Hiking a steep trail of full moon and stars and pin-prick flashlights. Cheerful young Indonesian voices abound and around us the black silhouette of trees and cones on the trail towards a blue flame darkness and a volcanic dawn.
Earlier, we’d had mixed experiences at Bromo volcano, followed by a day of journeys towards a hotel arrival at night when suddenly we were offered the chance to climb Ijen Volcano in a few hours that same night. So we went with the flow. Left beds that we’d paid for – and sleep that was needed – and headed out with our daypacks at midnight to ride in a 4WD towards a mountain night hike.
At the volcano’s rim, with an ex-miner as our guide and with respiratory masks ready, we descended the winding trail down into the crater during darkness. But we weren’t alone. Dozens of Indonesian university students were also checking out Kawah Ijen during their holidays so it was a bit crowded at times. Yet, nothing could detract from the weirdness.
Weirdness. Excitement. Caution. Walking carefully and then later clambering down a bouldered winding track into the deep dark crater, following flashlight illuminations towards a plume of towering smoke and flames of blue. Stepping aside, for miners lugging baskets uphill (some miners work the night to avoid the heat of the day).
It was a trip of strange highs. A vertical, sleepless night hike – well honestly, that wasn’t much fun – but it proved worthwhile, utterly hypnotic, like fire can be, to see blue flames amid black alien surrounds.
Maybe even weirder was watching workers amid a smoking volcano, that could be called a Medieval vision of Hell especially when you see magazine photo essays about the Miners daily grind. That such a work environment can still exist in the 21st century seems surreal (in spite of having seen the reality of other harsh places such as the Potosi silver mines in Bolivia and the blood diamond fields of Sierra Leone).
The highlight of the Kawah Ijen night hike was this scene witnessed shortly after dawn, having raced up from the crater below as the blue flames receded with the daylight to now watch this panorama of peaks and lake and smoking beauty.
Travels in Indonesia – 2016