Richard has been working in Indonesia for a year now and his wife Chantal commutes back and forth from their home in Paris. So liking to keep busy Chantal joined the Indonesian Heritage Society which is a group of women who want to preserve Indonesian Heritage. One of the things they do is plan trips so people can see the heritage sites. Our companions were Hazel and Treb, Australians from Tasmania who also were living in Jakarta. Seems Hazel has just become chair of the travel planning committee, so this was kind of a test excursion.
The Itinerary called for a flight to Surabaya Saturday morning, a six hour drive to the hotel, dinner and overnight, then climb the mountain in the morning followed by a six hour drive back to Surabaya arriving back to the hotel about 11:30pm. That was "the plan"
To leave at 4:15am I had to get up at 3:30am, not my favorite type of schedule, especially since I was out late Friday night with some of the people from our Krakatoa trip. We met Hazel & Treb at the airport and the Garuda flight was routine.
In Surabaya we were met by Munadi (Moon) who was to be our guide for the weekend and the driver of our van. We piled in and headed off towards the coast. A while later we passed an area known as the "mud volcano". The story is that a gas exploration well was being drilled, but in order to save money they bypassed some safety measures so when they hit the mud gusher there were no casings to contain it and cap it off so it continues to flow. By the time we passed the site mud had already wiped out ten complete villages and was starting to impede the channel which would cut off fishermen and cargo travel. The driller (a wealthy Indonesian) claims it was caused by an earthquake and so far has avoided any responsibility.
On the way we spotted several places where they were loading rice and grasses onto bicycles. These were then bicycled about to local residents and sold as feed. I can hardly imagine how these guys kept their balance with the high top heavy load, but what they can stack on bicycles and motorbikes never ceases to amaze me. Later we stopped for a while at the beach to see the colorful fishing boats with bamboo pontoons which were beached as it was low tide. Then we stopped at a roadside satnd where the proprietor hacked open a fresh green coconut with his machete and we took turns drinking coconut juice and eating the soft fresh coconut flesh.
This region is primarily agricultural a was filled with small farms growing, coconuts, rice, tobacco, bananas and other cash crops.
Unfortunately as we enjoyed the scenery we neglected to count the cost. Our six hour (by the schedule) turned into a ten and half hour excursion. Instead of arriving late afternoon and watching the sunset from the Mt Ijen Resort we found ourselves winding up the dirt road to the resort after dark. That portion took almost an hour and a half by itself. We debated whether there were more potholes that road. It was close. But eventually we arrived and later ate dinner in a beautiful setting. We were learning about the Indonesian concept of Jam Karat or "rubber time". Time stretches like rubber in this part of the world.
At 5:00am we met Moon and now found out that just getting the Mt Ijen was another hour and half drive. After bouncing and winding down from the resort we proceeded to wind and bounce our way back up the base of Ijen. The hike to the top of the crater was listed as a 3 kilometer hike. Moon told us it took two hours unless we were slow then it took three hours. What he forgot to mention was the 45° incline, but then again it is a mountain. The first two kilometers were a steady climb which I had prepared for by sitting at a desk typing on my computer. Exhausted is a good start at describing yours truly but may not be adequate. There were no markers so we never could tell how far we had climbed until we got to the 2 km waystation and scales. I went by time and wondered how I was going to keep this climb up for three hours. The last kilometer the path leveled off as we wound around the side of the mountain eventually emerging at the top of the crater. The mountain vistas behind us (including other volcanoes) was spectacular. We made it in an hour and a half, and I lived to tell the story.
The crater had a lake in the middle that was greenish blue and highly sulfuric. Mt Ijen spews out molten sulfur which then cools and solidifies into massive sheets of bright yellow sulfur. The sulfur mine was covered by a dense cloud of white steam venting up hundreds of feet to the top of the crater. The miners climb down to the lake level and hack the sulfur up into chunks the size of watermelons The sulpher mine was covered by a dense cloud of white steam venting up hundreds of feet to the top of the crater. Up and down the crater mouth were little spots of yellow as the miners carried the sulfur out in baskets suspended on a pole which they balance on their shoulder. They carry it up the crater then down to the 2 Km station where it is weighed and they get thier credit before carrying it down the last 2 km for delivery. They can carry from about 60Kg (130 lbs) to over 100 kg (220 lbs) in each load. I tried to lift a basket and could not budge it. For two loads averaging 80 kg they would receive between $10 to $11 for a day's work. And they consider it good pay.
Treb & Hazel, being more fit had gone on ahead of us and by the time we peaked they had already headed down into the crater itself along with the miners. But they never made it to the bottom. The sulfur fumes burned their eyes and lungs and they turned back. The miners however trudged on down through the acid fumes which they do two to three times per day. What does that do to your lungs??? They told us there is one guy still doing this that is sixty years old. They ask tourists (like us) for donations, and what are their favorites?? Cigarettes, not the wimpy kind like Americans smoke but local ones made with cloves as well as tobacco. Seems like a toxic mix to me.
We agreed to meet at 10:30 and hike back down so we could leave for Surabaya by 11:30am. The hike down was harder than anticipated, the 45° incline is hard on the legs and knees and difficult to navigate as well as being easy to slip and slide. Then these guys trot on by with their 80 kilo loads smoking a strong cigarette..... Took less than an hour to get to the parking lot where we got a cold drink and then hit the road. It was a pretty quiet ride back the Surabaya airport which took a mere seven hours.
We spent about five hours on the volcano and by my count spent twenty seven and a half hours traveling.