Ijen - the search for the world's worst job

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December 23rd 2009
Published: February 9th 2010
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Workers capable of carrying 80kg on a bamboo pole up sheer rock slopes, to a depot 5km away - deformed back initially optional.
Summary: If you think you have a rough job - think again. This has to be the world's worst job;

Wanted - Sulphur Collector

Dedicated and determined individual required to collect sulphur from the interior of an active volcano. Must be physically fit (at the moment) as you will be required to walk 16 km daily, ascending and descending a tricky slippery rocky sheer track of about 800m, whilst balancing up to 80kgs of rock sulphur on a bamboo pole. You must not be adverse to the physical disfigurement that this pole will cause to your shoulders, or the sores and lesions etc.

You will be responsible for supplying your own gas mask, without it you will develop a hacking rasping lung complaint due to the sulphuric acid that condenses in your throat.

Salary - commensurate with experience

On this performance based pay system you could earn up to $4 a day!

Health Care


Perks of the job

• Ijen is stunning.
• The lake is beautiful.
• The crater is otherworldly.

The scene is straight out of "Conan the Barbarian" - though these workers aren't slaves, and molten sulphur replaces the molten lava. They trudge up and down the inside of the crater, carrying ratan baskets on bamboo poles over their shoulders. The volcano spews out yellow clouds of ash and sulphur dioxide, it stings as it eats away at the lining of your mouth and nose. The trail goes directly through the densest part.

At the base of the crater an eerily turquoise lake stretches out a kilometre or so, and molten sulphur dribbles down pipes pushed into the rocky vents. Gradually these harden, and the men collecting it hack at it with iron tools breaking lumps of still orange sulphur rock off the surface.

They collect a few of the more beautiful pieces - something to sell to the handful of tourists that make it here each day, some they carve into turtles or bears.

Ijen a plateau of cloud forests, coffee plantations, and this volcano - the volcano provides fertile soils and work to the people living in the region - but it doesn't provide this easily.

Note - there are some terrible jobs out there - this is one of the harshest I've seen, other candidates include the silver miners of Potosi, Bolivia - physically dangerous, hazardous to the health, and low paid. If you've seen worse - please write a blog and leave a comment...

Additional photos below
Photos: 12, Displayed: 12


Rice paddy work...Rice paddy work...
Rice paddy work...

Seems a much better option...

9th February 2010

So, you are job hunting Ali. ;) At least the one you found is better than the one my boyfriend found while job hunting last week, as describe in msg 13 of http://www.travelblog.org/Topics/8259-1.html
9th February 2010

''If you've seen worse - please write a blog and leave a comment...'' But, more seriously speaking than in the last comment I made, I had a job as a model on night in Mumbai, India, first time I was there. I was pampered and special, and provided with everything that even flickered into my mind, while kids younger than my daughter is now(9 years) brought my drinks and anything else I ordered at the cafe the film people took me to. This was at 3AM. I was working all night, and so were those kids. I dont suppose they get enough sleep, in order to be able to get up for school in the mornings. But, even that job is better than the begging I saw so many kids younger than my daughter doing everyday in India. Some of them can do the most amazing acrobatics or the most pitiful gestures such as kneeling on the floor at peoples feet to sweep the garbage away, to presuade pennies out of backpackers like me. Child labour has to be one of the most heart breaking things to see, and makes me appreciate all the more what I can provide for my own daughter in a first world country. Next worst job would be child and female prostitution. According to one(that I know of) study, prostitutes suffer as much post traumatic stress as soldiers who experienced war. I saw some prositutes who live in cages in Mumbai. They were tricked into prositution with promises of honest work with good wages.
9th February 2010

Movie suggestion
Check out 'Workingman's Death' - it is a documentary (beautifully done) on the more dangerous jobs around - these guys above are part of the film as well.... By the same guys is also 'Megacities' which is also worth a watch
9th February 2010

Hey Ali, how're things going? I see you keep travelling through interesting landscapes. Thanks a lot for this entry, it was very useful to remind most of us (or, actually all of us who are reading this) that the grass is not always greener on the other side, and that some gratefulness towards life for our luckier lot is the minimum we can do as sign of respect for people who work under such conditions.
9th February 2010

My sentiments exactly
Hi Ali, we went there last year. We also came away thinking it was one of the toughest jobs we have seen in one of the most amazing locations. One of the young guys we saw, weighed in a load at 93kg, incredible! Some of the older guys were bringing me to tears as they made their way back up the inside of the crater, really tough, they were physically exhausted, sweating and all red across their shoulders, we gave them some water and food. THe guys are incredible though, totally happy and cheery to see us, always cracking a smile despite puffing, panting and sweating, and most likely in a lot of pain. We will never forget the experience. Vik
11th February 2010

Thanks for the comments :)
@Mell: I think there are many people worse off - but - I wouldn't count slavery or being tricked into prostitution as a job. These guys go home to their families each evening and have some element of choice with their life - even if it is a tough one. Will look out for 'Workingman's Death'.
11th February 2010

you've been travelling through my great country! :D I guess you already figured lot of new things you probably never imagined..
16th June 2010

Thanks ...
... for reminding me that my job really isn't that bad. Alec
28th July 2010

This would be a great reality show. Just food for thought! I know they have the Dirtiest Jobs but somethinglike this would be far more entertaining
5th December 2010

World's worst job
I won't complain about my job again! Thanks for making the article so informative-and humorous- at the same time. Your photos are beautiful, showing an area most of us will never see. Fantastic!
24th February 2011

Blog of the year, 2010
Congratulations! :) This blog was nominated one of the best of 2010, in the Asia/writing category. ''short blog which describes in a very concise way the fate & working conditions of sulphur workers, nicely done Ali!'' http://www.travelblog.org/Topics/27154-1.html
2nd March 2011

This guy has been doing for years and now is an attempt to quit for better one http://imamijen.wordpress.com/
19th August 2011

What a life?
hardest job ever by carrying around 70kg surful, thats what I heard
30th March 2012

The sweet smell of sulphur...this blog drew me to Ijen...mmmm.
13th May 2012
Sulphur Workers

Beautiful Shot
Pastel effects makes the picture very unik...like a painting
20th March 2013

I've just been in the Ijen crater and saw that guys. I do agree - it's the worst job one could think of. But I don't feel sorry for them. From what I've seen they just don't care about their life at all. They live no longer than 45 years because their lungs get burnt. But they don't even cover their faces when they get into clouds of volcanic gas. Moreover, inhaling that pioson every day is not enough for them, most of them smoke! I just can't imagine what must be in their heads to kill themselves like that.
19th January 2015

work or death
In India and Peru i thought it is the toughest job to carry stones as woman and clean peoples ears on the street with a needle (yak), and sell weird Foof on buses and trains while actually you might end up very far from home (in case you had a home). In Romania (Journey of Iska) kids just collect coal (acually steal) from running trains and their lung is full of smoke. By the time -if they are lucky- they reach the age of 14 probably half f their lung already destoryed. I do appreciate that I have a chance to complain about my job, and if I want can just change it. Thanks for sharing.

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