Blue Flames & 1AM Volcano Hikes – Java, Indonesia

Happy Halloween!  Halloween is by far one of my favorite holidays and I’m super sad to be missing it this year.  I’m THAT annoying crafty girl that plans her costume months in advance & basically buys out half of hobby lobby, all for the sake of attempting a clever costume.

I seriously considered splurging on a Thai school uniform and rolling up to school dressed like one of my students, but then I realized that my American co-workers and I would be the only ones that understood it, and the students/Thai teachers would probably think I’m even weirder than they do already.  Oh well, there’s always next year.  Thanks to my wonderful mother I at least get to munch on candy corn this year, after receiving a care package from her a couple days ago.  But tragically that’s as festive as it’s getting.

On another note, back to the chronicles of my October break from school.  During the first part of my month pretending to be a backpacker, I spent 10 days in Indonesia.  While most of this was spent in Bali, my friends and I made one 24-hour detour 7 hours Northwest of beachy Bali to Java, Indonesia; another island.

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Java is one of the largest islands in Indonesia, home to the capital Jakarta.  Where we were was quite a 180 from touristy Bali – the second we stepped onto the ferry to get from Bali to Java everyone was staring.  Having been in a state of recovery from a round of food poisoning, I immediately found a corner to hide in and put my hood up.  However, my friends who were walking around on the outer decks had numerous people ask to take pictures with them, especially my blonde friends.  It was quite different from western-saturated Bali.

Now why did we drive 7 hours away from Ubud to spend less than 24 hours there, before making another 7 hour trek back?  Kawah Ijen.

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Kawah Ijen is an active volcano, complete with a beautiful turquoise-colored acid crater lake.  The volcano is known for a blue fire created by sulfuric gas given off by the acid lake.  Kawah Ijen is also the location of a working sulfur mine, the lifeblood of the economy in that area.

How the sulfur mine works is that the miners are paid per kilo of sulfur chunks that they pull out of the crater.  While it is considered good pay for the cost of living in the area, the miners make around $6 USD per day, while exposing their bodies to sulphuric fumes and hiking up and down a volcano every day just to make that money.  We wore gas masks when we were near the exposed sulfur and we were there for an hour.  They don’t wear gas masks and they work there every day.

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Gas mask fun featuring Freddy, Brad, and delirious post-food-poisoning no-sleep no-makeup snapchat selfies.

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Our trip to the top of Kawah Ijen began when we landed at the ferry port in Banyuwangi.  We arranged a lovely homestay at Edy Mickey’s homestay on airbnb.  There were 9 of us traveling altogether, and we were able to arrange transportation to and from the ferry to his house in a rural village, transport to and from the volcano when we wanted to hike, and we were able to rent flashlights/gas masks from the homestay.  Edy himself was a miner at the mountain once, which was awesome when we had any questions about the hike.

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When we arrived in the village where the homestay was, it was like something out of a movie.  All the local people were waiting to see the westerners come, and the men were dressed in the traditional Indonesian sarongs and head wraps.  It was extremely rural, like we drove over the river and through the woods and past a bunch of rice paddies to get there.

The homestay itself was exactly how it sounds, it was a house where we each got to share two to a normal bedroom.  The décor was hilarious – there were portraits of children that had clearly been dressed up in traditional Indonesian clothes just for their portrait.  Kind of creepy, but also hilarious.

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My personal hike began at 11:45AM, one FREAKING hour before my alarm was set to go off, when I woke up and had to run to the bathroom 4 times to throw up.  Shout-out to food poisoning for making my misery possible.  I almost had to back out of the hike, but after having to skip a morning hike in Ubud up Mt. Batur I forced myself to suck it up.  And I’m beyond happy that I did.

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The view from Batur that I missed because I was too busy dying.  Oh well, I guess I just have to go back to Ubud!

At 12:45AM, we all grumpily rolled out of bed and hopped into the waiting hired cars to go to the volcano.  You have to wake up super early to hike Kawah Ijen so that you get to see the blue flames coming out of the sulfur, so most people start around 1AM.  After a miserable half-an-hour drive up to the volcano, I was on the verge of jumping ship, when our hired driver drove away.

Maybe it’s just because I was sick?  But the hike was freaking hard.  It was cold at that time of the morning, and we couldn’t really see anything because we were walking up an ashy dirt trail.  The hike was also mostly straight up uphill walking, as opposed to my preferred hiking of rocks and roots.  It was fabulous for my butt, poisonous for my ego.

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On the way up, people kept offering us “taxi rides.” up to the top.    I was super tempted to give in to my illness and take one, when I realized that they weren’t actual taxis, they were miners joking around with us and hauling they’re carts for removing sulfur up to the top of the mountain.  How these people were able to be so lighthearted when they had to trek up and down a volcano for $6 is extremely impressive.

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After about an hour and a half, we finally reached the top of the volcano.  At this point it was still dark, and we could see the blue flames from the top.  Then we trekked about 20 minutes down into the crater to see the blue flames up close.  The entire time the poor miners were dodging around us tourists, all while carrying massive chunks of sulfur.  I’ve never felt more unathletic in my life than when I was huffing and puffing next to a tiny little Indonesian man who was carry probably half his weight in sulfur chunks.

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The little white/purple light towards the middle is the blue flames.

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Then we scampered up the mountain to catch a little bit of the sunrise.  I don’t know if it was the elevation or the adrenaline, or if I was just too tired to feel anything, but hiking that volcano basically cured my food poisoning.  The view at the top was definitely worth it.

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The miners sell little carvings that they’ve made out of sulfur to tourists that hike up the mountain.  While normally I roll my eyes at people who try to sell me trinkets in tourist destinations(often they don’t get the money or are being forced to work by some criminal organization), I was informed that the money went straight into the pockets of the miners, and the carvings were something that they just sold on the side.  So I bought a little turtle.

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After basically stumbling back down the volcano, we headed back to our homestay.  When we rolled in at 7AM Edy’s wife had homemade Indonesian food and hot tea waiting for us, which will probably go down as one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had.

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Ijen squad!  I didn’t hop in the pic because I was too busy playing photographer, regrets.

Then we all packed our bags and headed 7 hours back to Kuta, Bali chronicles…

TO BE CONTINUED

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