Banyuwangi. The end of the line: for the train and for Java.
The pleasant little port town of Banyuwangi is Java’s eastern most point and the ferry terminal for the short crossing to, the well known Indonesian island of, Bali. But before we would be drawn eastwards we had to turn west, back into Java, just one more time.
Kawah Ijen, the last in Java’s volcanic chain, stands proud and tall above Banywangi. It’s plumes of smoke billowing out, calling you to visit, to see what lies beyond. Below.
We hopped onto bikes and were on our way. We had read – in numerous tomes of travel knowledge – that the road was steep, in a bad state and badly signposted. For that reason we opted to ride-along rather than ride ourselves. Unfortunately, the tomes lied. Okay, it was steep, but it was in good nick and well signposted. If you are travelling this way… Do it yourself (it will save you many pennies and its a bloody nice, quiet ride).
Anyway, pushing the economic issues aside we started our ascent to the crater lip. Passing sulphur miners and their golden-goodies as we reached higher and higher into the skies with each stride.
Book stated: ‘climb takes one-and-a-half hours’. Well seasoned, vertical-experts, Cliff and Joyce accomplished the climb in… One-hour. Result. Pant-wheeze-cough. Result! It was steep. And (my too often used word) stunning. Spell-binding.
A slow walk along the lip, through sulphurous fumes that haphazardly blew around our faces. The smell. No, the stench, was sickening. It is easy to describe, but unless you have experienced it I fear you will think I am whining and exaggerating. Imagine, if you will, the worst rotten eggs that you can, covered in sharp vinegar, and left… shall we say, Further maturing… in a very warm room. That’s the tip of the iceberg.
A more alien world on this planet I have not seen. A vivid panorama confronted our eyes. Hues of blue, rich turquoise and mottled green broke sharply into yellows, oranges and blood reds, in such contrast that I truly felt transported. Removed from earth.
And all the while the fumes, almost viscous, continued their tumultuous tumble into the sky, the miners battling the elements for another days pay… Which by the way amounts to five pounds sterling and about 132 pounds (60 kilos) weight. And they carry it all out, over rough ground, in bamboo baskets across their backs. Incredible.
This was the scene around us, except for one miner who had decided it was, in fact, a prime picnic spot! At least it turned out nice again.
And then, for us, came the all too inevitable descent. The weary bodies.
The bikes. The aching botties.
The hotel. The bed.