No need for a package tour. No need for a guide.
One night at 1 a.m. I started from my guesthouse Gandrung Payungan Inn in the village Karang Asem with a scooter (IDR 75,000/day) and turned back because after a while it was raining too hard. It was around 2 a.m. when I decided that it’s not worth it. The road had become a waterfall with me going upstream on a steep & uneven road in dark fog. I pushed on. Reminded myself “Dude you have no proper shoes.” My rain poncho was still the same one I had torn up in Bali and makeshift-fixed with a safety pin. Looking back, it was wise to turn back and give it another try the next day.
And that’s what I did. Next day I found some hiking shoes my size – that is, finally!… after having checked more than a dozen shops in Banyuwangi and surroundings in vain. I was so glad to find this adventure/hiking equipment store that I also exchanged my flippers for a pair of trekking sandals. Evening I prepared myself, went to bed early. Got up at 1 a.m. and went up northwest, following the signs indicating ‘Kawah Ijen’. Ohhhh, the scooter ride is so much better without rain! Even so, dear adventurous reader, be sure to get a good scooter – sometimes the road is quite steep and rough, with pits here and potholes there!
When I was almost at the entrance (thank you GPS!) I noticed that I am running out of gas. I made it there but the marker was on ‘E’ (empty). Well it was about 3 a.m. or so and I could worry about going back later, so no reason to do that now ;-P
Within one hour I was on top of the hill. A guide called Tao was joining me up the whole time. I told him “Thank you but the path is obvious, Tao” but he said he don’t mind joining me and it’s for free. There were so many people going up there! I overtook most of them and was at the summit in an hour. There are three steep ascents with plateaus in between so it’s not a real hike, rather a nice morning walk.
At the top Tao asked for IDR150,000 to go down to see the blue flames: “It’s very dangerous, very dangerous” down there. Yeah right. I said goodbye and joined an American photographer named Jason and his Malay friend. As we go down, I meet the workers I know from Glawogger’s movie Workingman’s Death. It’s an entire different thing to watch it with your own eyes, to smell the sulfur, to have to crouch down in order to avoid burning eyes. These people carry loads of sulphur uphill every day, and they are paid per kilo. I do not buy a turtle or any other ornament made of sulphuric rock to ease their lot – but I want to give something. So two of them get my last pieces of chocolate.
For pictures or videos of the blue flames, please consult the internet, e.g. Wikipedia. There are great records of that phenomenon… far better than what I could ever achieve with my tablet camera.
I meet Jakob at the guesthouse in Karang Asem. Together we walk up and down Mount Semeru in around 26 hours. It is one fast hike. The last part is quite heavy and we almost do not start the climb in the early morning because of heavy rain – again, like on my first eve at Kawah Ijen. At 4 a.m. the rain stops and at 5 a.m. we start to hike the last section. Rolling gravel has gotten lumped together by the recent rainfall. That makes the ascent somewhat easier. It takes us around 2hrs30 from Kalimati to the Volcano peak (3676m).
Up there at the summit – it’s hard to describe. The volcano spits out ashes every 15-20 minutes. It is loud. It is spectacular. It is immense, gigantic! I have never seen anything like it. Very impressive. Certainly unforgettable.
Someother bloggers described this ascent as challenging, and yes, it is quite challenging. But if you’re not fixated on being there at sh rise, have proper shoes and a good walking stick to prevent you from sliding back down, it can be done in around 2.5 hours. Especially if you have a friend carrying the backpack with camera, water and peanuts – Thank you, Jakob!!
Sitting in the night bus to Yogyakarta. I skipped the hitchhiking I had planned because of Eid Al-Fitr, the muslim festival in June. Prices of accommodation are raised five times as high as normal. Traffic is gridlocked (kemacetan) because people from Bali go west to visit their parents in Java. On the other hand, people from central Java go east to Bali and west to Jakarta, and Jakartanesians go everywhere to spend some time with their relatives. To put it in simple terms: it’s all a huge car salad!