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To Hell and Back

Kawah Ijen (Ijen crater) is one of the craters in the world which have natural blue fire. The other one is in Alaska, said the guide. But, Ijen is the only crater where you can see the blue fire for all year long. The best time to see the blue fire is 3-4am hence we checked out from Ijen View Resort at 12 midnight and took 2 hours to be here. 
Trekking is the weak sibling of adventurous outdoor sports. A little slow, not enough adrenaline. Wait till you attempt Ijen crater trail with variables that can turn a walk through the mountains into a flirt with death. 
The hike trail was very rough, 3 km steep trail to reach the peak, another 1 km down to the crater. Several ladies could not bear the difficulty of the trek and hired trolley-men to push them to the peak. 

At the lip of the crater, some 2,600 meters above sea level, the density of the fumes dramatically intensifies. Only a serious gas mask, the type worn to protect from tear gas in riots protects our eyes and lungs from the toxic fumes. We shared the same paths as the miners, occasionally giving way to them. Visibility reduces to a metre as we descended the hell-like crater. The headlights worn by miners and tourists making their ascent barely pierce the heavy gloom.

Sulfur mining at Ijen crater is certainly a hellish job. Every day, around 300 men leave the base carrying torches and metal poles to break the sulfur slabs, though with little protective gear. Only a few men are given gas masks, while the rest rely on wet scarves or rags to cover their mouths, in a futile attempt to protect themselves from the caustic gas that singes the eyes, throats and lungs, and can even dissolve teeth. Once the miners collect their sulfur, they haul the fully loaded baskets, weighing between 70 kg and 90 kg out from the crater, climbing 60-degree slopes, and then down to the base camp. They get 10,000 rupiah for 10 kg of sulfur. 

About my local guide

Selamat was a sulphur miner before he became a guide. He spoke little English, learnt from his job. Selamat liked my Saloman trail run shoes and asked me how much it costs. When I replied, “I bought in Nepal, around 1 million rupiah. In Singapore, it costs 2 million rupiah.”, he said he doesn’t have money to buy. There are things that money can’t buy, I said, don’t envy me, I also have my problems, just different from yours. Thanks for taking care of me . Without him, I wouldn’t be able to go to hell and come back.

I wish the money that we paid for this optional tour will contribute to the miners, guides in Ijen crater. 
Broke a few of my travel records.

– The toughest  trek

– The most dangerous walk in darkness for hours, in the most treacherous landscape. Not for the weak legs.

– the most toxic environment. Not for people with respiratory problem.

– seen with my own eyes the most hellish job. There’s no reason why I complain about my work.


About Pamela's Online Journal

Working mother of 3 boys, loves travelling & writing.


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