“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” Ernest Hemingway


23 March 2015

Banyuwangi: trekking through fire & brimstone


 13th – 15th March 2015

The quiet village near Kampung Osing Inn
Come on guys. Hi Ho, Hi Ho its off to work we go!
How glad we were to finally be boarding a train again. The coaches and minibuses of Indonesia had really started to get old. Sure you see some funny people and awesome landscapes along the way but for anyone over four foot tall the prospect of having to spend whole days crunched up in the fetal position in a vehicle driven by a suicidal child takes its toll after a while. The last train we had caught was from Ayutthaya to Bangkok and after almost three months it felt like catching up with an old friend.

Jono doing his impression of Queen in Bohemian Rhapsody
    Since we first set our sights on this trip it had been our intention to trek a volcano and in Java there were plenty to choose from. Should we stay in Yogyakarta and hike Mt Merapi, head East to Mt Bromo or even further East to Mt Ijen? In the end we opted for the latter.

Dude was that you who farted?
     It took around thirteen hours for our economy train to reach the coastal town of Banyuwangi. It wasn’t the most spacious of carriages but at £2.50 a ticket you can’t complain. As with the buses it was still slow going but at least you’re able to wander around, grab some food from the restaurant cart or just sit down and people watch while listening to Indonesian commuters play acoustic guitars and cover great tracks in Chinglish.
liquid sulphur
    We arrived in Banyuwangi at around 21:00 and followed the advice of Tom (fellow overlander we met in Jakarta) and headed to the nearby “Kampung Osing Inn” for a room. If you’re only planning on stopping one night for the volcano Kampung Osing is the perfect place to base yourself. This super cheap family run guesthouse has really basic rooms with shared bathrooms and offers a free breakfast of banana pancakes. If the pancakes don’t convince you then its location in a sleepy village outside the bustling town surrounded by rice fields will. We grabbed a bemo to our new guesthouse with Dutch girls Milou and Cilie who we had originally met in Yogyakarta but had bumped into again on the train. They had chosen to trek Mt Bromo and travel to Banyuwangi all in one day. It makes for a knackering day but it does mean you press on towards Bali in one large jump. As it was late in the day and we had no urgent timeframe Jono and I decided to have a lazy day in the village before attempting the climb up Mt Ijen.

Stunning view of the chloride lake
The hills are alive with the smell of eggs!
    Our group set off from the guesthouse at 1am the following morning and arrived at the trail entrance an hour later. Our guides provided head torches as it was naturally pretty dark when we started the steep climb all the way to the crater edge. The guides take it steady so despite the constant gradient the walk is pretty easy. Every now and then our group would have to make way for one of the many sulpur miners carrying incredible loads on their shoulders. These guys are some of the worst paid workers in the world and considering the effort it takes and the everyday risks to return home with 900 rupiah
The miners below
per kilogram (4p) of the mustard yellow resource is a clear case of human exploitation. To ensure they return home with enough cash to survive these super humans carry on average 90kg per load rain or shine, day in day out, traversing thin mountain trails strewn with loose boulders, steep ravines and toxic fumes. Even their equipment is limited to a bamboo basket, coat, jeans, flip flops and a pack of smokes. I guess when you have to put up with sulphur monoxide fumes having the odd cigarette must be like grabbing a breath of fresh air.
Totally worth the effort

The lifeless forest. well apart from the monkeys
No this is not an optical illusion. Just two sets of twins.
    Being foreign pansies our guide was kind enough to provide us with gas masks to block out the worst of the sulfurous atmosphere and after trekking down to the crater base to see a sulphur mine in action it was not long before we had to backtrack to the crater rim for the sunrise and a spectacular view of the chloride lake. We were extremely lucky to have a clear morning during the rainy season and as the morning sun crept over an adjacent peak its warming rays slowly illuminated the turquoise acidic water, peeled back the dense layer of sulphuric fog and allowed us to overlook the workers beavering about the mustard tinged strata. An everyday scene for the families working here but for a couple of shire folk (Northamptonshire folk) it was an image forever etched into our memory. 

Banyuwangi is a convenient pit stop for most travelers in the region not just for the volcano but also because the town is home to a ferry terminal linking Java to Bali and after a quick breakfast, a taxi ride and a 40p car ferry had made landfall in Bali.

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