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Kawah Ijen: An Incredible Volcano with a Harsh Reality

Kawah Ijen (Mount Ijen) is one of the most stunning volcanoes in the whole of Indonesia. The sunrise from the top is spectacular and you also have the chance to see the natural phenomenon of the Blue Fire, where sulphuric gas is ignited as it comes out of the rock and can create huge blue flames up to 5 metres high. It is also however, one of the last active sulphur mines in the world.

To get down to the Blue Fire at the bottom of Ijen crater, you have to wear a mask to protect your lungs from the sulphur. Even while wearing it, I could still smell and taste how strong the sulphur was and continually felt it stinging my eyes – so much so that I kept them closed whenever the sulphur smoke got too intense. The hike from the top is about 45 minutes down steep rocks in complete darkness, only to be rewarded with intense sulphur smoke and then another 45 minutes back up to the top of the crater.

Now imagine you have to go down there every day, come back up carrying 90kg of rocks on your back, then walk the extra 3km to the base of Kawah Ijen with the weight of it all resting on your shoulders. Then you have to repeat that a few times a day. That’s the reality for the local workers that mine the sulphuric rock from Kawah Ijen.

These men will carry up to 90kg of sulphur rocks on their backs up and down the mountain every day. They usually set out at midnight for the initial climb and will manage 3 loads during each day, making an average of $12 a day. The sulfur mining company will pay them roughly 8cents USD per KG of sulphur collected. They can then also make additional money from the handicrafts carved from the rocks and sold on the mountain to tourists. Although it doesn’t sound like a lot, they generally consider it to be good money and is much more than they would be making on the local farms, which is where a lot of them say they would be working otherwise.

Credit: edition.CNN

Unsurprisingly, this daily work can also lead to huge health problems. After spending up to 12 hours a day surrounded by the sulphur smoke, the acidic nature of the gas can lead to irreversible lung damage, inflammation of the eyes, disfugured backs and sadly some of the workers don’t make it past 30. There are also those that have continued working with no ill health problems, but that is the gamble they are taking daily.

I wanted to write this piece to make people aware that Mount Ijen is not just a site of incredible natural beauty, but it is also a working mine and a way of life for the local people working here. There are often two sides to travel – the side you are presented and the side that is less obvious. I believe it is by paying attention to the less obvious, less celebrated parts of a country that you get to know it best.

Credit: edition.CNN

If you do plan on visiting Kawah Ijen – which you should by the way, it’s incredible – one way to help those miners is to not get in their way when they’re climbing, simply step off the path and let them past. You can also choose to buy one of their handicrafts and support them that way, however just be aware that it is very unlikely you will get it past customs after.

The important thing to remember is that this is their job and their way of life. They are not a sideshow and not there for tourists entertainment. Let these workers get on with their jobs and just use your time to enjoy the natural beauty of Kawah Ijen.

Are you planning on visiting Ijen? Did you know about the Kawah Ijen miners? Let us know below.

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