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

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