Sunday, March 21, 2010
Labels: active, blog, climb, East Java, hike, Ijen, Indonesia, Java, job, miner, mining, mount, photo, South East Asia, sulfur, sulphur, travel, trek, volcano, work
Could this be the job from hell? Breathing stinking toxic fumes. Hour after choking hour. Walking for miles, weighed down like pack mules carrying loads of up to one hundred kilograms, in temperatures few could bare. All, for as little as a few dollars a day. How long would you last, working in a live volcano?
In Eastern Java, Indonesia, Mount Ijen looms above the landscape. A 2800 meter volcano, Ijen is a mystical and frightening place for the local people. But the volcano is also a source of income, for those men hardy enough, and desperate enough, to enter its active crater to work as sulfur miners. At four in the morning, the miners begin their grueling day. A four kilometer walk into the crater mine is just the beginning. These men extract sulfur with little more than their bare hands, a primitive method long since abandoned in the western world. Carrying the back-breaking load using bamboo baskets, back up to the top of the crater, and then down the mountain, is a job that some men have performed for decades.
When I arrived at the bottom of the crater, my eyes welled with tears. The extreme natural beauty of the turquoise coloured crater lake, and the surrealistic mine-site, were almost too much to bare. The miners were very considerate to me. There was a clear sense that I was a welcome guest in their work place. I stayed in the crater for an hour or two, as various miners safely toured me around. On the way up and down the dangerous, steep, rocky path, the foul smelling toxic plumes were choking me. My eyes were weeping, my nose and throat burning. Breathing was difficult, my chest felt tight, like asthma. More than once I thought, this is not a good idea.
Back at the top of the crater, I returned to a waiting Phillipa (who, by this time, was clearly worried for my safety). Not knowing how to begin to explain what I had seen, I attempted to describe a most bizarre combination of incredible beauty, and outright hell that these workers endure. I simply could not hold back the tears any longer.
I will never forget this day. Click Read more, to see the spectacular Ijen active volcano and its workers.