On the back of a motorcycle at 4.30 in the morning, being driven through the darkness of the jungle in east Java.
Before I explain why, let me describe what I’ve been doing until now. Yesterday I arrived by bus at the western tip of Bali island and caught a ferry over to Java, the trip only lasting half an hour. On board were a group of 60 Javanese returning from a holiday in Bali, and a westerner being aboard was such a novelty to them that they took my photo four or five times with them. This was funny though also made me a little apprehensive that I was going to a place where westerners were uncommon. When we arrived at the port an official requested that I come and sign in at the tourism office. At first I thought that this might be some kind of scam but they didn’t want any money and later I checked my lonely planet guidebook which said the office was legitimate. I stayed in a hotel in nearby Banyuwangi and arranged to be taken the next day to Sempol which is a village up in the mountains of Ijen, Merapi, and Raung. The road up was terrible. I can’t really say it had potholes because that would imply that there was a road to have potholes in. It was more like a bunch of rocks at times and can only really be driven in a four wheel drive (though I wasn’t in one).
I arrived at Sempol at about 2pm and checked in to the Arabica hotel, a place that is surrounded by coffee plantations but was unable to serve me a decent cup of coffee. Taking a look around, I found some back streets and wandered through while hearing Muslim prayers on a loudspeaker in the middle of the village. The following morning I rose at 4am in order to do a sunrise walk up to the rim of the Ijen volcano which has a crater containing a lake, hence my 4.30am motorbike ride to take me to the starting point of the walk. The walk itself was hard going - three kilometres of steep incline. Workers collect sulphur from the crater and as I walked up some would pass by me carrying baskets up, while others would be walking down with full loads on their shoulders. One friendly worker called Tom decided he would guide me up and so I went with him to the rim of the crater. I could see very little because of the smoke and mist and the sulphur made me feel nauseas. As we descended into the crater, the sulphuric smoke got worse and I had to cover my nose and mouth with a cloth to stop choking. The vapours became so overwhelming that at one point I said ‘enough, lets turn back’ but Tom convinced me to keep going and eventually we reached a spot where the sulphur was collected. When the breeze changed, I could see the crater lake which was an amazing blue-green colour against the grey-yellow of the surrounding rocks. We walked up a different path from the one we had come down and had even more amazing views of the lake. Frustratingly, my iphone camera had stopped working so I couldn’t take photos but here are some I got from Sophie, a young Dutch women who I met there.
Just as I got to the end of the descent back down the volcano, it started to rain and on the motorcycle ride back to the hotel, the raindrops felt like pin-pricks as they hit my face.
Sophie and I managed to catch a ride on a bus from Sempol. It was a long wait before the bus arrived and there wasn’t much to do except try to talk to some of the locals who were very friendly. The bus took us along the shockingly bumpy road to Bondowaso and now we’re waiting for another bus to take us to Probolinggo which is a bigger city on the north coast of east Java. Sophie is going to Mt Bromo but I think I’ll move on to Yogyakarta which is the cultural capital of Java, and will try to get there by train.