Kawah Ijen – The blue fire and the yellow sulphur

Kawa Ijen was the second volcano we tackled in Java, Indonesia. A common place for people to visit when traveling down from Bromo across to Bali, or Yogyakarta to Bali. We were told that it would be slightly more challenging than our trek up Bromo, but the pay would be greater. Ijen is one of only two places you can see blue fire inside an active volcano, this is due to the sulphur mining that takes place in the crater. We set off directly from Bromo at 1pm and started our journey to Ijen.

Toto (who I mentioned in my previous blog) placed us on a bus that drove us 5 hours into the mountains for our stop off at a hotel, that appeared to be in the middle of nowhere, designed especially for people visiting Ijen. We were told to have a quick rest and would be picked up at 12am for another 2 hour driver to the foot of Ijen.

2 hours later we arrived in the pitch black to the foot of Ijen. We were greeted by our guide, Adi, and rented gas masks for 25,000IDR each. We would need these for when entering the crater due to the large clouds of toxic sulphur smoke. Our plan was to go down to the crater, see the blue fire (which had to be seen in the dark) then head back up to the top of the crater to watch the sunrise.

The walk to the crater was 3km up a slippery hill. On the way you were overtaken by the odd sulphur miner on their way to start work. You needed a torch to see where you was going as it was so dark, but the walk to the crater was fairly easy. An advantage to the darkness, and been so high up was that the stars were out in their full glory. The milky way was clearly visible and I was even lucky enough to spot a shooting star, whilst waiting for Ricky to change his shoes.

Once we arrived to the edge of the crater we were told to put on our gas mask, stay close and be careful as it was now dangerous. The path (not really a path) down to the crater was fairly challenging. The rocks were loose and slippy and the darkness did not help. I was second in line and stayed very close to our guide, who was extremely helpful and informative. The walk down the crater was a further 700m and at around 400m you could start to see glimmers of blue fire appearing through the clouds of smoke.



The blue fire looked very surreal through the clouds of yellow sulphur smoke and surrounded by the lumious sulphur that the miners were working on. The blue fire is a bi-product of the mining process. The sulphur is heated up down a series of stone pipes, which then melts down the bottom and quickly hardening, allowing the miners to chip away and fill up their baskets.

Adi took us up a small ridge for the best viewing point of a small section of blue fire. He offered to take my camera up and get centimetres away from the blue fire. As he was at the top filming the blue fire, the wind changed, and along came a huge cloud of toxic smoke. My eyes began to sting, I could barely breath and I could barely see my hand in front of my face. We shouted for Adi but had no response and we were separated from the rest of the group. The smoke didn’t appear to be clearing and we had no idea which direction to turn. I took a couple of steps before a second cloud of thick smoke hit us, I crouched down and placed my head between two large boulders to try clear my breathing and my eyes, but it didn’t help. After a minute or two longer we decided we had no time to think and had to take tiny, tiny steps to get out of the smoke. Finally it cleared and we were able to exit the area and start walking towards the acidic lake right in the centre of the crater.

We decided to skip sunrise due to the time, it was now 5,00am and we had no chance of getting to the top in time. Slowly the sun revealed the turquoise of the acidic lake and the colours of the whole crater. It was like a different planet. The greys of the stones, the blues of the take, the puffs of yellow smoke and the bright yellow sulphur nuggets everywhere you looked.



We spent another hour or so in the crater, catching our breath and taking in the sites. Adi allowed me to try and lift one of the miners baskets which must of weight around 70kg. Everyday the miners enter the mine, stay extended periods of time in the clouds of smoke, then carry up to 100kg 700m up a small rocky path to the top of the crater, 2 or 3 times a day for around £8/9. Some miners do this until they are 60 years old.  Our guide Adi was one of these miners, and had only recently started doing guide work to try counter some of the mining. He was set to start work a few hours after we left. When we arrived to the top of the crater he showed me the living quarters of the miners, a small wooden shack with a few sheets and pillows inside and a small fire in the centre. He did not enjoy his mining work but he had to look after his retired miner father, grandfather and pay for his two children to go to school. We pooled in at the end of the trip to make sure he was tipped for his help.

The 3km walk back to the shuttle was spectacular. Every direction was beautiful forrest, active volcanos and rolling hills. We saw two groups of wild monkeys and enjoyed the casual walk down to the bottom, whilst learning more from Adi as he practiced his English.

We now had a 2 hour drive to the ferry port and a quick ferry ride to reach Lovina, Bali.


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