8th, 9th and 10th October

We get up at 7 and pack up our panniers after breakfast. We leave around 8h! that’s good, we are starting to get used to packing. We ride until Gilimanuk, some 23km away, to take the boat for Java. This morning, it is really hard to cycle. Is it the day off? Is it the snorkelling? It takes us a long time to get into the mood for pedalling. Gilimanuk has a superb arch to welcome its visitors.

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We take the boat for Java at 10h. It’s a small ferry, containing like 10 cars and one small truck. Java is really close to Bali, a few kilometres away, but the strait is dangerous given the strong currents here.

Once we arrive on the other side, we look for an agency to buy the ferry ticket Jakarta – Batam. At the agency we had found on internet, it is not possible to buy ferry tickets. When asking around about the ferries, we enter an agency and start planning our stay in Banyuwangi. In fact, the road to Malang is not the most agreeable; it has a lot of traffic, including many trucks. Yes, we are travelling by bike but it also makes no sense to suffer 300 km on a crowded route. For that reason, we decide to stay 2 more days here, and take a train on the third one to Malang, where we will meet our couchsurfer.

The afternoon goes smoothly; we spend some time on the harbour to make some planning. And in the evening, we go to bed early since we get up at 00:30 tomorrow. We sleep in a superb little homestay very close to the harbour.

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Today is a great day! We meet with our guide at 00:45 and head towards the Ijen volcano. It takes about 90 minutes driving then we reach the park entrance. Why do we leave that early? This is because inside the Ijen’s crater, sulphur is burning, producing a blue flame. This spectacle can only be seen at night, since it’s too dim to be seen when there is the Sun light. Therefore, after a good hot tea perfumed with violet, we start climbing up the dusty volcano. As we climb, the smell of rotten egg is getting stronger. After three long kilometres, we arrive to the edge of the crater. We don’t see any light yet but a huge column of smoke arising from the crater. We remember the message from Lucie, warning us about all the fancy gas present in the smoke. Here is what we remember:

  • CO, carbon monoxide: it takes the place of oxygen in our blood, and so asphyxiates us.
  • H2S, hydrogen sulphur: smell of rotten egg, it irritates/burns the eyes, provokes coughing, and can paralyse the olfactive nerve
  • SO2, sulphur dioxide: irritates nose and eyes
  • Fluorhydric acid: it can dissolve glass, and attacks first the nerves and bones. If you touch it, rinse during 15 min with strong running water

For sure, we are going to breath these molecules but in a small quantity. We have to avoid the greatest part of the smoke. Not being sure of its efficiency, we still decide to wear our bike mask, plus a medicine mask. These are efficient against big particles, but it’s better than nothing. Lighting the irregular path with our torch, we climb down the crater. We take the same trail as the sulphur porters do. Some of them are already going up. It doesn’t take long before we have a breath-taking view on a vast area burning with blue flame. The nearby crater lake is still in the darkness. The flames are dancing with the smoke that arises. We sometimes see them very clearly; sometimes they make the smoke glow. Just below these flames, this is where they collect the sulphur; it arrives as a liquid form down a little yellow lake. The porters then make crystals out of it. Unlike them, who work in this suffocating smoke, we try to stay outside and quickly go back up.

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Despite having probably one of the most difficult job on Earth, the sulphur porter are extremely smily and welcoming to us. They are particularly happy when we can tell them a few words in Indonesian. We feel a lot of sympathy to them. They carry back down the volcano 70 kg baskets on their shoulder, twice a day. A few porters showed us their shoulders: they literally have a big bump and crushed skin. It clearly doesn’t look good. We also know that, because of all the toxic gases they breathe during their life, they have a quite low life expectancy. From our westerners point of view it is difficult to understand why one would suffer so much, for so little money: 700 rupiah per kg of sulphur (0.05€). Improvement could be made in the sulphur collecting process, although, if work conditions improved with more modern means, the price of sulphur would go down and the porters would lose their jobs. In addition, the job of the porters is a touristic must-see of the region, and the porters are proud to be the centre of this interest. Because of this, the porters keep having this very difficult job.

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The sulphur they collect is used in the sugar production (as a for the crystallisation process), in the make-up industry and in the pharmaceutics industry.

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On the way down to Banyuwangi from the volcano, we stop on the road between two of the typical local plantations: rubber tree and coffee trees. The rubber tree has been imported by the Dutch, during the colonization, and since the independence, the plantations are controlled by the state. The coffee trees are of the specie Robusta. The beans have to be collected when they are still red, then the skin is removed nad the bean is let to dry. Part of these beans that fall on the floor is eaten by an animal, the palm civet. Inside the animal digestive system, the bean receives enzymes that modify its molecular structure. Once defecated, the beans are collected, and cleaned to be sold at very high price as the luxuous Kopi Luwak. In this plantation, contrary to other parts of Indonesia, the civets eating the beans are wild, and are not exploited for their feces.

We spend the rest of the afternoon in Banyuwangi, in the restaurant Kobe Fried Chicken, since it has a Free Wifi, that allows us to plan for the following days.

Today, we decide to cross once more the strait, to spend the day in Bali. We want to stroll in the Balai National Park, enjoy the beach and go snorkelling if possible. Unfortunately, it is not possible to simply enter in the park. We have to go accompanied with a ranger, in a Jeep! and of course for a very high price. So we decide to just go to the beach. We take a small bus to go to the other side of the park, and so, put distance between us and the Bali strait’s pollution and strong currents.

We arrive in Lalang, from where you can take the boat to go to Menangan island (the island we went a few days ago, but from another village). There is no one on the beach, where the transport boats and fishing boats are anchored. In fact, it is not really a beach but a sort of mangrove. The floor where we step is full of corals shells debris, but on the side, we see swamp areas, with the tree typical from the mangrove.

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We spend the day totally alone, in this idyllic landscape. We went to snorkel, but did not see as many fishes as expected.

On the way back to the ferry, we are taken by a father and son in a van. They are transporting a scooter inside to the other side of the strait. They take us till inside the ferry, so that we even did not have to buy the ticket. It will compensate the transport this morning to go to the beach, that was a little chaotic. We enjoy a beautiful sunset while on the ferry.

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Here is the video we made these days: