By Daniil Elterman, Assistant Expedition Leader
Sitting at the airport of Surabaya and waiting for my flight to Yogyakarta, I scan through the photos of my last few days in East Java and still can not believe that only yesterday and the day before I stood on the edges of smoking craters of some of the most famous volcanoes in Indonesia – Ijen and Bromo. Looking down into the smoking pits, trying to spot a bottom through raising sulfur smoke….
Two days ago, after inspecting harbor of Banyuwangi – our access point to Ijen Volcano - my guide Kadek and I jumped into our Land Rover and set off for a ways up, towards the start of the trail that eventually will take us all the way to the crater that hosts the world’s largest acidic crater lake, known as Kawah Ijen.
The trail itself is not that long – only 3 kilometers - but it was a strenuous hike almost every step of the way, sloping at 20 and sometimes 40 degree angles and covered with loose volcanic sand that makes it rather slippery. The trail is winding it’s way up, hugging the slope like some endless gray snake… We forced our way up, and now and then (more and more often as we go) we stopped to catch our breath, scrambling for our cameras, so that it looked like we just stopped to take yet another snap of the breathtaking scenery around. Luckily, the photo opportunities are aplenty, as the view and angles change as the trail makes another bend.
We encountered local men rushing down with heavy loads of sulfur that they just excavated from the crater and then were carrying it back to the base where a local company buys the material. I am afraid to think of how many trips up und down the slope these men do every day and,about the slippery, treacherous trails they repeatedly have to take…
Local man carrying sulfur to sell.
Stopping for a photo opp during the long hike.
But nothing could prepare me for the magnificence of the view that suddenly unfolded as I turned the last bend towards the crater. Only one turn of the trail, and I am on a different planet – a lifeless, steaming land of all shades of grey, brown, yellow, with deep cracks running on all sides or the crater threatening to swallow anyone who would dare to approach too close…
The wicked, otherworldly beauty has a hypnotic power that draws you closer and closer to the edge, inviting to take a glimpse into the poisonous green eye of the steaming lake deep below. It appears and disappears periodically as the density of the smoke constantly changes.
Kawah Ijen Crater Lake
Kawah Ijen Crater Lake
Walking along the edge.
One of my worries was that hiking two volcanoes two days in a row will be “too much of the same,” but In fact, the experience couldn’t be any more different.
Mount Bromo is certainly not the highest volcano in Indonesia, but no other volcano will match the scenery of it’s setting and the magnificence of the surrounding views.
We had to wake up at 03:00 AM to make sure that we caught the sunrise over the volcano – a sight that attracts thousands of “photo-pilgrims” to this spot year round. The rush for the best view spots in such an early hour was something totally unexpected – a huge mixed crowd of people on foot and motorbikes were flowing through the narrow street between the souvenir and breakfast stalls. After having slept only a few hours, desperately trying not to lose my guide and not to get killed by one of “sepeda motor” (local moped), I thought to myself – It better be worth it…
This thought persisted as I stood in the darkness, shivering from pre-dawn chill that you kind of don’t expect in a tropical region, and staring into the black, with only a glimpse of a white smoke there to entertain the eye. Until…
As the first sunrays arrived to scout the worthiness of this world, craters appeared one by one, and suddenly all you hear around is only “click, click, click”… My frozen fingers reach for the camera, and my first (out of a thousand and one) capture is taken.
The second part of Bromo experience was driving down into the valley for a hike to the crater. They call the valley “Sand Sea”, as from above it looks like flat water surface, with “islands” of craters rising up from it.
Down below we discovered that Sand Sea is an absolutely flat plateau, carpeted with volcanic sand and savanna-like grasses. And when I saw horse riders galloping through the grasses, it mentally transferred me to Mongolia, but only for a moment, as we had just arrived to the parking spot.
Immediately we were surrounded by local people offering us a horse ride towards the crater. For those who are not so fit, it is definitely an option, as it is a one kilometer walk upon volcanic sand, with increasing elevation as you go further. Sitting on the horse surrounded by the volcanic craters makes a great holiday photo.
But horses only can go so far – eventually you reach the steps that lead up, all the way to the ridge of the crater. Everyone can choose their own pace to climb, though during rush hour you may get a bit of an encouragement from the back.
Ride your way up while enjoying the scenery.
Or walk through the sands if you wish.
But you cannot escape the steps - all 240 of them. (I counted!)
And once on top – bask in the smell of sulfur, try to spot the bottom of the crater, pose for photos, or climb even higher along the ridge to become a photo opportunity for the others.
Tourist photographing the crater at Mount Bromo.
Looking out into the crater at Mount Bromo.
Daniil Elterman, Assistant Expedition Leader
Two days – two smoking volcanoes… As you are reading this blog, someone in Silversea Expeditions is already raking their brain, figuring out how to bring YOU there in a near future. And the good thing is – that EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE!