Kawah Ijen

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I just want to go ahead and say that descending into Kawah Ijen was one of the coolest things I have ever done in my life.  For as long as I can remember, I have had a dream to someday visit an alien planet.  I think Kawah Ijen is as close as I will ever get.  It is a sulfur mine in East Java, Indonesia, that is centered around a sulfuric acid lake.  A few tourists go to the rim of the crater to look in, but if you wake up at midnight, and get really lucky, you can find someone to take you inside the crater.  I sent emails to several travel agencies and everyone said that it was closed due to excessive amounts amount toxic gas.  Then I took a look on Trip Advisor, and found a glowing reference to a local tour guide named Pepe.  Pepe said he could take us down into the crater, so we booked him.  He was super friendly with emails and texts over the next few days and he gave us good instructions on how to cross over from Bali to Java.  We took a harrowing all-day bus ride where I got hit in the face by a lady with ten brooms, a guy in front of us smoke for ten hours straight, constantly ashing in my lap, and another old lady kept putting her hand on my crotch.  Finally, it dumped us off a coupe hundred yards from the ferry terminal, so we shlepped out bags over and took the 20 minute ferry to Java.  Pepe met us at the dock and another tour guide tried to fight him.  Luckily, Amanda jumped between them and broke it up.  Pepe was very calm the whole time and never showed any aggression which was very respectable.  He took us for a bite to eat then we went to our hotel where we pretended to sleep for a few hours before waking up at midnight to drive several hours over bumpy roads to the base of Ijen.

When we arrived in the pitch black at the base of the mountain at 3am, we parked the car and Pepe went to wake up an old couple named Pa and Po (Mr. and Mrs.) Im.   Pa made us some coffee and Po got us some gas masks.  He had been a miner in the sulfur mine until about a month ago when the government shut it down due to increased earthquake activity and high levels of toxic gas.  We learned about how the miners used to make the trek down here twice a day and carry loads of up to around 200 lbs out of the crater.  The Ims were much luckier than some of the other miners though because they had a bit of property and were able to run the small restaurant for tourists.

After the brief rest and coffee break, we took off in the dark of night to climb the crater.  Because it was so dark,  we could see un unbelievable amount of starts and the milky way.  This really added to the illusion that we were on another world.   After about 90 minutes of climbing, we caught the first whiffs of sulfur.  Shortly after we had to wet our handkerchiefs and tie them around our faces to block out some of the fumes.  We were now at the lip of the crater, but it was so dark we could also see the black void with a few wisps of smoke coming out.   After a brief rest, we started the descent into the crater.  At this point, the trail dissapeard, and we just had to climb down the boulders and rocks, following the bits of chipped sulfur and abandoned baskets so we wouldn’t lose our way.  Then after about an hour of descending we saw the first blue flames off in the distance.  The looked like tiny blue ghosts dancing in the darkness.   The blue flames are actually jets of sulfur gas that are erupting out of holes in the ground.   On clear nights, it burns a beautiful blue color.   Even Pepe had only been here at night a handful of times and he said he had never seen as many and as big of flames as we saw that night.  As we got closer, we could see that they were as big as houses.   At times, we had to wear gas masks to prevent from choking on the sulfur gas, but it only added to the otherworldly atmosphere.   Finally, at around 5am, we arrived at the sulfuric acid lake at the center of the crater.  The sun was starting to rise and now we could see the red-hot molten sulfur erupting out of holes around the blue smoke, along with scattered pieces of abandoned mining equipment.  As the wind was constantly changing, we would sometimes be engulfed in the clouds of brimstone and have to throw on our gas masks.  It truly looked like the gates of hell.

Amanda didn’t know that the lake was acid (she thought it was steaming because it was a hot spring) and she stuck her hand in!    Luckily, she was okay, but it caused a reaction in her rings and they turned black!  As the sun came up, we looked back up to what we had just climbed down, we saw how vast it truly was.  Amanda was stunned that we had been able to climb it in the pitch black.  We all stood in awe of this surreal landscape until the sun was fully up, then the gas got too much to bear and we started the trek back up.  When we got back to the lip, we saw a few other tourists who came to see the sunrise from the lip (They got to sleep in until 4am!).  We felt a bit of pride at having been the only ones to do to this insane one-of-a-kind experience, then we started in the grueling trek back to Pa and Po Im’s where she had prepared an enormous basket of fried bananas, noodles, and cold drinks.  Then we jumped back in the jeep, and set off on the nine hour drive to our next destination, Mt. Bromo!

  • Oops
  • Po Im
  • Amanda trying to lift the sulfur basket
  • Adam trying to lift 80 Kg of sulfur
  • Dawn near the crater at Ijen
  • The crater from above at dawn
  • Hiking out of Ijen crater
  • Mandy and 100 Kg of sulfur
  • Acid lake at sunrise
  • Photography with toxic cloud
  • Love in space
  • The three toxic avengers
  • Pepe at acid lake at Ijen
  • Toxic photography
  • Sulfur vents and acid lake at Ijen
  • Sulfur vents and acid lake at Ijen
  • Sulfur vents and acid lake at Ijen
  • Acid lake at Ijen
  • Photography in toxic conditions
  • Pepe and blue flame at Ijen
  • Protection from the gas
  • Adam and Amanda near blue flame
  • Adam and Amanda near blue flame
  • Blue flame and smoke
  • Blue flame at Ijen
  • Amanda near blue flame
  • Blue flame at Ijen
  • Pepe and blue flame at Ijen
  • Blue flame at Ijen
  • Blue flame at Ijen
  • Sulfur and far off gas
  • Protection from the gas
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  • IMG_0717-4
  • IMG_0704-3
  • IMG_0702-2
  • IMG_0697-1

Posted: May 19, 2012

Author: Adam and Amanda

Category: Asia, Blog, Continents, Indonesia

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