Kawah Ijen, Java

When I walked in the door from the streets of Banyuwangi, l met the friendly faced middle-aged man named Yacob. We sat down to discuss the next days transport to Kawah Ijen. After a while I asked “how much”.  I had read it was good to bargain for 40,000 – 60,000 IRD for both ways and I was offered to go for 200,000 by others in town. He responded to me “It is an hour there and an hour back. I speak English and I will wait for you. How much do you think it is worth?”  Thinking about his honest question I gave him an honest answer “150,000". He agreed.

I woke up 2 minutes before my 12:36 am alarm. Dressed, placed my now fully charger camera into my already prepared daypack and headed for the lobby. Yacob was waiting for me and we soon departed on the motorbike. It was odd how many people were also up so early in this port side city and then it occurred to me that these people were still out for the evening.

The further we climbed into the mountains the colder it got. Fortunately Yacob had a blanket under the seat. We stopped so that I could wrap myself with the extra layer and then turned up the last steep road to the foot of the volcano. At the trailhead we took a moment to have a much needed cup of coffee and I bought a wool hat.

The moon shone bright enough through the clouds to light the barren trail to the rim. After an hour of climbing, I reached the rim, where a hubbub of tourists and miners aguishly filed through the gate toward the only path down. The rocky foot way into the crater began with the first reminded that this was a volcano- the smoke. The sulfuric gasses surrendered only to the wind and when the wind blew our direction an all-encompassing cloud of toxic gas engulfed all your senses. Even with the 5 surgical masks and a buff over my face it was a challenge not to gasp and cough. As for the eyes, there was little to protect them except for the bodies natural defense of tears that were immediately saturated with sulfur and burnt the face. Nevertheless, the line of people slowly moved forward only to stop for a miner that was carrying a load of yellow rock up from the crater’s depths.

The frantic energy produced by the 20 or so people scurrying around to see the famous ‘blue flames’ was abrupt. Realizing the only way to ‘get the shot’ was to join the cluster of flashing cameras, I nudged my way toward the vent. As soon as possible I removed myself and began to explore.

In From of the Vents

In From of the Vents

The tight crutch of the squeaking sulfur beneath my feet was the first thing I truly paid attention to. I walked over the landscape with an acute awareness that years of studying geology promotes. Imagining the mantel/crust interactions was my favorite story to play though my mind. Looking around at layers of igneous rock fueled my imagination of past eruptions; richness of the inner part of Earth coming to the surface.

And then cam the dawn. Like a highly orchestrated overture in theater production the picture seeking tourists left the scene, the crater fell silent, and the light beams began to illuminate the interior. The lake came into full view and its color reviled the blue flames. With mystical trepidation I climbed up onto a large green rock and wrapped Yacob’s blanket around me. Warm and a safe distance from the gas, I pulled down my masks and breathed in the rawness of Kawah Ijen. 

It was after this that I asked another traveler to record the below video. Enjoy.