The Ijen Plateau and blue flame was my next challenge and just a little over 12 hours away. I can hear those of you who do the Five Peak Challenge in the UK and Ireland scoffing at me but scoff away I was exhausted.
Our hotel for the few hours before we rose at 12:30 to be out the door at 1am was in a tiny little village about an hour’s drive from the morning walk. We rose at half 12 were given our breakfast box. Three slices of white bread and a hard boiled egg. I think the egg must be someone’s joke as we were about to go hike into a sulphur filled volcano and back. The last thing I wanted was a boiled egg. I ate it though later on and just didn’t the about what it reminded me of. I even enjoyed it.
Our guide handed out face masks – we had the doctor surgical masks, I wouldn’t have made it without one of those but I saw people with proper gas masks and they would have been much more appreciated but I am not sure where or how they got those. 3km to the top….I don’t feel that is correct. It took us about two, two and a half hours to reach the top of the plateau and perhaps it was the 90 degree hills the whole way up but it felt longer. The view though as we were climbing over the surrounding mountains with all the stars and moon on show was beautiful and I wished I could have had a better camera.
Men work on the Ijen Plateau, day and night they go up and down the mountain balancing two over loaded baskets one on each shoulder of sulphur. I think about 8kilos worth. They mine it from the inside of the volcano, surrounded by toxic fumes, tourists fumbling their way down or up around them ( although perhaps we are their source of amusement) and following paths which are not exactly well laid out and most laughed, joked, sang and smiled at us, some even smoked their way through the fumes. Making sure we made the right turn and were ok. I definitely couldn’t complain about my one time scramble up and down. They are amazing gentleman.
If you start at 1am the purpose of your walk is to see the blue flames at the bottom of the inside of the crater. You reach the top and then descend into the depths. Feeling a bit like you have walked into Lord of the Rings. There were lots of people going up and down and it is a long way down but people of all ages from 8 to 70 were doing it that evening. Carrying my little meg light off I went. The bright blue flames are worth it. They ripple against the rocks at the bottom, billowing sulphur clouds surround them and you can walk around them through walls of sulphur. Which are very soft by the way and do make your clothing very smelly. At the bottom as I was moving around, the wind changed and sulphur gas rolled around us. It was rather terrifying as I couldn’t see the way out as it was so thick and my eyes immediately stung and filled with water. My lungs, even though I had the mask and my scarf wrapped around my mouth and nose screamed at me. For a split second my ridiculous panicky brain said I am done. The smart part of my brain told me to relax, perhaps not breathe to deeply but you hadn’t gone far just try to go back in the direction you came. I ran into a few sulphur pillow like walls but met my guide and instead of waiting rushed passed him with Corrine and headed for the exit. Up.
It was a slog but the fresh air at the top was worth the slogging. I really don’t know how those men do it all the time. Once at the top, the sunrise and getting a good view of the acid blue lake was next on the agenda. We followed the crater around saw a hazy but beautiful sunrise, black and twisted trees garnished the path. Reminding me a bit Pans Labyrinth and then the clouds cleared and the lake appeared. It is the most acidic lake in the world and doesn’t look real. It is a completely foreign landscape with a lunar like crater spewing sulphur smoke beside a murky turquoise lake and burnt twisted trees. Not too bad for 7am.
Neither hike, Bromo or Ijen is really that bad and if you take your time and enjoy the views anyone physically able could do it. Tie in the whole first thing in morning 3am or 1 am, not having properly exercised for the last few months due to travelling and the constant up/down volcano thing plus a little bit of sulphur thrown in for good measure and for me, it was a good level of physical and mentally challenging activities. But worth every moment and my mental pictures can attest to that.