Being photographed more than Mount Bromo itself by locals and the magnificent Kawah Ijen, home to surely one of the toughest jobs on Earth !!

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June 21st 2013
Published: June 22nd 2013
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Day 274 (Sat 8thJune)

My minibus arrived at 9am and we headed away from Yogyakarta. There were I think 12 of us travelling on to Cewaro Lewang, a small town in the hills near Mount Bromo. The guide said this would be a 10 hour trip, so that being assumed we’d be there at 5pm.

Luckily we had a large minibus and there was plenty of space although it doesn’t matter how much space there is, your ass still gets sore after constant sitting down and driving over speed bumps and potholes, off which Indonesia has plenty it seems, especially on some of the back roads we took.

This method of getting there is awkward, one because you actually go sort of past where you need to go in the first place to turn back on yourself, which makes no sense and two, because it was never 10 hours. It took us 13 in the end after a change of transport in Probolinggo to a minivan which was the opposite of what we had earlier, this was small cramped and I didn’t even get a seat, I had a baby stool to sit in the walkway bit as an older French woman refused to get on unless she had a seat. French people can really be awkward; it always seems to be them that have the problem with things.

We arrived in our village at 10pm and after a quick feed of fried rice and a beer I went to sleep

Day 275 (Sun 9th June)

There was a knock on my door at 3:07am, 23 minutes earlier than the time I was told. When you have this little sleep every minute counts. I put my shorts and t shirt on and opened the door, to then return into the room, put some ¾’s on instead and get my rain jacket. It was very cold in the hills and I didn’t fancy being out for hours on end freezing.

A jeep drove me to the top of the hill and the entrance ticket counter. From here I was on my own as I chose not to pay extra for the viewing point and instead decided to walk. This was looking like a bad idea walking in pitch black with no idea where I was going until I saw a couple lights in the distance, caught them up and realised it was 2 Basque people from my bus the day before. We then walked on to Bromo together. At the base of the mountain amazingly there is a staircase to the top of it, not what I had expected at all. It was a decent walk from the entrance to get there, maybe taking us 45 minutes in the complete dark. We then waited for sunrise although it was pretty cloudy so in reality it just got steadily lighter, there was nothing special in it. Bromo itself is an active volcano and constantly produces a cloud of thick volcanic dust. We stood around the main area for a while until the Basque’s left. I then walked further around, saw a commotion so stopped for a look.

It was Helen, another member of the bus yesterday being photographed by loads of locals for being white. While laughing at her I got dragged into the equation and was then chatting to a local English teacher while her students listened, every now and again posing for photos. After a while we got fed up of this so walked further round the ridge of the volcano, a simple slip here and I think you could be in serious trouble. We met 2 other English guys, Chris and Louis and walked maybe half way round the mountain top, where there was no one. I was nice to be away from everybody and we got better pictures for sure round there. It was pretty risky to get there but worth it. On the way back we were cornered by loads of people again for photo’s and when the walkway is maybe 1 foot wide it’s impossible to escape them.

By the time we got back to the main viewing area all those tourists who’d gone to the observation deck first were arriving so lots of white people, meaning we didn’t have to be in any more photos. I got a scooter taxi back to the Jeep as I was now tired and headed to my room to relax for an hour or so before the bus came to pick us up. A quick trip to Probolinggo followed by a 2 hour bus to Malang and a 30 minute angkot (town minivan) got me to my next hostel where I came to meet up with a friend. Maybe an hour or so after I arrived my friend Jeroen turned up, a guy I met in China last September and again a couple months back in KL. I wouldn’t have come here otherwise but I was close by so made sense, plus it’s always good to see a familiar face. We just hung around the hostel in the evening and did very little.

Day 276 (Mon 10th June)

Today I have done nothing, after a week of early starts, temple viewing and mountain climbing it was time for a lie in followed by a day of recovering and doing nothing. I popped out for a bit of a walk and me and Jeroen went for some noodles in the afternoon but I stayed in and around the hostel the rest of the time to just relax. This day was much needed.

Day 277 (Tues 11th June)

After getting some scrambled egg for breakfast I left the hostel, I caught an angkot across town to the bus station and then a 2 hour bus to Probolinggo and a 5 hour bus straight away to Banyuwangi. These buses got quite hot as they are local buses therefore don’t have air con but they are a decent value. When I got to Ketapang I had to get another aangkot this time towards the port to Bali. At the port there is a tourist information office I was told about in Malang. I headed there around 6pm but it was closed. Someone obviously saw me standing there because soon a guy turned up on a scooter talking me through various options to go to Mount Ijen. As I was alone a 4x4 jeep seemed terrible value. I ended up agreeing to a motorcycle taxi to the mountain at 4am for 300,000 rupiah (£20). This was probably a little inflated by I had no room to negotiate really, not that I am any good at it anyways.

The guy on the scooter then took me around town to find somewhere to stay. The first 2 places he took me were full but we finally caught a break at the third one, the room was ok, nothing special but I needed sleep with an early start. I got some food and headed to bed.

Day 278 (Wed 12th June)

I woke at 3:30am to make sure I was ready to go and headed outside just before 4am. The guy turned up soon after and took me to meet his friend, Chong, the guy who would be driving me to the mountain. Unfortunately his English is not as good but he wanted to do it to practise his English with me, not sure how much use I am in these exercises, can hardly speak it properly myself. We got to the foot of the volcano around 5:30am and started the climb. We were accompanied by some locals carrying baskets, some carrying 2, some 4 with a bamboo shoulder strap of such to balance it on.

It took maybe an hour in total to climb to the crater rim, this got steeper and steeper and harder and harder. Chong was struggling in places which I found odd as he must do this quite often, also his Dad works there so must have practise of it. At the top you can see for miles, Bali in one direction, other mountains on the Ijen plateau in others and right in front of you the huge crater of Ijen itself. The lake is very white/turquoise with sulphurous smoke rising steadily from pipes used to control it. Looking into the crater you can see the workers mining away at the bottom and then proceeding to carry the sulphur up the side of the crater.

On the way up I saw 2 baskets balanced on a block of wood so I decided to give it a go at carrying it. I just bout managed to get it up onto my shoulder but it was seriously hard. I certainly wouldn’t fancy carrying it up the crater then the 3-4km down the other side for the pittance they earn. They make between 700-1000 rupiah depending on who you speak to per kilogram. The average lot I think is about 60-80kg so assuming they can do 2 or 3 trips a day, each one taking round 4 hours then they can make around 200-240,000 a day which is £13-£16 a day for a full 12 hour shift. Having lifted the bamboo basket myself that is incredible. I also heard the Chinese owner sells it for 5,000 a kg therefore making at least 80 percent profit on it, which seems like exploitation for me. The guys want paying if you take pictures etc so I gave him 5,000 for picking up his work, they probably are happy to let tourists pick up and take photo’s as the extra pay no doubt helps. The other acceptable option is to offer cigarettes but not smoking I didn’t have any on me.

Anyways myself and Chong headed into the crater, there are signs saying not too but it seems a lot of people do it anyways. It’s a sketchy stony and sandy path down the bottom which is very steep. At the bottom you can stand by the lake and see the sulphur being mined. It is very advisable to wear a face mask at this point as one gust of wind your direction has everyone coughing. The workers then have to climb out of the volcano with the sulphur and I can tell you from just getting myself out that was hard enough, let alone with 80kg on your back. The record is 120kg apparently which is an amazing amount.

After exiting the crater we left. The path is that steep at times I was sort of jogging as I couldn’t slow down, god knows how the locals do it. It must be one of the hardest jobs in the world, and considering they are in an active volcano as well as being gassed by sulphur all day and they all smoke, they are all quite healthy, most of the guys are well into middle and old age. The younger ones don’t seem to carry as much.

We got back soon after 9am and I got my stuff and was dropped off where I could fetch a bus to Bali. The bus goes 10km to the port, waits for a while, while being allowed to be let on a boat then loads. The trip across only takes 30 minutes and it’s quite nice seeing Bali one side and Java the other. At the Bali side you have to wait for a while as boats seem to battle to dock. We got in and straight off heading for Denpasar, the sort of capital of Bali I guess.

5 hours later we arrived there, to the bus station which is always handily miles out of town. I then sorted a moto taxi to the airport, cost 100,000. This took 45 mins, considering the bus and boat from Java cost 50,000 its a pain in the backside. Long distance travel here is cheap but then the final few km or getting to where you actually want to be always cost a fortune in comparison. It’s clever from a workers point of view but irritating from a tourists point of view.

I got to the airport around 6pm knowing there was an 8:40pm flight to Lombok, unfortunately on trying to book a ticket I was told it was cancelled. The next flight would be 6am tomorrow. This would mean a night spent in the airport as I wasn’t paying to get back in to town and out again as well as a hotel room. I haven’t slept in an airport since Heathrow on the way out here in the first place.

Additional photos below
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Mount BromoMount Bromo
Mount Bromo

The edge, don't want to slip here
Mount BromoMount Bromo
Mount Bromo

Where no other tourists dared to go

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