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.
Java has not got that many attractions given its size, but one of the must see things is Bromo-Tengger-Semeru national park. Situated in the East Java, it is a 12 hours intense bus ride away from Yogyakarta. The entry point to the national park is Cemoro Lawang, a sleepy village with not much to offer. Half of the village population is focused on farming potatoes and onions, while the other half caters tourists. It was windy and cold, especially in the night-time. Made us forget sometimes that we were in fact in a tropical country and not Lapland in the summertime. Here I experienced for the first time an altitude sickness with head-aches and fever. Any kind of exercise like walking uphill made me feel very out of shape. That took place at the altitude of 2500m. I shudder to think what it feels like at higher altitudes.
The volcano itself and the surrounding Moon-like landscape is simply stunning. Numerous travel agencies organise sunrise tours to one of the viewpoints, but we skipped that and opted for a day-trip to the crater and back. A wise choice in the retrospect as there was nothing to see in the morning due to heavy clouds. The crater itself is shrouded with sulphur vapours (read: the intense smell of rotten eggs everywhere). Although there is nothing much to see inside the crater apart from the vapour, the view over the valley was well-worth the exhausting walk through a dust-storm and almost a ruined camera. Note for the future dust storms and cameras do not mix, no matter how stunning scenery is.