Tuesday, March 24, 2015

3/11/15 Day 419 No Fees for Free: Kawah Ijen's Blue Flames and Yellow Rivers

It didn't take long to find a motorbike rental place for 65,000 each (5$). We picked up some snacks: fiber-filled kelapa (coconut) cookies are less than a dollar and 100 Plus is an isotonic beverage similar to Gatorade, plus some fresh fruit, a perfect breakfast on the go. We begin our ride up in the late afternoon with just enough time to make it to the foot of the Kawah Ijen volcano before dark, we expected the roads to be in poor shape. In fact the roads were unexpectedly pleasant, completely sealed with flat seamless tar winding up the whole way and absolutely gorgeous jungle surrounding the few villages we passed. With only 35 kilometers separating Banyuwangi on the very Eastern tip of Java and the Ijen Volcano we were to the top in an hour. We pulled into Pos Poltuding, the ranger station at the foot of the hike where a park ranger made a point to inform us that the path would be closed until 3 in the morning, something about the fumes being too strong. This was no news to us we expected them to prevent us from going up. We went to the nearby hot springs, the water draining from the top is an egg yolk yellow from the sulphuric output of the mines. The temperature feels far from hot but I think the water color pretty well dissuades us from taking a dip anyways. We climbed up the slippery surphur caked rocks with just enough time make it it back down by the last casts of light.
All across the Pos Poltuding complex it looked quiet when we returned but as soon as we drove up someone flashed their light on as and quickly scurried up to again inform us we can't go up until three. We curled up in one of the abandoned shelters and napped until midnight at which point we unnoticed slipped into the woods out of sight and onto the sneaky back entrance to the main trail which we had scoped out earlier in the day. We snaked our way over fallen branches and tiptoed over silent brambles as we slipped behind the security gate and onto the trail 100 yards back from the security post. The 3 kilometers up made for a paranoid hike as we crunched and crackled over the gravel drive trying to be as quiet as possible. We ducked down silently at the hint of any noises, most of the time it was nothing more than a clap of thunder emanating from the beautiful storm on the horizon of the dark sky. It was the same instinctual process when we saw a flashlight beaming at us. All we could do was giggle quietly after we discovered the true culprit was one of the many bright lightning bugs illuminating our mischievious path. 
Standing at the top of Kawah Ijen, 2,386 meters above sea level, our lungs filled with excitement and our last breaths of fresh air for the next few hours. Already we could see the blue fire behind a backdrop of billowing sulphur smoke. We made it! It took almost two hours to stumble up to the crater rim in the dark and only another twenty minutes to very carefully traverse the ├╝ber slippery sulphur coated rocks leading down to the lake. Not even the miners were in the crater this early besides the one man molting the liquid sulphur into sea turtles and hearts to sell by piece as a tourist souvenir  rather than by kilo to the mining company. As for their typical paychecks the miners break up and haul hunks of sulphur weighing upwards of 40-80 kilos up the slippery path we have just descended a path that in all fairness is not easy to climb up or down and that is without carrying 150 pounds across your back. The work is brutally challenging and the men are physically scarred from the toil on their shoulders. There are roughly 300 men working this mine, they work ten days on, ten days off earning just a few dollars for each backbreaking basket they manage to haul to the top. 
Kawah Ijen's lake is the largest body of hydrochloride acid in the world reaching 200 meters deep into the crater. The vivid green color is from the reaction of the hydrochloric acid in the air mixing into the water. As for the fires they are simply a process of combustion, the sulphuric gas leaks out of the volcano at incredibly high temperatures igniting instantly when coming into contact with the air and morphing and flowing into a liquid cascading down the sides of the volcano. The economically minded mining company has built ceramic pipes down the sides to redirect the sulphur gases down the sides dripping into a puddle and hardening into removable sheets in one convenient area.                              

Cute little Muslim petrol uniform
Looking good in those ponchos
Hati Hati means caution

Yellow sulphuric waters flowing from the top of Ijen

The covered deck we took refuge under for a few hours
The entrance to the volcano, luckily we snuck around it on the way up
Miner in the distance breaking up sulphur chunks By lamplight 

Ceramic vents to redirect sulphuric steam

Blue flames up to 16 feet high

Even with the facemasks the smoke and fumes at time were unbearable

Smoke plume

What goes up must come down
Sulphur up close
Rainbow rock walls
The lake's true colors unveiled from the clouds
Facemask victory kiss

Rest shelters along the trail

Here is the where our free trail meets up with the actual trail

Monday, March 23, 2015

3/9/15 Day 417 Lombok: Martabak in Mosques on Beaches

We exit Gili Air heartbroken and already missing our island paradise. The adventures however must go on, we slip onto a shared boat, this time sneaking by with the same green tickets that got us to the islands saving ourselves an extra 2$ for lunch. Upon our delivery to Bangsal port on Lombok we found a Bemo for 15,000 rupiah (1.25$) for the hour or so it took to drive to Mataram, the centralized capital of Lombok. We found a room near the main night food market area for 100,000 with all day all you can drink tea and coffee, the room comes complete with unwarranted loud squawking wake up calls in the wee hours of the morning. We rented bikes and wheeled our way as far to the southeast as we could get to Pantai Pink, the beach of pink sand. Just about there now they tried to charge us entrance at a jerryrigged bamboo gate but we simply told them we had no money and they reluctantly let us go through. The 74 kilometers took a real toll on our legs and glutes and walking barefoot in the soft sand felt amazing in the clear waters. We spent another 90 minutes traveling to Kuta beach, a known surfer haven and completely unaffiliated with the Kuta beach of Bali. Driving under the gate we are greeted by...trash, a lot of unexpected trash. We park our bikes, look past it and make our way to the beach where there is no swell whatsoever, it seems to be a fishing village and also a bad option for a swim with the visibly shallow reef. The boats are very pretty but it is not quite what we are looking for this day. We mount our bikes and head for the next beach on the itinerary, Mawun. It is a long crescent of white sand framed by rolling green hills, also with a makeshift toll lane at the top of the drive. I feel like we are back in Italy the way we are being forced to pay for the beaches (lidos). Routes aimed for home  we got sidetracked by one last beach opportunity. The dirt track seemed to be heading towards the sea, passing a farmer we asked, "pantai?" (beach) pointing down the road. With a nod and a smile we didn't need to think twice, we found our way to the small village leading to a pristine beach where the locals inquisitively followed us to our spot on the beach. Gracie who we have been traveling with for the last few weeks offered a piece of plastic cheese leftover from her lunch and the reaction was proof we probably shouldn't be eating this food ourselves. The little boy ran down the beach waving it like a trophy and when he brought it back the mama tore off a corner and tried to squeeze the malleable solid out like a Go-Gurt, feeding it to the little boy who then shook his head in disgust and went running down the beach yelling something in Bahasa. Gracie then showed her the correct way to eat a Kraft Single, folding open the plastic wrap. Upon tasting the cheese mama folded up the piece and shoved it in her breast pocket. Clearly in this tiny village they prefer something more like a sharp cheddar, me as well!

The majority of Lombok is covered in mosques and Muslims
Collecting money to build more mosques in this fashion is common throughout Indonesia
There are a few Hindus on the island almost 10% of the population
Road conditions in the southeast

On our way to the pink beach

Chips and (Kraft) cheese baguette 
Beach Buffaloes

The security gate

Kuta beach needs a waste management system 

Boats and dragonflys on Kuta Beach

Beautiful Mawun Beach

This young lady took care of our petrol needs, filling us up from an Absolut bottle
Should have splurged for the Jim Beam petrol
The secret beach we stumbled upon Tampah beach

With its amazing rounded sand
The learning curve, plastic cheese

Home cooked meal in exchange for a slice of plastic cheese
Soft bread bun with fillings: chocolate, pork, chicken

Martabak is amazing
This cockatoo woke us up every morning