“How long have you worked here for?” I asked.
“15 years” replied our guide.
“Are there any common illnesses the workers here experience?”
“After a few years headaches and breathing difficulties are common” Said the guide without concern.
“How much sulphur do you carry at one time?”
“70-100 kgs twice a day. The journey takes 3 hours by foot. We rest for 2 hours and then make the journey again”
I look around at the men carrying the immense weight on their shoulders – my weight, in fact. They take each step back up the crater with caution. When they reach a flat, they jog a little.
“No one has ever fallen and died” The guide remarked, as he watched the rest of our group fumble their way down the crater.
He showed me his shoulder where he balances the weight. A huge callus that I mistakenly took for a bone at first was sticking out.
He pulled out of his pocket a piece of paper and showed it to me – it was his day’s salary. $10, that’s his reward for 8 hours of gruelling work that Western hands probably never see.
He didn’t seem to be complaining. In fact, I think he was enthusiastic that I could speak enough Indonesian. He doesn’t get the chance to tell his story very often.
This was our first ever organised tour. We’d always hated the idea of someone else dictating our schedule. In this circumstance we had no choice. Travel from Bromo to Ijen is difficult, and fraught with thieves and con men. We went for the safer option.
Our companions, 3 French couples, were fantastic. They were patient while I attempted to re-active some of my rusty French. It was actually sad to say goodbye to them when we arrived in Bali.
Our driver was a jovial Indonesian with an interesting sense of humour. At one point we were driving along a main road when a police officer on the side of the road signaled for him to pull over. It looked like the police were conducting some sort of stop and search.
He indicated left to pull over, drove 20 metres and then sped up and knocked his signal off. While laughing loudly he was shouting “Lari! Lari! Lari!” (Run! Run! Run!). Apparently it’s common for the police to demand bribes from tourists. He wasn’t taking any chances.
We had woken that morning at 3:30 am. Sadly we missed the sunrise from the crater. The first thing you notice about the crater is its immense width. My 17mm lens couldn’t dream of capturing the scene.
The second thing that springs to mind is how other-worldly the place looks. White jagged rocks form a large bowl that encases the green lake inside. Yellow smoke constantly bellows out of an area where Indonesians are hard at work. This isn’t a sight you get to see often, so it’s difficult to take your eyes away from it.
The early morning start, the hour-long drive across difficult roads, and the hike to the top were worth it.
For more pictures of this interesting place, feel free to visit my daily photo blog. I’ll be posting a few shots over the next couple of weeks.
One of the more experienced workers here
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