The trip to see the blue flames on Kawah Ijen was one of the most phenomenal experience I ever had so far. Kawah Ijen became a must-go part of my Indonesia trip the minute I learned of its existence.
Hey! I’m not ashamed to admit that this was added to my bucket list because my favorite color is blue. That’s why I kept my commitment to visit Indonesia’s blue-fire volcano. =P
This time, I got to admit that I decided to go with a tour instead of my own like I did on my trip to Mount Bromo.
After leaving Mount Bromo, I went south via a van for 4 hours from Probolinggo to Banyuwangi where I found a tour office to arrange a trip to Kawah Ijen. Banyuwangi is a city 20 minutes away from Ijen where it is in the middle of a jungle. The trees and landscape of the area was beyond beautiful.
With the tour, I still saved a lot of money through hard negotiation with them.
At first, the original quote for the tour to Kawak Ijen was around 800,000 Rupiah (~$60 US Dollars). I asked was to see their itinerary and the expenses that had to be covered through the office.
First thing on the quote they offered me that bothered me was that only 200,000 Rupiah out of 800,000 went to the entrance fee. The fee supported the sulfur miners who who worked day in and day out in an extremely dangerous environment where many would consider one of world’s toughest jobs.
The daily life for those working to mine Kawah Ijen’s sulfur craters involved breathing in stinking toxic fumes, choking on gas for hours and walking all day long, up and down from the crater, carrying loads of sulfur for as little as few dollars a day.
So, that bothered me the most that they were actually trying to make a profit of an local attraction where they have people in labor for less than a living.
After a brief discussion with the representative at the tour office about the concern I had and the lack of access to the information via voiced English due to my Deafness, so it went all way down to 400,000 Rupiah (~$30 US Dollars). I went for it because I felt reasonable knowing that a tour company wasn’t going to make a big profit out of something unjust.
Before I went on the tour, I met a kind woman named, Breoge McGovern. She was from Ireland and she was traveling solo like me. The bonus thing about her was that she knew British Sign Language (BSL). It was pretty cool meeting a hearing person who knew a sign language from other country.
We hit it off and then a cool guy from Argentina joined our conversation. His name was Ignacio Varela (aka “Nacho”). Three of us talked about many things over some food and beer. We went back and forth from writing on paper to teaching and using sign language.
We all chatted over many topics related to our life, our traveling experiences, purpose of our solo travel, our personal goals for the future and many more. It was quite a memorable conversation for me.
Later that night, our tour guide finally communicated with us of the details of the schedule to see the blue flames at 2am.
“2am?” I objected. I didn’t want to go that late because I read in my online researches that it would be packed with tourists if I went at that time. I pulled out my negotiating tricks as usual. I told them that I was doing a blog and I wanted to capture the best footages of the blue flames.
Not only that, I wanted to avoid going there while there would be tourists flashing around with their cameras for photographs. I wanted the best timing to capture the best moment of the blue flame myself.
“Alright, let’s go there at midnight. ” He sighed at three of us.
Of course, we were thrilled and we all thanked him tremendously. Then we all went back to our hostel for a brief nap while he goes to alert the rest of the group that the schedule are going to be earlier than planned. It appeared that nobody else had a problem. Good thing, huh?
I jumped out of my bed as soon as it was time to leave and packed up my camera and other essentials in my backpack for the day. I also put on my long sleeve and jacket because it would be cold in the high altitude, especially at nighttime. Pretty much, I dressed a little warm for this hike.
We all got on this van and rode for around 20 minutes. By the time I arrive, it was already packed! Seriously, not kidding. I suppose that it would have been worse if I came later.
Good thing I came earlier. It was already as packed as it could be.
The group with the tour went over to the entrance and then the tour guide took care of the entrance fee as it was part of my expense on the complete tour. As mentioned before, the entrance fee was 200,000 Rupiad (~$15 US Dollars).
To reach the summit of Kawah Ijen was around five kilometers (approximately 3 miles) above the city of Banyuwangi.
Now, the hiking trip began. They handed out gas masks for us to wear to prevent from breathing toxic fumes from the lava. I start going uphill on a trail. I didn’t realize how hard it was to go up a very steep path.
It was as dark as dim black. Many of us had to use the light from the screens of our mobile phones or available flashlights to see our path. Thank goodness for the full moon though.
In the beginning, I did stay with the pace of the group, but then Nacho and I realized that the group was too slow for us so we decided to race up to the summit. Breoge decided to stay with the group as she could barely keep up with their pace. Anyways, the higher it got in the altitude, the harder it became for both of us to breath. The gas, smoke and toxic fumes didn’t make it any easier on our grasp for some breaths though.
Although we were pretty fit for the hike, but we had to take a few breaks to collect our breath. During one of our breaks in the hike where it was around halfway through, we stopped and took a look of the beautiful landscape and their city lights! Plus beautiful and soothing shore where we could also see the ferry. We took a minute to appreciate the moment and went back to our hiking.
We both actually raced against so many people on the trail. We passed so many people while running uphill.It took us around two hours to finally reach the top of the volcano where Kawah Ijen Crater Lake is located. It is the world’s largest such body of water filled with hydrochloric acid. In fact, it’s the acid that makes the water green.
Unfortunately, the crater lake was too dark to see at the moment and only thing we could see was white smoke coming out of it.
“Where are the blue flames? I don’t see any?” I became puzzled.
After a brief time asking few people, we found out that we had to climb down the other side of the volcano to see the blue flames.
Yes, climb. Literally, you have to be extremely careful going down the other side of the volcano. It was a VERY steep downhill, and one slip could get you killed or some severe injuries. I slipped few times, but I managed!
While going down this steep downhill, you will have to be sure that you have aware of every movement you make with your body. You will have hard time seeing your path in the dark. It is just especially harder in the dark.
Whatever you do, just follow the line of people going downhill. Just follow them. It will definitely help your hike down the volcano. People in the line are usually supportive as well. Everybody there are friendly, so don’t be afraid to ask for help if needed.
It took me around 20 minutes to get to the bottom of steep downhill.
Finally, I stood there before the blue flames. It was right there in the front of my eyes before i knew it.
The blue flames was beyond phenomenal to me. I just stood there and stared at the flames going on and off. It was incredible, I’m telling you. Sometimes, white smoke would thicken up making the blue flames harder to see, but that didn’t bother me at all.
Then Nacho and I decided to take the risk and tiptoe just inches from death (or, at best, crippling injury) to get closer to the blue flames for a better picture. Seriously, we stood just inches from a molten substance that could blind, burn and/or kill us for several minutes just for a chance to get the perfect shot. You only live once!
Up close, we could see the sulfur miners working their ass off to collect sulfurs and put them in to two bamboo baskets. Two baskets will be hung up on both sides of their loading stick. According to the online researches, each basket usually weights around 40 kg (80 lbs.).
Now, imagine yourself making a trip from the rim of the crater down to the lake and carry back 70-90 kilograms of sulfur on bamboo baskets up a nearly vertical path and then down to the road some 5 kilometers from the lake. Can you even do that with an exposure to high risk of lung diseases from toxic sulfur fumes?
The sulfur miners worked day in and out with little or no protective gear.
I’m surely grateful that I was given a gas mask in this hike.
Even though the job itself does look extreme to me, but I didn’t realize how HEAVY the baskets were.
When I say “HEAVY,” I mean it. Nacho and I decided to try to help the miners out by testing our strengths with the weighs on our shoulders.
Not kidding. As soon as the weighs laid on my shoulder, it was TOO heavy for me to carry or even move. I was shocked because I actually judged the size of the miner to myself and I assumed that I could handle the same thing. The miners were actually stronger than they appeared. I was beyond wrong. That was when I realized how tough their jobs had been.
Even Nacho couldn’t carry it either. He was quite bigger than me and he appeared stronger. We both were wrong about the miners and they have earned more than our respect.
We admired them more for their hard work, patience and endurance. Nothing can justify what they are doing, and it is truly sad that they aren’t getting paid as well as they should be.
Nacho and I went back to the summit after the brief interaction with the miner. We watched the sun rise from the ground.
Beautiful colors of green, yellow, orange, grey, and many more glowed and shined as everything brightens up with the morning light. Also, you will see the crater lake at the top glows the color green with plenty of smoke around it. This is the most perfect opportunity for you to take extraordinary pictures.
I’m serious here, you would be seeing beautiful colors above the clouds—yes, the summit is above the clouds. I couldn’t believe it myself. I was in awe because of that.
Upon climbing back down, the masses of tour groups passed me by. They had really missed out. Save for a couple other tourists, I almost had the sunrise vista and the blue flames all to myself.
How often do you get to see huge blue flames in the nature? Yeah, we all have seen those blue flames coming out of a gas stove, but seeing the blues out there in the nature… That’s just beyond magnificent.
Nothing can ever replace this experience, but I have few things for you to keep in mind on:
- Whatever you do, always do your best to negotiate for cheaper price with tour offices. Don’t let the tour offices make big money out of you while you go and see many miners in labor for less than a living. That isn’t justice.
- Be sure to go there by midnight where you will be able to hike with the stars and see blue flames at its best view before too many tourists go there. Do whatever it takes to convince your tour guide to go there by midnight. Even if they said they couldn’t, insist anyways. They would end up doing it for you anyways.
- Since you’re going in the dark, a headlamp or flashlight (torch) would be essential. I didn’t bring one but I wish I had.
- A gas mask would be a huge help if you get close to the blue flames given the sulfuric gas. Even a surgical mask at least.
- As previously advised in the post about Mount Bromo, be sure to wear warm because it will be cold at night.
- Don’t forget the hiking boots!
This whole trip was definitely worth it! I really, really hope you make it to Kawah Ijen if you come to Indonesia.