We saw a sign at the start of the trail stating that it is a 2-kilometer hike to Kawah Ijen. I was surprised to learn that it’s that close. I was wondering though, given its proximity, why I wasn’t smelling even the slightest hint of Sulfur in the air. Ijen is constantly spewing Sulfur and has spawn an industry of Sulfur mining over the past years.
The well-maintained trail to Kawah Ijen is mostly an uphill climb. Being so high up in the mountains, the air is cool and clean. This also meant that the air is thin. We walked at a slow and steady pace to acclimatize ourselves and not to have to deal with a throbbing headache, as we did from ascending the viewpoint to Bromo too quickly.
As the markers turn from kilometers to meters, I begin to wonder again why I’m not smelling any Sulfur given how close we must be getting to Kawah Ijen. The meters dwindled and as we reached the end of the two kilometers, instead of the smoldering Kawah Ijen, we were greeted by a checkpoint and a large banner warning tourists of the dangers of continuing on to the crater and a disclaimer that the government will not be responsible for any untoward events. We marched on, of course.
Another 3 Km
The distance from the checkpoint to Kawah Ijen was not indicated on the banner. Unlike the first two kilometers, there aren’t any posts showing the distance. We later learned that it was another three kilometers from the checkpoint to Kawah Ijen.
Once you are clear of the checkpoint, there is a noticeable change in the plant life around, less trees and more shrubs and ferns. You also begin to smell the Sulfur. The surgical mask provided by our tour operator did little to filter the air. A good scarf does the job better.
The trail is less uphill this time. You are also treated with a better view, making the three kilometers less strenuous. It is more unnerving though, as you are literally walking on a carved path from the side of the mountain.
As you walk along the trail, you’ll encounter a number of men carrying large baskets. The Sulfur miners of Ijen will, more often than not, say hello or greet you a good morning. Some will even walk with you for a while and start a conversation. I read somewhere that they do this, apart from being naturally friendly, to practice their English. They will also offer to be your guide, which is not necessary, but a great way to interact with the locals.
Not knowing how far we still need to walk to get to Kawah Ijen, we were taking cues from what’s around us to gauge the distance to the crater. The stronger, almost suffocating smell of Sulfur and the burnt plants are great indicators.
You’d know that you have reached Kawah Ijen by the drastic change in topography. Lush plant-filled mountains give way to dry, crusted earth. It is almost a surreal vision, seeing nothing growing, not even grass. The gnarled remains of trees and the Sulfuric smoke coming from Kawah Ijen make for an eerie excursion.
When we arrived at Kawah Ijen, the Sulfuric gas was everywhere. We were afraid that we will not be able to glance upon the turquoise-colored crater lake that Kawah Ijen is famous for. It’s as if the gods heard my prayer and a great wind blew the smoke away towards another direction affording us a clear view of the beautiful crater lake of Kawah Ijen.
Blue Fire Crater
The moniker “Blue Fire Crater” was coined by National Geographic on a documentary they made about the Sulfur miners at Kawah Ijen. This electric-blue flame phenomenon triggered a midnight hiking tour to the crater.
We did not know about the midnight hiking tour during our visit to Kawah Ijen. It would be an interesting thing to experience, however, I’m not really keen on hiking five kilometers up a mountain in the dead of night.
Tourists are free to go down the crater of Ijen into the lake. No swimming though, the water is acidic. You may follow the trail used by the miners. It is a somewhat tricky path though, the rocks are loose. Actually, it isn’t much of a path. You also have to contend with the strong smell of Sulfuric gas.
Midnight tour or not, Kawah Ijen is a sight to behold. The brightly colored turquoise lake is such a contrast to the dry rocky desolation of the volcano.
I never really saw myself as someone who would climb an active volcano, let alone two active volcanoes in a span of two days! Hahaha! These two treks to Bromo and Ijen are the highlights of the entire Indonesian trip for me.
There aren’t that many tourists during our visit to Kawah Ijen. Being less accessible, most tourists are non-locals. Still Kawah Ijen is a must-visit place that needs to be part of everyone’s itinerary when visiting Indonesia.