Sunday, August 8, 2010

Kawah Ijen - A mountain of surreal pain and beauty - Kembara Jawa Timur Part IV

Ijen Crater / Kawah Ijen

Kawah Ijen with its scenic green acidic lake amid the blue sky

Kembara Jawa Timur Part I - Mount Bromo from Mount Penanjakan
Kembara Jawa Timur Part II - Mount Bromo & Ranupani Village
Kembara Jawa Timur Part III - Bromo from Gardu Pandang & Madakaripura Waterfall
Kembara Jawa Timur Part IV - Kawah Ijen - A mountain of surreal pain and beauty
Kembara Jawa Timur Part V - From Kalianyar Village to Papuma beach
Kembara Jawa Timur Part VI - Human interest around Surabaya

After the visit to Madakaripura Waterfall (see Part III), we went straight for our second main destination, Kawah Ijen. Well.. not totally straight, our guide thought we could make it to Papuma beach for sunset so we try to go there first. Luck is not in our side as we were at least 30 minutes behind the time. So we end up shooting sunset at some paddy field not far from Papuma Beach.

Sunset @ Papuma, Jember, East Java
Sunset at a paddy field at Jember, Jawa Timur.
After sunset we continue our journey towards Kawah Ijen. We stay at Catimor Homestay Resort at Blawan, Sempol, Bondowoso which is a luxury resort to our standard (normally we only stay at budget hotel to minimize our cost) but at a very affordable rate. To my surprise when i do a google search on this hotel, i found few bad review about this resort at tripadvisor. I believe most of the visitor that wrote bad review about this homestay at tripadvisor forgot that they are not in the middle of any city, instead they are at a rural area which depend on agriculture product such as coffee for a living.Its akin to someone who expecting five star motel/resort with world class service at Kg Bantal, Ulu Tembeling, Pahang (incase you didnt know, Kg Bantal is a village that you can reach after  4 hours journey only by boat from Kuala Tahan, Malaysia National Park). If you expect five star hotel with super comfort condition then stay at your home or go travel to London instead of a rural district at Bondowoso, Jawa Timur, Indonesia. Period.

Sulphur Carrier @ Kawah Ijen (IR)
Sulphur miner/carrier amid the sunrise at Kawah Ijen

Kawah Ijen (2386m) is part of volcano complex in East Java that include Mount Merapi (different from the central Java Merapi).It is part of several volcano complex within the 15km diameter Ijen Caldera. It's heighest point is at 2,386 meters high from the sea level. Among the distinctive feature of Kawah Ijen is the green acidic lake within its crater. This beautiful lake is more acidic from your car battery acid due to high level of sulphur within it. The sulphur dioxide combined with the air and water became sulphuric acid.

Kawah Ijen, Jawa Timur, Indonesia (B&W)
B&W of Kawah Ijen Crater
Kawah Ijen is also the site of a gruelingly labor-intensive sulfur mining operation. A total of around 200 miners collect and carry pure yellowish physical sulphur from the bottom of the crater  until a weighing station (Pondok Bunder -  2214 meters) through a 4km of hiking up and down. Each trip the miner carried about 60-100kg depending on their strength and ability. The more they can carry the more the money they can get. For 100kg load they would be paid around 60,000 rupiah (roughly about RM18). Normally they would be able to do only two trip per day.

Capturing the photo of this human labor intensive industry is the main reason why i longing to visit Kawah Ijen since last year after viewing photos taken by my friend, arey. I definitely wonder how they could survive as i cant even carry their 60-100kg of load for more than few second - tried it- but they need to carry it for several kilometers hiking! [Being there watching this would make you more grateful of your life and you'll stop complaining about your own job environment,promotion, etc. - Bosses should sponsor a trip to Kawah Ijen for their worker.. hehhehe]

Pembawa Keranjang Belerang (IR)
A worker with his keranjang (basket)

The next day, early morning around 3am we already on our way to the crater. I initally thought the journey to Paltuding Base Camp from the resort would only take 45 minutes maximum as the driver and the guide say its near already. Instead i believe it took almost 2 hours to reach paltuding. We start to trek immediately before stopping midway for Subuh prayer. I trek as fast as i could as among our main target is to capture the sunrise at Kawah Ijen but it seem time is not on our side as we were told the hike itself will took almost 2 hours.

Kawah Ijen Conqueror (IR)
Dr Jamal Rahman.. our inspiring trip leader for this Bromo-Kawah Ijen-Surabaya trip under the Luarbiasa Photography umbrella.. Visit his flickr at or his website

After approximately 90 minutes of brisk walking from our starting point (the starting base at Paltuding basecamp is already at around 1850m) .. we finally reached the volcano crater. The beautiful lake and perfect sky waiting for us.. we missed the sunrise.. next time we must try to reach the caldera before sunrise. To achieve that, next time we should start at 1am from our homestay to catch the sunrise. The path was easy as it is not steep at all with 3m wide almost all along the way. There is several hut provided along they way if you want to rest for a while

Petualang Kawah Ijen
Dr Jamal amid the background of Mount Raung. I'm interested to hike this mountain but when told there is no water source there (which mean we need to carry water) i lost my interest.. heheh.. better to target other mountain..

Another setback is on the day that we hike it is a libur (holiday) day for the worker. So there is far less worker than usual. Only around 15-20 harvester work that day. When its libur day, the worker can still gather the sulphur but the weighing station will be closed and they wont get their pay that day. So anyone keep working on any libur day must store their sulphur somewhere temporarily. I actually wonder why wouldnt they keep working as their effort would still get paid albeit later.

Pak Rudi with his 70kg of sulphur
Pak Rudi on his way out from the Kawah Ijen volcano crater to the weighting station.
During my hike i coincidently keep trekking with a worker called Pak Rudi.. He worked here for at least 15 years carrying the heavy sulphur for a living.I first met him when i'm running away from the thick sulphur smoke that head to my way while i'm almost near the mining area (i wish i just continue to the mining area.. but i'm scared to death to see the thick poisonous smoke heading towards me.. but if the worker survive years of working in this hazard condition then i should survive few minutes of it ..hahaha.. my eyes burning like crazy when the smoke finally reach my position...) .

Dead Tree, Kawah Ijen
A dead tree around the crater at Kawah Ijen. The continuous sulphur smoke make life for the tree harder here.

A documentary by National Geographic state that the average lifespan of the worker here is only 41. Not surprising considering these miner work under great duress within inhuman condition extracting sulfur from one of the most beautiful volcanoes in the world. Back to Pak Rudi.. as i trek down along with him, i took a lot photos of him. I wish i could be back to Kawah Ijen in time and hand printed photo of him to him. I even met him again at a stall operated by his sister at Paltuding basecamp.

Pak Rudi descending at the edge of the Kawah Ijen crater
Pak Rudi, the sulphur miner/carrier with his 70kg of solid sulphur startimg to descend Kawah Ijen from its edge..

"The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page - Saint Augustine"

Kawah Ijen is definitely special mountaineering expedition and for some it might be a lifechanging journey. Watching those people working to their maximum capability for a living definitely wreck your heart and make you more grateful of what you have. I will 'bookmark' this page of mine and hopefull would be able to revisit it next time. And i wish my wife would join all my future travel.

Some other link/travalogue about Kawah Ijen: - blog entry by Dr Jamal, our trip leader/organizer

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  1. salam emran

    selamat menyambut bulan ramadhan

    cantik lukisan alam di sana , dah kena touchup, semakin menyerlah keindahannya


  2. Subhanallah...luarbiasa sekali landscapenya..

  3. pak itam - salam .. indonesia mmg menyajikan pemandangan alam yg amat menakjubkan.. cuma kurang promosi akan tarikan tarikannya.. ramai org lebih minat shopping di bandar bandar seperti bandung,jakarta dari menjelajah daerah pedalaman dan hutan hutan nya.. :)

    ayafiq - tq bro.. :)


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