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One trip to hell… and back: Ijen Crater, Java, Indonesia

It’s time to go down to what some consider to be hell on earth. An active volcano that spits sulfur from its guts and is the source of income of many families living in this East Java region.

This is it. We’re going to enter an active volcano, dangerous, and we are paying for it… These people do it every day for years and years. Who are we to complain for even a second?

We read a lot about this crater before visiting it, but nothing could prepare us for what we were about to experience.

At 1AM, there was a driver picking us up from the guesthouse where we stayed the night before to take us to the starting point of our climbing at the base of the volcano. So far, so good. It’s just another guided tour that happens to start earlier than usually. We are going to hell and hopefully back.

As soon as we reached the base we spotted a couple of other groups of tourists, all ready, each on its own way, to climb the crater. It’s about 3 km distance and 500 metres up till we reach the top.

Going up wasn’t the easiest task and I have to admit that the few beers we’ve had the previous night with a couple of Australians we’d met didn’t help. We were sweating like pigs.

On the way up, they told us we should rent gas masks to help us protect from the smoke we would experience on the way down the crater. What are you going to do? Save a couple of bucks and not rent it before descending a volcano crater?  You have to do it.

The climb is very steep and the ash on the ground does not help breathing. On top of that, it’s completely dark. Each one has it’s own flashlight and own pace. Some faster than others, eventually, everybody reached the top .

Once on the top, the hardest part is over and the dangerous one is about to start. The descent by itself is kind of vertiginous and the path we have to take is very rough and narrow. It seems like some rocks can get loose at any time. It’s around 700 metres until we can finally reach the famous blue lake. As soon as we start going down, we start seeing the porters coming up the crater with baskets full with solid sulfur.

Ijen Crater-8

These porters are real life heroes. Them and those who are at the bottom of the crater breaking the sulfur into smaller stones with a chisel and a hammer. The porters carry up to 120 kg of sulfur in two baskets on the extremities on a wooden stick they carry on their shoulders. GUYS: We’re talking of carrying 100kg of stone (average), twice a day, for 700m through an incredible steep and dangerous path, full with rocks that can get loose at any time and where any simple lapse can be fatal. Some of these porters don’t bother wearing any masks and on top of it, they do it while smoking…

So we have to wear masks and they, that have to do all the hard work carrying 100kg of stone,do it while smoking and laughing? We are officially weak.

We continued our descent until we reached the bottom of the the crate where we can finally see the blue flames. The masks, the smoke and the enthusiasm we were feeling didn’t allow us to realise how close we were to the blue waters of the lake. Even with our masks on, we couldn’t breath properly and we couldn’t see properly. The intense smell of the sulfur gets to our noses and lungs and as we could check a couple of weeks later, is sticks to our clothes almost permanently.

Ijen Crater-1

Ijen Crater-5

Ijen Crater-2

We could hear the volcano roaring right under our feet. At some point, a blast of wind brought the smoke right on top of me and even with the mask my reflex was to cover my face under my jumper. The smoke is really strong and these guys spend hours after hours breaking stone for the porter to carry up. One minute of more intense smoke and I was getting worried, wandering lost in a couple of square metres, thinking I got lost from Magda… We stayed there for about 30 minutes trying to figure out how the whole process develops.

Ijen Crater-6

Ijen Crater-7

It was time to go up. The Australians were long gone and it was time to share our way up along with the porters. Our guide, always very cool explained us that even though that was indeed a very hard job, it was much better paid than any other job in that region. He was happy that he had a small group of tourist to guide that day but he knew that the following day he would be back to carrying stone up the crater. He, a porter himself, spoke a couple of sentences in English and that allowed him to be a guide every other day instead of his regular day job.

Only when we were almost back to the top of the crater, we could finally see the blue lake below and how close we were from it. The dark night night and the smoke didn’t allow us to realise how close we were from it.

Only now that the sun was rising, we could finally have a clear view of the place we were just in.

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

The porters don’t stop carrying sulfur.

The way up, by itself it’s not easy and all I could think of was those guys doing that twice a day with 100kg of stone in their shoulders.

     

Even though the whole experience took us no longer than 5 hours, those are moments we will keep in our memories for a long time. An extraordinary experience for us. An adventure we highly recommend to anyone with the chance of living it.

Renato

17 comments

  1. Great pics and it seems really interesting but I don’t know if I could handle the smell! I would like to visit one day.

  2. Such an amazing adventure! I feel sorry for the porters trying to make ends meet by doing such a dangerous job!

  3. Hi Alex. True. As we mention on the post, these guys are true heroes.

  4. Thanks for sharing, I really enjoyed reading your story! 🙂 Did the descent down feel dangerous? I’d love to visit, but have visions of toppling down into a volcano now…!

  5. Hi Emily.The descent felt a bit dangerous nothing you can’t do with with a bit of extra attention.

  6. Wooow you guys must be daredevils, because I will never have the guts to do this!

  7. What an interesting experience! The porters sound like absolute heroes! 🙂

  8. Wow! What a cool adventure. Those porters are amazing. Not sure I’d want to do that. Glad to experience through you.

  9. Wow, its crazy they let people and tourists near there!

  10. Parabéns!! Este passeio é somente para os fortes. Com certeza serão momentos que vocês lembraram para sempre. E os carregadores, sempre com um sorriso no rosto. Beijo =)

  11. Que experiência tremenda! Acho que eu sentiria um bocado de medo nesse lugar, ainda mais indo à noite! E que heróis mesmo são esses trabalhadores que passam todos os seus dias em meio ao cheiro de enxofre!
    Parabéns pelo post! Um beijo.

  12. é preciso ter coragem daquelas 🙂 mas acho que arriscaria, não saberás quando vais ter uma oportunidade destas. Já subi vulcões mas adormecidos, inclusivé subi um já tarde e depois para descer tivemos uma grande sorte pois o segurança deu-nos boleias de moto 4 pois já era de noite 😛

    Obrigada pela partilha!

  13. Que experiência incrível!! Deve ser muito duro, mesmo. Mas no fim vale a pena! 🙂
    Mas deixa-nos mesmo a pensar nas condições em que trabalham aqueles homens. E sempre com um sorriso na cara. Que força!

  14. Uau! Que experiência incrível! Não é para qualquer um não! Parabéns!
    Obrigada por compartilhar, pois só mesmo assim eu teria conhecimento dessa aventura incrível.

  15. Uau, que aventura incrível! Não sei se eu conseguiria fazer o mesmo, mas deve ser uma experiência fantástica e inesquecível! Parabéns pela coragem 🙂

  16. Wow! Incrível passeio esse. Não fazia ideia que tal existia. Terima kasi! 😉

  17. I’m not sure if I’m daring enough to do all that, but wow that is some rewarding views you got there!

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