Dont put all your egg smelling rocks in one basket

Trip Start Dec 28, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Indonesia  , Java,
Tuesday, March 24, 2009

I'm  a bit back logged as far as my blog goes so I am typing them all out in the next day or so and then will post them intermittedly over the next week or 10 days.  Sorry I have fallen behind but events happen fast and furious sometimes and I don't have time to blog all the time....that and I was in a bit of a non communication funk after my mom passed away so I need to catch up.
I left Mt. Bromo and the mini bus returned me to the booking agent that I had used for the trip.  Having nothing else to do for the next day or two, I booked a trip to a place called Ijen which is of course a volcano but this time the crater although still active, is filled with a lake of turquoise water.  The guide book made it sound pretty neat-o so I figured what the hell.
I paid for the trip and it left about 10 minutes after I arrived from Mt. Bromo so it was a sort of on the fly affair.  I was expecting and was resigned to another broke ass mini bus but to my surprise me and the other two customers (who were from Luxembourg) were treated to a brand new SUV with our own personal driver.  Now I'm not sure if it was from lack of reading up on the matter or if someone blatantly lied to me but I was pretty sure that this was going to be a 2 hour drive or so and then we were spending the night at a coffee plantation so we could make our ascent for sunrise......or course.  To my surprise it turned out to be about 6 hours to our destination which was ok because the transport was downright luxurious but it became a real pain in the ass literally for the last 2 hours because as we entered the primordial forest once again, the pavement began to give way.  First it was just a few pot holes and then it was giant chunks of pavement missing........and then it was just crumbled asphalt strewn about the jungle.  It wouldn't have been so bad but our driver, cherishing his brand new vehicle which probably set him back a few cows and his virgin daughter drove at an agonizing 3-5 mph whenever there was a bump in the road and you can just imagine how slow it became when there was no road to speak of.
Finally we arrived at the coffee plantation which is right smack in the middle of a huge (145km wide) extinct volcano (do you see a pattern emerging here?).  the suv pulled up to the guest house that they had built in the back of the plantation and we were shown to our rooms which weren't too bad and I was more than a little thankful for the hot water since we were at about 10,000 feet elevation again.  After getting settled I decided to walk around a bit.  The plantation facility wasn't quite as cool as it would have been had it been harvesting season but it was still pretty neat to walk around and see how they wash and dry and sort all of the beans.  I felt that it was my family responsibility to pay homage to this particular industry since my father worked in the coffee business almost his entire life.  someone in my family should go to a coffee plantation in java god damnit.
After wandering the factory end of the facility I walked down a small dirt road through the jungle and came across an old fashioned company town.  For those of you not familiar with the concept of way back when....a company or factory would set up shop and build little cookie cutter houses for their employees, usually with a company store where you could buy all the things you needed, thus giving all your money back to the company in a roundabout sort of way.  The people here were very friendly and the children followed me about in a small pack.  Some bastard had taught them to say "photo, photo mister" in an unending chorus which was annoying after awhile but what can you do.  It was near sunset by the time I got into the streets of the company town so people were milling about and socializing as they tend to do in very hot countries when the sun goes down.  There was even a small mosque right there in the jungle.  I just want to say right here that I am very very tired of being called to prayer 5 times a day.  I mean seriously, can you not take the responsibility upon yourself to set your watch and get down with praying to your god?  Do you really need some guy screaming from the rooftops that it's time to face west and start kissing gods ass?  I feel that if you can't figure out if it's time to pray or not on your own then you are not taking this shit seriously and maybe you should look into atheism.  You don't hear us screaming from the rooftops now do you? 
So now it's the next day at the butt crack of dawn and we pack into the SUV for the 30 minute drive to the trail head.  Now remember that I have gone from sea level to about 10,000 feet elevation so altitude is playing a definite part but this trail is also so steep that it's ridiculous.  Thankfully the trail is only 3km long but in that 3km we gain around 900 meters in elevation....try and picture that please.  Our path is very well used and pretty wide so it hardly qualifies as a trail really but it is rustic enough for me as I trudge and clamor up its steep slope. 
The crazy aspect of this whole little side trip is that what is a tourist attraction of great natural beauty for us is also a sulfur mine for the local population.  These poor guys begin their climb up to the summit (and the sulfur) long before sunrise.  They must be used to the 3km hike by now but talk about a shitty commute to your job.  Once they reach their destination they fill two baskets with chunks of sulfur that have oozed out of the cracks in the earth and have hardened into yellow rocks that are chipped away with crow bars.  The two baskets are connected by a pole which is then rested on the shoulders of the workers as they hike up and out of the crater and then down the mountain. Doesn't sound too bad I suppose until you realize that these loads are between 80 and 120 kilos which is just ridiculous to be caring down a mountain.  One of the guys from Luxembourg tried to lift one off of the hanging scale at the weigh station and could barely do it, meanwhile these little scrawny guys are carrying them for kilometers down a mountain and then.......they go back up to do it again!!  If they carry 100 kilos down the mountain then they will earn about $7 per trip.  Next time you think your job sucks, please think of these guys.
So back to my pathetic ascent up my own personal Everest.  There came a point where I would manage to take 5 steps and then stop to rest as my heart pounded in my chest.  It really was quite the pain in the ass and I was cursing the lonely planet guide book for saying that it was a lovely morning hike although a little steep....those fuckers will pay! As I struggled up and up I was continually passed by the sulfur workers going both up and down the mountain.  The ones going down being weighed down by their stinking loads of yellow rock.  These guys jolly demeanor and effortless mountaineering added that extra bit of embarrassment to an already laborious morning but I kept on and was finally rewarded with first the trail finally flattening out (which was really a good enough reward at this point in the game) and then the crater lake with its turquoise waters and the steaming vents at its shore.
I was struck by the absolute beauty and desolation of the place.  Mt. Bromo had been absolutely beautiful but had been pretty crowded with tourists and you had to jostle to get your sunrise pictures but here, there was no one other then the sulfur workers and 6 other tourists.  We had the place to ourselves as we listened to the wind howl across the barren crater.  I suppose something good can be said about that hike up, it weeds out the lackadaisical and lazy so thus greatly reduces the number of people at the site.  
The water was turquoise blue surrounded by absolute desolation. Where the steam was roaring out of the earth it was stained yellow with sulfur and you could see the little ant sized people down below harvesting their yellow gold.  Should I go down into the bowls of the crater and climb around the steaming vents?  What the fuck, why not?  Going down was an operation in trying to find steady footing.  There was a path to be sure but it was amongst the loose scree of rocks created by various eruptions over the years.  I scrambled and slipped my way down into the crater, passing the poor bastards struggling upwards with their 200 pounds of rocks on their shoulders.   I finally reached the bottom, where the sulfur mining was being conducted amongst the smoking vents. It really was a scene straight out of Dante's inferno and I felt like I had stepped maybe not onto another planet but maybe into another reality, where people farmed the sludge that oozed out of the earth while trying to fight through clouds of poisonous gas.   It was amazing and saddening all at the same time but in end had a beauty of its own that I try to describe here and that my photos may do a little better job of conveying but again, you have to see it for yourself to fully appreciate. 
Ijen on the island of java, book your flights now.
Going down was thankfully much much easier then the trek up and we found ourselves at the cantina at the bottom having a Guinness and trying to let our quivering legs have a rest.  Strange thing, there is Guinness beer everywhere in Indonesia but you hardly ever see it in Thailand or other places....odd.  fast forward and we are back at the travel agent and I book my mini bus to the next town which leaves in 3 hours.  I have just enough time to get some food and check my email and this is when I find out about my mom being sick.  I have a 12 hour mini bus ride to digest the whole thing.  12 hours to go 200 kilometers.....traveling in java requires a great deal of patience.
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starlagurl on

Nice story, very sad too
I definitely agree with you about the call to prayer...I've never heard it, but I can imagine...

Those are some amazing pictures, glad the hike was worth it. Those miners are pretty awesome in their own right... wow.


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