The first time I learned about Ijen was in the movie Samsara (the sequel to Baraka). At that time it was just an exotic location some place far away. In a hostel in Jakarta I saw a clip from the BBC documentary “Human Planet”, which featured similar footage from Ijen. It put Ijen on the map for me, but still we had no concrete plans visiting it. Nor we had any idea it was possible to visit it. On the way to Bromo, we made a stopover at a tourist agency, where a cunning businessman told us about Ijen and happily sold a package tour to Bali via Ijen. Even though it seems we paid a little too much for the deal in the vulnerable mental state after an exhausting 10 hour journey, Ijen was totally worth it and in fact it was the highlight of Java for me. As with other volcanoes the best time to visit Ijen is during the dry season (from May to October). Although we couldn’t enjoy the views over Ijen due heavy impenetrable clouds, a trip down the crater fully compensated it.
The road from the nearby village to the crater is about 3,5km. All the way up.
Despite the warning most of the tourists descend down the crater and guides readily offer their help
There are about 200 miners working at the mine
Workers start early in the morning before the sun rise and make two trips a day
Miners carry loads from 75kg to 90kg
Up to 300m from the bottom of the crater and then 3km back to the village
Most workers do not wear proper respiratory protection. Some workers wear flip-flops in this quite demanding terrain
The water of the lake at the bottom of the crater is hot, but very acidic. Swimming is not advised
The bottom of the crater is full of toxic sulphur fumes
Quite a hell down there, but at the same time it is amazingly beautiful.
Sulphur fumes cool down into the solid form, which is collected by the workers.
There is no work automatisation of any kind. A simple mechanical elevator would help a lot, but no, everything is done scrupulously by hand.
Once out of the crater the load is weighed and then must be carried back to the village
Workers typically make $13 a day
Unlike it was pictured in Samsara, the atmosphere is very cheerful. Workers sing, make jokes and bum cigarettes. Protip: bring a pack of cigarettes with you for additional karma.