Mt. Ijen: Huge Bite

We arrived into Bali early after our flight from Makassar to spend the day in the town of Kuta where we strolled along the busy high street filled with souvenir shops, ate our weight in frozen yoghurt (no regrets) and wandered up and down the beach filled with trainee surfers. That night we returned to the Malaysian street food lady we had found the night before we flew out to Sulawesi to enjoy more of her amazing homemade food. We got an early night and packed our bags in preparation for our morning journey.

The bus and boat from Bali across to neighbouring Java was a long and uncomfortable journey. En route we met Remi, our new French friend who we would travel most of Java with. First stop for the three of us was the small coastal town of Banyuwangi where we would spend a day before climbing up to nearby Mt Ijen. Our initial plan was to head straight to Ijen town so we searched for local transport to take us there. We came across a taxi driver named Harry who said we could stay at his house in Banyuwangi free of charge so long as we used him as a taxi for our journey to Ijen. At first we were sceptical and asked if instead he would take us straight to Ijen from Banyuwangi that night, which he said he would. On arrival into Ijen there was no room at any guesthouses so we had little other choice but to go back to Banyuwangi and sleep at Harry’s. We got a big bowl of steaming hot noodles made by Harry’s lovely wife and set up our ‘bed’ of a rug on a tiled floor.

With aching backs the next morning we headed out for the day with Harry’s son who took us to the nearby black sand beach. If you ignored the amount of litter and restaurants set up right on the beach it was a nice place to be, the black sand glistened and we looked out to views of Bali. We decided to find our own patch of sand and managed to find a secluded spot where we killed a few hours. On the way back to Harry’s we stopped at a shop to purchase face masks as we’d been told it’s difficult to breath at the top of the mountain due to the sulphur mine. That night the three of us played some cards and enjoyed more home cooked food at Harry’s before getting a couple of hours sleep as we set off to Ijen at midnight.

The journey from Banyuwangi to the starting point of the trek took just over an hour and as we got out of the car at the ticket post we were all shivering with the cold. The walk itself was very steady and easy taking us just under an hour. The further up the volcano we walked the hotter and smellier it got. We arrived at the crater rim and were greeted by the sight of blue flames glowing around the sulphur mine at the bottom of the crater. Apparently the blue flames we saw are down to a chemical reaction with the sulphur and the heat and the cold air, something that is seen at only two volcanoes in the world. The three of us climbed down into the crater rim, the face masks came in handy at this point and we sat watching the blue flames glow. Steam was pumping out of the rocks in typical volcano style and the yellow sulphur was obvious in both smell and sight. It was a very surreal place to be.

At this point it was about 4.30am, a time when most people are tucked up in bed but here at Mt Ijen miners would climb the walk up to the crater rim and down into the sulphur mine to extract huge lumps of sulphur every morning. They have two baskets connected by a stick which they balance on their shoulders, in these baskets they carry up to 100kg of the bright yellow rock (that’s over three times the weight of our rucksacks combined) which they take down to the nearby town. One miner we spoke to said he was carrying 85kg that morning which he would sell for 70,000 Indonesian Rupiah, equivalent to £3.50. He would go up and down from the mine twice in a day. I’ll think of those miners the next time I feel I’m having a bad day at work.

Once we’d climbed out of the crater we walked further round the crater rim to get a good view at sunrise. As the view before us started to come into light it was hard to process everything that appeared before us. We were surrounded on all sides by a lush green landscape which stopped abruptly where we were stood, the crater fell away in different shades of greys and the best way I can think to describe it is that it looked as if someone had taken a huge bite out of the earth and we were staring right down into the middle of it. At the bottom of the crater sat an intensely turquoise lake, at the side of which was the bright yellow sulphur mine steaming away across the view. Behind us was the Orange glow of sunrise and infront was Mt Ruang churning out a huge thick ash cloud as it is currently erupting (the one that shut the airports.) It was a very busy scene of spectacular sights making it difficult to process all that I was seeing. I chose to stand and take it all in whilst Chris and Remi ran around the crater rim like excitable children.




Once we were satisfied that we’d made the most of Mt Ijen we made our way back down to the town, something that took me a while as my knees are still suffering from the Rinjani trek, this did give me opportunity to watch everyone else rush past me and slip over on the loose gravel, including Chris and Remi. A slow but entertaining walk for me! We picked up our rucksacks from Harry’s and said our fair wells, then headed for the bus station. Our next destination is the town of Probolinggo from which we will head to Mt Bromo for more volcano adventuring. Unfortunately for everyone else on the bus we were three very sleepy and sulphurous smelling people!

Until next time.

P.S. Video added to Rinjani blog!

One thought on “Mt. Ijen: Huge Bite

  1. Another amazing experience for you and very sobering to think about how those poor sulphur miners have to make their living. Makes you realise how lucky you are!
    Take care both of you, all this volcano trekking is very daring


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