The Best 1:00 AM Trek in Asia: The Blue Flame of Kawah Ijen
The Blue Flame of Kawah Ijen
We first heard about the blue flame of Kawah Ijen, one of only two naturally occurring blue flames in the world (the other in Alaska) while watching the movie Samsara before leaving on our round the world trip. We were awestruck not only by the beauty of this naturally occurring phenomena, but also by the sulphur miners who work in quite possibly the most inhospitable environment in the world.
Trekking to this spot was one of the main reasons we decided to come to Indonesia and was one of the things Alyse and I were most looking forward to before coming to Asia. As Borat would say, “We are very excite!”.
We booked a three day, two night tour in Yogyakarta (Korner Cafe), where we negotiated a rate of what worked out to be about $25 CAD per person. This included both nights accommodation, a jeep up to Mt. Bromo for sunrise, a guide for the Kawah Ijen blue flame, the ferry to Bali and all buses along the way.
We had thought about doing this on our own and I had done all the research to travel independently but with only a few days before we had to catch our flight from Bali to Flores we decided to join a tour which would get us through a lot quicker than if we were to do it on our own.
Traveller Tip: Double check that your salesman has included the Jeep transport at Bromo and the guide for the blue flame. On both cases a few travellers had to end up paying much more for these two things the day of the tour because they hadn’t purchased these things up front.
Bromo is famous for it’s stunning sunrises and on our first morning, after about four hours of sleep, we took a jeep to the top of a sister volcano to try to position ourselves for a what we hoped would be a beautiful view over Bromo’s crater.
My brother and I centred ourselves right up front to get the best view of the sunrise. We were ready but mother nature had other plans. Here’s the best photo I took that morning…
Beautiful isn’t it?
Haha, so it pretty much sucked but the views from the top of Bromo’s crater which we climbed up later that morning definitely made up for it.
We arrived into Bondowoso in the early evening after a 10+ hour drive from Bromo where we made a beeline for our beds knowing that we had an even earlier wakeup call coming for Kawah Ijen. Just after midnight our alarm, The Circle of Life from the Lion King (naturally), summoned us to rise from another shortened sleep, or should I say nap. I surprised myself with how quickly I jumped out of bed considering I am not a morning person. I guess the adrenaline of actually seeing the blue flame and sulphur miners in person was overriding any sort of sleepiness that I should have been feeling at the time.
After being given a couple of surgical masks meant to protect us from the toxic fumes of the sulphuric vents, our group began the long and treacherous ascent into the Ijen crater. The hike up was long, well marked and not overly challenging, but the trek down into the crater in the black of night was challenging and dangerous at times. Although I’m sure we could have found our way to the blue flame on our own, we were happy to have our guide during the descent as there were a few parts that were especially difficult to traverse.
After making my way down to the vent and then positioning myself onto a rock directly across from where the blue flame should of been, a gust of wind blew a huge cloud of toxic gas toward me. The masks hardly helped as I began coughing uncontrollably and my eyes watered. I sat there waiting for the smoke to recede and after what seemed like hours, but was probably only two or three minutes, the smoke dissipated and the most incredible natural phenomena I’ve ever witnessed made it’s first appearance.
For the next half an hour I just sat and watched this dazzling blue flame. It was honest to god the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. Off to my right I noticed a miner, chipping away at giant pieces of sulphur only a few feet away from the blue flame. He slammed his pick ax over and over into sheets of sulphur for close to an hour all the while breathing in toxic gas without a mask on.
After watching this I had to go and talk to some of them to learn more about what drives them to do this for a living. This one guy I started talking to explained to me in broken English how he’d been doing this for about five years and that most of the people he works with do it off and on when they need the money. He said most guys have been working for less than ten years, but a few have been doing it for over twenty! He explained to me that he usually tries to make two trips a day, getting paid only 10 cents USD per kg. After seeing how long it took us to walk the trail, with absolutely nothing on our backs, I was shocked.
I asked him if he has any injuries and he then showed me his shoulder, bulging out over an inch from where it should be.
I learned that most of the loads they take up weigh at least 70 kg, with the strongest men carrying almost 90 kg. He asked me if I wanted to try to lift it and of course, I had to give it a shot. As you can see in the photo below, I was able to stand up which surprised me, but I can tell you for certain, there is no way I could’ve made it more than ten feet without falling over.
Before Alyse and I knew it, we had been in the crater for over four hours! We started making our way back to the our group, who were waiting half way up the rocky crater wall, not exactly thrilled with us for hanging out so long with the miners but you know what, we really didn’t give a shit. Kawah Ijen was a dream of ours, one of the main reasons we came in Indonesia in the first place and quite possibly the best morning we have ever had.
Here are some of the stunning images we were lucky enough to experience on our trek back to our camp.
At the halfway point is a weigh station where the miners find out how much their load will be worth, some stopping for a coffee and cigarette. If the toxic fumes of the sulphur vent isn’t hurting them, the cigarettes won’t! Most of the miners were carrying loads weighing around 70 kg, with the heaviest we saw of just under 80 kg.
Seeing the blue flame of Kawah Ijen, one of earth’s greatest natural phenomenon, and meeting the sulphur miners who risk their lives each and every day was honestly one of the greatest experiences of my life. I would come back in a heartbeat and I recommend to anyone who is considering a trip to Indonesia that they make their way to Java and experience this.
Ross & Alyse