Published: February 13th 2011April 23rd 2010
My final destination in Java is Kawah Ijen, a colourful crater lake set amidst coffee plantations and remnant rainforest. It's quite a hassle getting there via a combination of bus, minibus and ojek, but not particularly difficult if you charter your own vehicle. I, of course, do it the hard way, but make a few more friends in the process. My trip begins with a bus from Probbolingo to Bondowoso, passing the massive coal powered power plant on the north coast before ascending through verdant green hills and down to Bondowoso. Here I must take another bus to Wonosari, where I change to a minibus for the climb up the potholed road to Sempol. There I negotiate an ojek to Pos Paltuding, where I take a room for the night.
The next morning I begin the walk up to the crater rim in the dark, occasionally passing sulphur workers carting baskets weighing up to 100kg of sulphur cut from the volcano vents. The track down from the rim to where the men are working is steep and treacherous and given my history of falling over during descents I decide to stay on the rim and just take a few telephoto shots of what looks like a hell of a job. There are 350 workers, each hauling sulphur twice a day, which they have cut from near the vents. They get 600Rp a kilo, thus making over 100,000Rp per day. This sort of money means it is a popular job, even if breathing poisonous sulphur fumes is the occupational hazard. They also try to sell sulphur souvenirs, some carved into animals, others natural crystal formations, to the hoards of tourists who arrive every morning to also view the spectacle. This really is a beautiful spot, with views right along the east Javan coast for miles in all directions.
After returning to Pos Paltuding I pack my bags and begin my walk down to Banyuwangi, or at least to where I can get some public transport. The walk is brilliant, through tropical forest with tree ferns everyhere, birds singing, butterflies... I'm in heaven. From time to time I am passed by jeeps full of returning tourists, some stop and offer me a lift but I am having a far too good a time to take up their offers, this scenery is beautiful!Not long after lunch I emerge from the forest into plantations of coffee, large trees, and beehives. The road continues to descend at a much more reasonable gradient for a few more kilometres to Jambu, where I am hoping to pick up some public transport. This isn't the case so I soldier on to Licin. I have now walked 21km downhill, after my 6km round trip to the crater. I can safely say I am buggered!!
A young boy offers to take me down to Banyuwangi for a ridiculously cheap price so we career downhill at a ridiculously fast pace. It is then that we pass all the Durian sellers. I was really looking forward to buying some Durian to finish off my stay in Java, but I stupidly didn't ask the boy to stop, so we continue wheeling on to Banyuwangi.
A word of advice to anyone turning up in Banyuwangi late afternoon. Best to stay the night there, as the buses crossing to Bali early evening are few and far between, with most of them not arriving till much later at night. Unless you are already on a through bus that is.
From Banyuwangi I took another ojek (now that's a funny story about the very friendly young man who stops to tell me in English that an ojek will charge me at least 50,000Rp to take me the less than 10km to the ferry port just after I've negotiated in Indonesian with another man to pay 15,000Rp for the trip!) to the port of Ketapang where I board the ferry for the short crossing to Java. For an incredibly narrow patch of sea it's a 2 hour crossing: one hour in real time and another as I turn my watch forward an hour as I cross the timezone. Going the other way you lose no time at all!!
I have had a glorious 3 and a half weeks in Java. Yes the place is incredibly crowded and the cities are loud, dirty and congested. But the food is varied and delicious, the people are genuinely friendly, incredibly generous and are mostly just getting along with their lives. And there are still some areas of genuine wilderness for those of us who like walking in the great outdoors. Yep, Java has been a revelation!
Before I have even left the ferry port I meet my first Balinese tout. I've been to Bali a number of times before, but after being ignored for weeks the touts in Bali really got in my face. Yep, Bali lives on its tourism, Java doesn't. So smile, ignore, and if you must, say sudah!! (means "already", as in I've already bought a sarong, had a massage, had a manicure, hired a car, seen the dolphins, etc etc ad nauseum). And enjoy that cold beer or three that wasn't so easy to find in Java.