Part I - Ijen
Since we arrived in Java, we went to Malang in the hopes of seeing a nice town and booking a cheap tour to Ijen and Bromo. Neither of those happened - Malang had some nice buildings, but even those had their glory days in the colonial times and now they look a bit worn down. The tours from Malang were a bit too pricy for us, so we decided to Ijen and Bromo by ourselves, which turned out to be about 50% cheaper.
How it went:
From Malang we took a bus to Probolinggo (25k/pers). Probolinggo is a real scammy town, where every tourist is getting ripped-off pretty hard. Even though we were aware of the scams and fake tickets etc, we still managed to buy a fake ticket to Bondowoso and paid 30k too much per person. The real price of the ticket is 20k, not 50k.
Anyway, we arrived in Bondowose and booked a fantastic homestay (Ijen Bondowoso homestay 80k/2pers). The guys there also organized (unofficially) tours to Ijen, so we shared a car with a French guy and instead of trying to figure it out ourselves (go to Sempol, which is apparently also a scammy town), stay there, take an ojek to the start and back, pay the entrance etc.. We took the tour with the homestay - left at 23:30 and were back at around 12:00 in the morning. Going there and back ended up costing about 440k/2pers + the entrance fee (100k/person). It would have been cheaper, if we had a couple more people in the car, but that was still good value for money.
In was really nice. We arrived at the start of the trek at around 1:30am. It was a very steep climb up. We walked really fast, Edda was exhausted (seriously exhausted), but we passed everyone else on the track (and there were a lot of people). After climbing up, you do a steep descend to the crater where the blue fire is. The blue fire is burning sulphur gas, and comes straight out of the ground. There is a lot of sulphur gas, which is poisonous (so, you should have some kind of mask). In the crater they have about 200 guys mining sulphur. They carry about 60-80kgs of pretty pure sulphur at a time from the crater (first up, then down to get paid). Christophe talked a bit to a young guy doing the mining (20y old). He said he lived in a town nearby, but is doing this job for the money. Per kg that he carries down, he gets 925 IDR (0,07 euro). So his daily pay would be about 9 euros, which is very good for Indonesia … The sulphur they dig up is sold to the sugar refinery and used for make-up and medicines the young guy told me. The working conditions are very very dangerous and inhuman. The miners don’t have any kind of protection from the gas, very few have a mask, many just walk with their flip flops and they have to manually extract the sulphur just next to the blue flames and the poisonous gas. You hear a lot of coughing and spitting I really wonder, how many years they can do that job before having to retire because of some kind of respiratory disease. We were a couple of hours in the crater and our throats started hurting despite having a gas mask and avoiding the smoke.
It was a quite crazy experience. In any western country, I doubt they would let tourists (or the miners) go so close to such a dangerous thing. After seeing the blue fire, we hiked to the rim of the crater again to see the sunrise. It was pretty good, though the sun rose behind another mountain. After the fog and clouds disappeared a bit, we could see the volcanic lake, which has a PH of 0,5. You don’t want to fall there…
After admiring the scenery for quite a while, we hiked back down and our driver was waiting for us there. Next he took us to see 2 waterfalls and have a dip at hot springs. Then we stopped at the arabica coffee plantation. The coffee still needed 2 months to ripen, but we had a taste of last years crop. He also showed the macadamia nut of Indonesia. We even had a taste, but it’s different from the macadamia nut that we have in the shops back in Europe.