East Java : Journey Into the Womb of a Volcano – Mount Ijen

Posted on Posted in 2016, Bali, East Java, Indonesia, Travel

This year I was blessed to be able to travel to Bali and East Java under the sponsorship of Ministry of Tourism Indonesia. The group from Malaysia consisted of 13 travel agencies and 2 journalist. I was one of the journalist. All images were shot with Fujifilm XT1 unless stated.

Welcome to Bali. Upon my arrival at the Ngurah Rai Airport we were greeted by Balinese dancers. Our first stop was lunch.

The statue of Satria Gatot Kaca greets you the moment you exit the airport.

Right after lunch we headed to Pandawa Beach located in Kutuh Village, which is south of Kuta District. Pandawa is fairly “new” to many foreigner as it was once known as The Secret Beach and it’s well hidden behind these lime stone hills. But as you can see, they built a road by cutting through these hills. You can still see construction along the main road leading to the beach. It’s about 3 KM from the famous Nusa Dua area and Uluwatu Temple.

Pandawa beach looks really clean and is more chilling compared to Kuta beach. Popular mainly among domestic tourists and very few foreign surfers, the local government realized it’s potential and recently built a proper road and started promoting Pandawa.

180 degree view of Pandawa beach shot using Fujifilm XT1 on panaroma mode.

Local renting out life jacket to swimmers.

Bird’s eye view of Pandawa beach from the hill.

You can also do para-gliding at Pandawa Beach.

A group photo of our group.

Click here to view in Google map.

A copper sculpture of a snake at the main steps leading up to the GWK statue.

The next destination on the list is the highest place in Southern Bali known as GWK, which stands for Garuda Wisnu Kencana Cultural Park.

A pond along the way up to the GWK statue.

Balinese dancer dressed in tradition Balinese costume greets visitors.


One of many copper statues at the GWK. The main GWK statue is currently under construction and, when completed, it will be the world’s tallest monumental statue which is made of approximately 3,000 tons of copper. If you are wore shorts, you are required to wear the sarong provided at the entrance.

An Airasia plane approaching the runway can be seen from GWK.

A cultural procession in progress.

Click here to view in Google map.

Travel dialogue with Ministry of Tourism Indonesia.

Cultural performance during dinner hosted by Ministry of Tourism Indonesia.

With the Balinese dancers.

After the dinner show, my friend Vera came over to pick me up for a ride around Kuta.

After riding around Kuta and Seminyak, she brought me to an area where the locals hang out. It was quite late so many of the stalls and shops here had closed. It’s usually pretty crowded in the evening.

I met Vera in Maldives last year when I was there on another FAM trip. Vera works in the resort where I was staying and she was kind enough to be my bikini model then. The timing was just nice that she happened to be back in her hometown in Bali when I was there.

Ibu making avocado shake.

We had fresh avocado shake with chocolate dipping. It’s really rich, thick and really cheap.

A wefie before heading back to the hotel.

A church, a mosque and Hindu temple all in a row. Shot this from the rooftop of my hotel before checking out.

Local handicrafts being transported on a bicycle.

Day 2’s itinerary started off with a long bus ride to the Balinese country side of Gulingan Village where you get to enjoy peaceful nature walk in the rice terrace.

Click here to view in Google map

The narrow ledge in the rice terrace.

It’s amazingly green and beautiful.

Balinese rice field in Gulingin Village.

This monument marks the ownership of each rice terrace.

A Balinese man making traditional Balinese meat skewers.

If you are interested in learning how to cook Balinese food, Rural Charm Bali offers traditional cooking classes.

During the class, participants will learn how to mix, grind and peel flavourful spices and herbs in a traditional style kitchen.

A Balinese lady grinding coconut.

Everything is done by hand.

Showing participants how to grind fresh coconut.

Juliana trying it out.

Extracting fresh coconut milk from the ground coconut pulp.

Flavoured rice served in banana leaf bowl.

Grinding spices

Marinating chicken meat for skewers

Skewers being barbecued.

And served

Marinating fish meat.

The packed fish are then barbecued.

Stir-frying kang-kong in a wok over a charcoal stove.

Besides cooking classes, participants can chill at the pavilion, or learn how to play traditional Balinese musical instrument, or learn how to make flowers.

After the cooking class and lunch, we continued our journey up north to Lovina. It was a 3 hours bus ride from Gulingan village.

Mayong rice terrace on the way to Lovina. The bus made a stop at a small village called Berlimbing Pupuan and while the rest of the FAM participants were enjoying durian and mangosteen, I sneaked away and snapped some shots of the village folks going about their daily live.

Ibu M-bah (above) and Ibu Handi (below with snow white hair)

Shot with the FUJINON XF56mm F1.2 R APD lens wide opened at f/1.2 against approximately 45 degree late afternoon back light.

Ibu M-bah and Handi sell durian and mangosteen for a living in Berlimbing Pupuan. IDR 25,000 for 1kg of durian and IDR 7,500 for 1kg of mangosteen.

Rice field in Mayong. Shot from the hill top.

Shot with the focal length set to 135mm (200mm equivalent on 35mm format) on the FUJINON LENS XF18-135mmF3.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR lens

In Bali, most of the Balinese lady would ride the bike as a passenger side way.

Upon arrival, we checked into Aneka Lovina Hotel.

Colourful and intricate carvings on my room door.

Kids playing by the beach in Lovina

There wasn’t much of a colorful sunset that evening.

I wanted to see what the Lenovo Vibe shot can do so here are a few shots taken with Lenovo Vibe Shot.

HDR mode. In my opinion, the Artistic HDR mode always gives me too much saturation for my liking.

Art Nightscape mode

Full auto mode

Our objective in Lovina is simple – dolphin watching. Lovina is a stretch of area in Singaraja that’s made up of seven villages. In the 1950’s, the late King Buleleng had a small lodge built on his land and named it Lovina. It is a very small place that has only one set of traffic light.

Dolphin-watching requires you to be ready to depart by boat at 5am in the morning, which means you need to be up by 4am and that’s a drag.

A school of dolphins swimming near our boat. Unfortunately, there weren’t many dolphins at the area where my boat was cruising. We checked out after breakfast and drove west towards Gilimanuk to board the ferry to Banyuwangi in East Java.

Click here to view in Google map

From Lovina the bus ride to Gilimanuk took about 2 hours. The scenery was interesting and picturesque as we were driving along the seaside and through villages.

Once you boarded the ferry, it takes approximately 45 minutes to reach the other side which is Banyuwangi. Multiple ferries transporting vehicles across to East Java island. You can see two volcano in the foreground; Mount Raung on the left and Mount Ijen. Mount Raung last erupted in August 2015 while Mount Ijen last erupted in 1999.

The submit of Mount Ijen. Shot with FUJINON LENS XF18-135mmF3.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR lens set to 135mm.

Mount Raung and Mount Ijen from the ferry’s porthole. Banyuwangi is the eastern most part of East Java and the closest point to Bali island. The Bali immigration is very strict about entry for Indonesian as they are protecting the livelihood of the local Balinese. If no such strict control is in place, many people from East Java will migrate to Bali for jobs.

There are small fruit stalls on board the ferry.

View of Mount Ijen through the bridge of the ferry. As media I was granted access to photograph this.

I manage to capture the ferry next to mine just as the ferry crew came out to tell the boy not to sit at the ledge.

When traveling on a vehicle I live to sit in the front so I can take photos along the way.

Happy school kids on the way home at the back of a tuk tuk.

We stopped by to check out the Banyuwangi Agro Expo 2016 for a quick snack.

Contestant from the batik and kebaya show at the Agro Expo.

A model wearing design from Hijabox.

Some of the traditional batik and kebaya on display at the expo.

A street vendor feeding her baby while taking care of the stall next to the expo.

Some snacks hanging on the bicycle’s handlebar.

After the Agro Expo, we arrived at Desa Kemiren, a small cultural village in Banyuwangi. The Osing tribe ladies performing a welcome dance known as Gandrung.

Osing tribe cooking were served during lunch.

After lunch the dancers came around and invited us to learn and try their traditional Gandrung dance.

The Gandrung dancers

After lunch we traveled 2 hours by bus south west to a small resort called Margo Utomohill, located at the foot hills of Mount Raung in Krikilan. That’s pretty much the last stop of the day and it was free and easy until dinner time.

After checking into the small resort, I thought finally I have some time to rest and recover from the bus rides. That’s when my friend Juliana from Hybrid Holidays asked if I would like to join her for a trip to check out volcanic blue flame in Kawah Ijen (Ijen Crater). This was not part of the FAM itinerary so it’s will be on our own expenses but she is paying for my share. There are only two locations in the world that has the volcanic blue flame; Kawah Ijen and Bláfjöll mountain in Iceland. And of course I said yes. I wouldn’t want to give up this chance.

Satelite photo of Mount Ijen. Photo from Google map. Paltuding is the base camp we start the climb.

NOTE : Each day the the Center of Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation Indonesia will release information on the safety condition of the crater by 11pm. Based on this information the guide will give the green light if it’s safe for the climb.

So this is where we are going, Kawah Ijen ( Ijen crater ). Kawah Ijen is famous for its turquoise colored crater lake and the glowing blue liquid fire also known as blue flame.

Photo from Google Image

And if we are lucky we get to see the blue flames.

Photo from java-men.blogspot.com

This excursion involves a 3 kilometer climb up the mountain after midnight, sot it’s definitely going to be cold. After dinner I was back in my room packing as light as possible, which was quite easy since I didn’t have any warm clothing, not anticipating this side trip at all! I just packed whatever I had with me – a light jacket, water, calorie mate, and my camera gear. After that I only had 2 hours left to take a nap.

We rolled off in a 30 year old Range Rover at 1130pm and drove north east for approximately 3 hours through villages, rice terraces, coconut farms and jungles, with no streets lights along the way. The Range Rover is so old that it has no air condition and I was sitting at the front seat which is located right above the gearbox and I could feel the vibration as well as a bit of heat from the engine through the floor.

Finally we made it to the base camp of Kawah Ijen. From here it’s a 3 kilometers hike up steep slopes in total darkness. We started the hike at 130am and none of us had torch lights. So we only relied on our guide’s torch to lead the way. It was so dark I didn’t bother taking any shots along the way. I could have use flash but that would mean blinding other climbers and that would not be a good idea as part of the hike were actually so close to the ledge. At certain point the slope was at an insane angle of 45 degree and it went on for nearly a kilometer in a zig-zag pattern. I hike with my camera backpack that weighs about 4kg and a tripod that weighs about 3kg. So that’s approximately 7kgs on me. Thank God one of the guy in the group carried the tripod for me halfway through the hike. The aim was to reach the top of the crater by 3am so that we can see the blue flames before sunrise. At the height of 2799 meters, first light of sunrise is visible at about 4am. As we rushed for time, our rest stops had to be really short. Hiking up 45 degree steep slopes with 4kgs on my back, breathing thin air mixed with sulfur does not make it any easier for me who was not prepared for this. We reached the top of the crater at 4am, an hour behind schedule. At that point, most of the guys in the group had decided to stop there and not hike down into the crater. Even our guide said he will not go down.

After some risk assessment, I decided to hike into the crater with or without them. I’m not letting this chance slip by me. After all, there are only two places in the world where you can see the blue flames. One of them is just 2 kilometers away from me. From here it’s more of a climb down the ledge of the crater, 2 kilometers down. Since the guide decided it’s too risky to go into the crater, I had to rely on my phone’s torch light as I climbed down. It was hard for me to balance myself as my legs were tired, sore and numb from the 3 kilometers hike up. I could see the blue flames from the summit of the crater but it’s too hazy to capture it clearly from there. Unfortunately by the time I got near the flame the sun would have been up.

Sulfur miners making his way up with sulfur blocks. By this time it was already past 5am so I could shoot on available light.

Each day hundreds of sulfur miners make perilous climbs of 3 kilometers up to the submit and 2 kilometers steep climb down to the womb of the volcano.

At some parts the path is so narrow that it can only accommodate 1 person at a time. This shot was taken at a 45 degree downward as I climb onto a rock to make way for the miner. Crater lake is visible in the back. This was taken approximately 1 kilometer into the crater.

Thick sulfur clouds near the sulfur mine. Shot this at an angle of approximately 60 degree downwards.

Finally I reached the womb of the volcano. Thankful for the rented mask.

Today the sulfur cloud is really thick. At one point before this shot was taken, the wind direction shifted towards my direction and the entire crater was filled with sulfur. At this point I recalled why our guide didn’t want to go down as he said sometimes the wind direction changes and that’s when it gets dangerous as the whole crater will be covered with thick sulfur cloud and there is no telling how long before it clears up. I heard screams of panic coming from my right as the clouds engulfed the whole crater and the sky turned dark all of a sudden. “Bahaya! Bahaya! Naik naik! ( Danger! Go up! Go up! in Indonesian language )” was heard coming from my right as a group of hikers ran. That’s not a wise thing to do. With such poor visibility and steep rocky terrain the chances of you getting yourself hurt and getting lost is higher than you getting to safety. To avoid being run over by hikers I took the the nearest big rock where I can squat down and hide while the rest ran. The only thing is to stay calm and retrace my steps by memory in case I need to traverse back up if the cloud doesn’t clear up. Thank God after 15 minutes or so the wind shifted again. By now the crater is cleared of hikers but only the miners left.

The womb of the volcano where the miners mine for sulfur. Defying scorching heat and rarefied air these miners dig for precious raw material. Sulfur is use in the manufacturing of daily products such as matches, cosmetic, fertilizer, insecticides, batteries, film and more. These are the forsaken heroes who risk their life every day to mine for sulfur as a mean to feed their family.

A sulfur miner breaking the sulfur deposit into smaller blocks.

Their source of income, the “Devil’s Gold”.

Devil’s Gold is the ancient name for sulfur. A miner hurls blocks of sulfur to the side where he will later load them into his basket and haul them by hand to the base. Most miners prefer to work at night as it is very hot in the day.

Kawah Ijen is well known for it’s turquoise crater lake.

I didn’t have enough time to go all the way to the lake as we need to check out of the resort by noon. It takes about 5 hours to get back to the resort.

A shot upward as I was climbing back up. Shot this at approximately 70 degree upward.

Sulfur bits.

The way up.

For these miners, each day they can only make one trip. They usually come in at night and return early in the morning.

The total combined weight of both fully loaded baskets weighs up to 70kgs. The miners have to carry this load from the source up to the summit and down to the base. That’s a total distance of 5 kilometers.

Pak Bari taking a short break. Pak Bari was kind enough to let me walk with him and photograph him. He’s been doing this for 10 years.

“It is a very hard job but I have no choice. I have to feed my family. This is the only thing I can do.”

This is a very physically demanding and hazardous work. With high risk of falling off the cliff and inhaling toxic fumes every day, for most miners the average life expectancy barely reaches 50 years. Many have deformed spine and disfigured backs due to the load they carry each day.

“Each week I can only make three to four trips as my body cannot take it.”

With 70kgs a load, pak Bahri earn IDR 70,000 ( US$ 5/MYR 21 ).

Nearing the summit. I tried lifting this and it was freaking heavy.

To me this was the most memorable part of the entire trip.

A photo with Pak Bari at the summit. It was really nice of him to invite me to his home but unfortunately I have to head back and depart to Banyuwangi today. It would be great to meet his family. 45-year-old Pak Bari is from a near by village and has 2 children who have finished school and are working. I hope I can send him his photos or perhaps meet him again some day.

These are carts that were recently introduced to the miners. Before this, miners had to carry the fully loaded baskets by hand all the way to the base.

I made it back!

With the group who came in the same Range Rover.

Selfie with Mount Raung which erupted in Aug 2015 which caused hundreds of flights around the region being canceled due to it’s massive ash clouds.

Taking a short break while hiking back to the base. That’s Mount Raung on the right.

Here’s how the path looks like. Now fully appreciating it since it was in total darkness on my way up.

Taking a short break mid point.

This is the worker’s lodge, with toilets to make use of.

Some souvenirs made from sulfur for sale.

Steep turns.

Oh! So there is a sign that warns climbers not to go down into the crater. LOL.

A group photo with the 30 year old Range Rover before we head back.

The long journey back. I hope I have the chance to come back to Mount Ijen again. Or perhaps I’ll do Mount Bromo next time.

Here’s a video on how the blue flame supposed to look like. Video source : Marc -Volcano- Szeglat‘s youtube.

On the fifth day of the trip we made our way back to Bali island by ferry again. But before the long bus ride back to Kuta, we made visit to a newly completed resort called Pelantaran Resort Pemuteran located in West Bali National Park for lunch and hotel inspection.

Shot on portrait orientation panaroma mode with the Fujifilm XT1.

A bed in the restaurant.

The chalet has it’s own outdoor jacuzzi.

Me in the replica dive helmet.

Taking a leak by the sea. Nah, they were just posing for the camera. They were actually just having a smoke. LOL.

Nasi padang for dinner

The last day of the trip is free and easy in Kuta beach area. So here are some random shots from Kuta beach.

This is the son of Eddy. Eddy, the owner of this little beach side bar, has been doing this business for over 10 years. This is where you get your cheap beer.

Mainland Chinese tourist

Learning to surf

Morning prayer. Before each morning prayer, the Balinese would make a prayer offering of Canang Sari (pic below).

Canang sari is a prayer offering made before praise and prayer to the Balinese Hindu gods. Canang sari can be seen in front of nearly every house or shops in Bali.

Earning a living

My travel companion, the Fujifilm XT1.

It’s time to head home.

Wefie with one of my host from the Ministry of Tourism Indonesia.

The new NgurahRai Airport.

Mount Raung (left) and Mount Ijen (right). Shot from the plane.

HDR mode with the Fujifilm XT1.

Flying over Java Island.

Nur and Stephanie

Special thanks to the Ministry of Tourism Indonesia for selecting and sponsoring me on the WONDERFUL INDONESIA trip.

List of travel agencies that participated in this MITRA ASITA BALI FAM trip :

Eye M Hear Holiday

Fairy Holidays

Rayhar Travel

Lion Sight Travel

Hybrid Holidays

Labbaik Travel

Isky Travel

Ambar Travel

Farhan Travel

Fez Travel

Raha Holidays

Hadigo Travel & Tours Sdn Bhd

Wenkt Tour

List of journalists selected for this MITRA ASITA BALI FAM trip :

Raihanah bt Abdullah from M-Star

The Bald Guy from andykho.com

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