the lake edge.

The genius of mother nature lies in her ability to surprise. The poisonous sulphur has created the most blue lake I have ever seen. Sitting on the shore of the still water I marvel at the uniqueness of the setting – feeling certain I have never been in a place like this at all. Photos fail to show the rarity of the colours of this space – the yellow of the sulphur rock, the blue of the lake. We sit and watch as the sun gradually peeks over the tip of the crater and enlightens the other side of the lake. It continues to advance as the sulphur fumes drift back and forth slave to the wind.

After two hours we begin our retreat down the mountain and back to Surabaya. The trip to Ijen was a fantastic experience that will stay with me. I highly recommend the experience to anyone who is looking to be inspired by the variety of nature our planet offers.

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