If the trek up to Bromo was easy, then you would call the hike up the volcano Ijen a medium level hike. Ascending the volcano in darkness only led by the star lit sky and a few torches held by other visitors, you make a gradual 3k hike up to the crater rim. At times, the path is a little steep, but luckily the path flattens out for some periods of the walk, meaning less work for your calf muscles. Descending from the crater rim you fumble down a rocky cavernous path to the very heart of the volcano. The deeper you go into the abyss of darkness, the more dangerous it becomes.
Clouds of sulphur smoke vaporize, twisting and turning in the night wind and engulfing every entrance hole possible of your entire body. Clutching makeshift masks made by scarves, the blinding smoke burns and stings your eyes, destroying your windpipes, slowly eroding the insides of your mouth. Trying to dodge this horrifically painful smoke is a difficult challenge. Although, many tourists endure this ordeal to catch a glimpse of the extraordinary and magical “blue flame”, which is a memorizing sight. This sight is unique, with very little other places in the world that have such a wondrous scientific fascination, and the main reason why so many tourists flock to it.
Seeing the glaring lick of the blue flame tickle the crater whilst vast clouds of smoke circle the area, creates a modern scene of hell. And those that suffer the most, are the sulphur workers that chip away day and night at this burping beast. Local men of all ages, wearing little safety protection, dig up lumps of sulphur which are sold at a multitude of prices and used for a variety of reasons, commonly used for women’s make up products. Seeing them work in such horrific conditions is disgusting enough, but making the journey up and out of the crater and down the volcano with 60 kilos on their shoulders, sweating and trying to find a balance on rocky footing, is utterly soul destroying. The worker’s here climb up and down the volcano repeatedly, carrying a vast amount every day for an incredibly low income. Trying not to pity and admire them, is a difficulty.
Some workers sell carvings out of sulphur, intricate and beautiful- hoping to earn more money off tourists for their designs rather than their work pay. If you can, try support them by paying for a picture or buying a souvenir. Leaving hell behind and the sun slowly rising before you, one can see the full scene of Ijen volcano surrounded by a large aquamarine lake. The sediment around the volcano is dry and rocky, with so many crinkles and grooves in it, it resembles an aged women’s face, worn down with worry. As you pass along the crater rim, the glorious view of the island of Java is beneath you. Clouds float below you as other other volcanoes break out of the swirling marshmallow clouds and vibrant green foliage encompasses the sweeping scenery below. It is a beautiful sight. Be careful when journeying down the volcano though- take it step by step as I walked faster then I should of done, and fell over (someone had to!)
Originally myself and my travel buddy were planning to make our own way to a nearby town of Ijen by public transport and organise a cheap and last minute tour there. Talking to a number of locals, we found that public transport is difficult to find around the surrounding areas of Ijen and so tours are advised to be booked, but from nearby areas, not from main tourist destinations as this will be at a extortionate price. Booking from the nearby town of Probollingo, (taking a local minibus from Bromo for 30 thousand there), we arranged a tour from a travel desk in Probolingo which included a night’s accommodation in a nearby town of Ijen, transport to the park and a guide up the volcano.
However, a guide is not necessarily needed up the volcano as the path is only one way and pretty simple. What might be difficult is arranging transport to the park where the volcano is, at such a late time, as well as, accommodation near the volcano. However, with some prior organization, a tour can be well avoided.