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.
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.
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.
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.
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.