Hiking a steep trail under full moon and stars and ahead the beams of flashlights flickering up the slope like insane fireflies.
Around us sounds of cheerful young voices chattering in excited Indonesian. Up further, trees silhouetted against the moonlit sky and ahead – if my legs make it – the promise of blue-flames 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 the volcano of Kawah Ijen in just 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 volcano night hike.
At the rim of the volcano, with an ex-miner as our guide and with respiratory masks ready, in darkness we descended the trail towards the crater. But we weren’t alone. Dozens of Indonesian university students were also hiking up Kawah Ijen during the holidays, so it was a bit crowded at times. Yet nothing, could detract from the weirdness.
Weirdness and excitement. Walking carefully. Clambering down a zig-zagging path into the darkened crater. Following the flashlight illuminations towards a plume of towering smoke and flames of blue. Sometime stepping aside for miners lugging baskets uphill (some miners work at night to avoid the heat of the day).
It was a trip of strange highs. A steep, sleepless night hike – well honestly, that wasn’t much fun – but it proved worthwhile. Yet utterly hypnotic, like fire can be, to see blue flames dance amid black alien surrounds.
Maybe even weirder, is watching the workers amid a smoking volcano that resembles a Medieval Vision of Hell. That such a work environment still exists in the 21st century seems too surreal (despite having seen other harsh places like the Potosi silver mines in Bolivia and the blood diamond mining in Sierra Leone).
The rock-hewn churches of Lalibela remain one the world's least-recognized man-made wonders, yet in Medieval times they were known as “The Jerusalem of Ethiopia”.
When it comes to man-made disasters - it’s difficult to top the Aral Sea disaster. At the fishing port of Moynaq, the rusted, stranded ships are now 170 km from the actual shores of the Aral Sea.
Looking at the women of Minab Market reveals the ancient trading routes that once connected southern Iran with the Arabian Peninsula, Pakistan, and beyond.
Women with lip plates and killer warriors - yeah these Mursi tribe traditions still exist in Ethiopia. But today, the Mursi also pose for tourist dollars.
Exploring Anlong Veng - the Khmer Rouge stronghold - and trail to Pol Pot's mountain hideaway and his grave near the Thai border.