Some facts first:
On the east coast of Java there lies the volcano Gunung Ijen. The crater of Ijen is forming a big basin, which is filled with water. But the water is not for swimming as it is highly acid. That's because next to it big clouds of smoke escape from holes in the ground. And it is not any smoke, it is highly sulphuric hot steam with a temperature up to 200°C.
On the surface the sulphur gains solid, forming big yellow banks. And parts of the sulphur is also getting into the lake, giving the water such unnatural turquoise colour.
Local miners are mining this sulphur, always in danger to get burned or poisoned by the hot acid gases. All they wear is a gas mask. With just their hands and some tools they break big sulphur parts out of the banks, store them in two wooden baskets and carry them up the 200m high crater rim. The weight they carry is often close to 100kg!!
On the rim they load them on special vehicles and bring the sulphur down the mountain to a village where it is further transported.
The daily work of those Indonesian miners is super hard but very fascinating.
As a tourist you can hike up the Ijen to the crater lake on the same way the workers are coming down. It is a steep and dusty path up to the top. For a small amount of money you can make photos with the miners or purchase small pieces of sulphur.
This is their option to earn some extra money because the payment is very poor!!
Normally tours are offered to the top, but I did it on my own. The hardest part was to find a motor scooter in Banyuwangi, the town on the foot of the mountain. The only way it seems to me to rent one is to ask at your home stay as I could not find any scooter rental. Totally different to Bali!!
Then you have to drive up a steep mountain road for about 1h to the parking space, where you start your hike. After 1h hiking up I was on the rim and immediately had to protect my lungs from the sulphuric smoke coming up from the mines.
But once you get out of the smoke, you are rewarded by an amazing view.
I saw the sulphur mines, the steam and the turquoise crater lake 200m underneath me. Stayed there the whole afternoon till sunset.
In the dark I made my way closer to the mines, as I heard about a natural phenom called
"blue fire". This is when the sulphur is hot enough to light itself. Then it burns slightly blue, best spotted when it is totally dark.
I stand there and waited for the blue flames till I barely could not breath anymore and my eyes started hurting because of the sulphuric cloud.
At 7pm I gave up and made my way down to the car park, walking totally in the dark...
I was not able to see the blue fire, but it was OK for me as the rest of the day was already very cool!! :-)
Bromo Semeru National Park:
Very early in the morning I made my way to the bus station in Probolinggo to catch a bus to Cemoro Lawang. This small town is a good base to explore the Bromo-Semeru National Park.
The park consists basically of 3 volcanoes: Gunung Bromo, Gunung Semeru and Gunung Panajakan and the surrounding area.
As the buses only depart when they are full, I had to spend about 3h waiting for more people to come.
Finally during lunch time I arrived in Cemoro Lawang. After I quick lunch I immediately made my way to Gunung Bromo.
To reach the crater you first have to cross a wide open grass/sand plain called "The sea of sands".
After that you have to climb up to Bromo with a final 500-stairs staircase to the crater rim.
Pretty cool to look from the rim into the still smoking Bromo, but for me nothing new anymore... :-)
I followed a small narrow path that leads around the crater and had a few pretty cool views!!
Normally you have to pay around 400 000 Rupiah as an entrance fee when hiking up Bromo. But just the stupid tourists, which make the Bromo-sunrise-tour need to pay this amount as after 11:00 am nobody is there anymore to collect the fee...!!
So I could save a lot of money by just hiking later up to Gunung Bromo. The 2nd nice advantage was, that I was almost alone on the rim. No crowds, no hustle, almost nobody except 3 other tourists...
After my crater rime hike I decided to save some more money for accommodation and hiked up Gunung Panajakan instead of heading back to town.
This mountain is the ultimate sunrise spot. From where hundreds of tourists per day watch the sunrise over Bromo before they are brought to the volcano by 4wd-Jeeps.
I looked for a nice lonely spot (away from the crowds that will arrive in the morning) and pitched up my tent there. After bread with hazelnut creme as dinner I went to sleep very early to be fit when the sun rises at 5am on the next day.
In the morning I had the sunrise from my little spot totally for me alone. It was fu^^ing awesome!! Just by now I realised what a really cool spot I had chosen to set up my tent!!
I watched how the sun slowly covers Gunung Semeru then Gunung Bromo and finally the wide grassy plains of "The sea of sands" while having breakfast (cacao, bread and jam).
And while all the tourists where rushing to Bromo by the Jeeps I packed my tent and slowly & relaxed made my way down to Cemoro Lawang. Stopping pretty often an enjoying the views of the Bromo-Semeru National Park and the absolute quietness....
I can just recommend to everybody to explore this National Park by your own instead of booking an expensive tour! You can save a lot of money!!
And guides also can not bring you to the top of the volcano, you still have to hike it up by yourself, right?? :-)
Later that day I took a bus to Probolinggo and then a train to Yogyakarta (or simple Yoga), my next destination on my journey through Java.