Blue Flames at Lake Ijen

From Cemero Lawang one can make it to Sempol (the “base camp” for trekking to the Ijen Crater) in one day, if one figures out public transport correctly. But since the bus driver of the public bus down to Probolinggo refused to leave before the bus was full it got rather late. Still, four other people on the bus were headed in the same direction, so we got together and rented a minivan with driver for the rest of the journey, arriving comfortably in the late afternoon.

Ijen volcano in the distance

We were brought to a cheap hotel, and our driver stayed at the same place. As we had agreed on, he woke us up half an hour past midnight, and 30 minutes later we sat in the car, driving up the winding road through the jungle to the trailhead of this hike. We were going to scale an active volcano to then climb down the inner wall of its crater to see the unique blue flames which are constantly burning there (although only visible at night). Crazy? Definitely, but awesome! It took us well more than one hour to reach the crater rim and another half hour to get to the flames. As we descended we were passing Indonesian sulfur miners carrying extremely heavy looking baskets filled with the bright yellow mineral.

Sulfur miner with a heavy load

It's dangerous!

I had gotten several offers to rent gas masks, but had declined, trusting that it would not be too bad. And it wasn’t. I could, of course, smell the sulfur fumes, but with a scarf covering my nose I felt comfortable and safe staying down there for around one hour, watching the otherworldly blue flames dancing behind a veil of smoke.

Close by the miners were digging and hacking away, gathering the loose rocks, and also breaking off semi-liquid sulfur from somewhere close to the smoking vents. As we prepared to climb back up again the wind changed and engulfed us in a thick cloud of white smoke. My eyes began to tear and the air became sulfur-soaked and unbreathable. I got a sensation of choking and tried to get out of this cloud as fast as I could. So that was what the gas masks were for – we had just been really lucky all the time!

My hiking comrades

With a taste of sulfur in my mouth and lungs I ascended. One out it quickly got better. As it got light we followed the crater rim, and witnessed an exceptionally beautiful sunrise.

Another volcano in the distance

Beautiful sunrise seen from the rim

Most people had not made it to this place, and they were really missing out on something! Following the rim further we were able to see the smoking sulfur mine we had been to in the dark, not far away from the shores of the turquoise crater lake far below.

Looking down on the crater lake

Sulfur mine on the other shore of the crater lake

At one point the edge we were walking on got too narrow and fragile, and we had to turn around. We passed more miners, who told us that they had to transport down more than 200kg of sulfur rock, per person! And still they only get a few dollars for their work…

Sulfur miners at work

Back at the car I was astonished to find that it was only eight o’clock. By the time I would normally just get started I had already had one of the best hikes of my trip and accomplished several unique adventures! Wow!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *