It is time for Traveling Tuesday!! Today I am going to talk about Mount Ijen, also know as Our Descent into Hell. Mount Ijen is located on Java in Indonesia. It is famous for spewing out bright blue flames. Having heard this Nate and I instantly started planning our trip. (*Note*, we did not plan all that well and ended up leaving a remote hotel on foot after sunset with no place to go. But that is a story for another time)
At 1 am we started ascending Mount Ijen with a hoard of other tourists. We quickly passed all of the city slicker tourists and started pacing a friendly miner. The miner explained to us the he walked up this volcano and then down into the crater three times a day. In the crater of the mountain he creaked out huge pieces of recently molten pure sulfur. He then carried 70-90 kilos (150-200 Pounds) out of the crater and then back down the mountain using only a bamboo pole and two baskets. For this incredible feat of physical labor he received less the 10 dollars a day, the pay dependent on the number of kilos carried and the current market value of sulfur.
After around a 2 and a half hour walk we reached the top of the volcano rim. It was still dark so we could not see well, but what we could see looked distinctly luner. The miner we were walking with offered to guide us into the cater. He even had a few gas masks we could use. Looking at the clouds of sulfuric gas, and the signs that informed us death was found in the crater we agreed and promised to give him 150,000 rupees (11 dollars) .
Donning the gas masks and entering the creator was terrifying. We had out paced the other tourists so we were alone with our miner. The ground looked like it was suffering from a vile disease, it was disfigured by pockmarks, crevices and craters. The air was normally cold this early, but we walked through strata like clouds of sulfuric gas. The deeper we got the more clear it became that we were descending into hell.
At the end of the descent we reaching the fabled blue flames of Ijen. The flames sprang out of the ground in waves. Watching the flames was both horrifying and mesmerizing. Our guide took us out onto the area where the were actively mining so that we could get a closer look at the flames. It was truly hell, flames ascending around us, uncomfortably hot bright yellow ground beneath us, and clouds of heavy sulfuric gas stinging our eyes. We watched the miners pounding the ground with rebar poles occasional provocation angry bursts of gas. We visited the lake with strict warning that falling in would result in death, or at least sever burning.
After what seemed like an infinity our purgatory was interrupted by a trickle of tourists. Watching them trying to shield their lungs with surgical masks we gave extra thanks to our miner and started or assent in the weak light the comes before sunrise. By sunrise we were standing on the crater rim, the rising sun casting our shadows across the entire gas filled crater. We stood watched the sun rise and illuminate the previously eerie and mysterious landscape.