Kawah Ijen is located only a few hours away from Bromo. It is on the tourist path and many combine the two volcanoes into one package. It is also a favourite for those staying in Bali. They can pop across on the ferry from Gilimanuk to Banyuwangi and climb it in one day.
For us we headed to Ijen independently. We took the same crappy bus from Cemoro Lawang, Bromo back down to Probolinggo. This time we managed to find 10 people to fill the bus within an hour and a half. All of us wanted to get out of the place as soon as possible so we didn’t wait around for others. In fact we paid a little less than the previous day because we had more people. On arrival in Probolinggo we joined forces with Sarah again and a German couple, Vanessa and Sebastian. We went looking for a bus direction Bondowoso – The closest major town to Ijen, and where we were to catch a connecting bus to the tiny village of Sempol ready for the ascent.
All 5 of us had read that no buses ran from Bondowoso after 3pm. It seemed to be a trend in Java that no connecting busses ran after this time. The time after which when most people who travel on their own would get to the bus station!!! We were approached by a man at the station who pointed to a bus that was apparently heading to Bondowoso. He asked for 30,000Rp per person. 15,000Rp more than it should be, however he claimed it was more expensive because it was direct, leaving in 10 minutes and didn’t stop everywhere.
As per usual we wanted the cheapest option and thought maybe we should wait for the cheaper slow one. We tried to bargain the price and managed to reduce it a little.
Scammed for the first time?
We had all been told to be careful at this particular bus station, we must pay on the bus not outside the bus, be careful of our belongings etc etc. We got on to the bus where we were asked by two dodgy guys to pay then and there. We refused for a good 20 minutes asking why they weren’t collecting from others. (Normally you pay when the bus gets moving!) Eventually they collected money from 2 locals and gave them what looked like good tickets. Eventually we paid and chatted to the guys quite nicely. They then left the bus and I felt pretty uneasy that something was wrong. Especially because the two guys seemed to have disappeared completely from the bus station and the two local guys who apparently paid for their tickets had also evaporated into thin air. I thought we had been completely played and conned out of 25,000Rp. For the next 45 minutes I was pissed off!! We were still at bus station – supposedly we were to leave ASAP!!! And I was waiting to be asked AGAIN to pay because they ticket we had paid for and were given were complete fakes. As the bus began its supposed direct journey to Bondowoso, the ticket man slowly made his way up the aisle towards us. I was ready to have an argument, contact the police; everything was going through my head. Meanwhile everyone else, JM, Sarah, Vanessa and Sebastian seemed fine. When he finally arrived to us he took our tickets put them in the bin, wrote another and moved on! I was worrying and stressing for NOTHING!!! Pfffffffff! Our tickets were actually legitimate! Phew we were lucky. However…….the guys at the station had actually lied to us. Our so called 2 hours direct bus actually lasted 4 and half hours, stopping everywhere and anywhere. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!
We had been conned out of 80p and two hours of our lives. I LOVE INDONESIAN BUSES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
When we finally arrived in Bondowoso we arrived to an empty station except for a few small Bemos. As expected no connecting buses to Sempol. The options were wasting a night in the town or paying to charter a car to the village. We really didn’t want to wait a whole evening and night and we had no idea whether the bus at 7am the next morning was actually going to go on time or they would give us the same crappy excuse that the bus needs to be full before leaving otherwise you pay for the whole bus – which would be around the same price as they were asking for as soon as we arrived at the empty bus station and a private car! We bargained the price and lowered it enough that split 5 ways it didn’t seem too bad. The bus driver disappeared and luckily returned with a much more comfortable vehicle and off we went up to Sempol. Normally a 2 hour journey but our driver decided to break the record by driving like a maniac and taking only 1.5 hours. We finally arrived at a very bizarre looking village which had what looked like only one extortionately priced hostel, almost full to the brim with tourist on organised tours. We enquired about a couple of rooms knowing we only needed it for approximately 6 hours – from the time we arrived to the time we needed to leave the village (01:00am) and head to the base before the climb. (You needed to take ANOTHER additional mode of transport to the base!!) This one particular hostel, Arabica Guesthouse seemed to have their hands in lots of pies in the area. They couldn’t provide us with a decent enough or reasonably priced room so we left in search of hopefully a homestay somewhere. Unfortunately all our guidebooks had described the area and the standard of guesthouses very poor. We just didn’t want to waste our money on a room for only 5 hours, in a guesthouse where the staff were pretty rude!
The 5 of us walked through the deserted village in the dark trying to find somewhere else to stay. Lucky for us the security guard took us to a random house where we were greeted by a lovely local woman and her two children. Not at all a homestay or guesthouse but she agreed to let us stay for a very low price.
They gave up their rooms for us and everything. She provided us with dinner and made us feel very welcome in her very basic home. She didn’t speak the best English so when we asked whether she knew anyone who could take us to the base of Ijen at 1:00am she asked us to wait until her husband came home. We already knew if the worse came to the worst we could arrange something at Arabica who had already given us a quote.
We settled in, had dinner, prepared our kit for the early morning trek and waited for the husband to arrive before we could sleep.
Luckily we didn’t wait long. He proposed a car to take us all up and back driven by his friend. We managed to lower the price and agreed. Pick up 1am.
Time to climb!
5 hours later and not much sleep, we hit the road. It took about 40 minutes of winding roads and security check points before we reach the start point of the climb. Excited we headed to the ticket office to pay our entrance fee. –Always a fee! We were told it wasn’t open yet! And wouldn’t be open until 2:30am! Ahhhhhhhhhhh! We could have had an extra 1h sleep!!! The reasons for its late opening varied according to each person. It was pretty darn frustrating and pretty darn cold and we were pretty darn pissed off! The only option was to pass the time drinking coffee and trying to be sociable with the locals and fellow trekkers. Meanwhile the organised tour bus loads started to arrive. We had hoped to get a head start of them but it wasn’t to be!
At kawah Ijen there are two things to see; the blue flames and the volcano crater view itself. In order to see the blue flames it needs to be dark otherwise you’ll see nothing. It starts to get light just before 5am and takes approximately 3 hours at a steady pace to reach the top of the rim with another 30 minutes to descend down into the crater to see the flames. The fact we couldn’t buy our tickets or enter before 2:30am it was going to be tight!
Ready, Steady, go!
At 2:15am the ticket office opened. We got our tickets and headed up the path to start the trek. We arrived 2 minutes later to a big crowd of fellow tourist waiting to pass through the entrance which hadn’t been opened. It felt like the start of a running race. We tried to start a stretching warm up dance like you see before big races but funnily enough people weren’t too enthusiastic at 02:30. JM and I knew we had to climb relatively quickly if we wanted to see the flames so we were ready to get our elbows out. Luckily that wasn’t necessary and we streamed very smoothly through the entrance gates and hiked up casually but not stopping.
Within 20 minutes, the stench of sulphur filled the air. We had another 2 and a half hours climbing still to do breathing it in!! The dust of the path was kicking up nicely too so our lungs were feeling that great.
It was a good climb to the crater rim. On route we passed a few sulphur miners who descend numerous times every day into crater to extract baskets loads of heavy sulphur. The price they make from putting their health and bodies at risk should make anyone feel horrendous! During the early morning sunrise tourist run they tend to focus on selling small quantities of sulphur to us as souvenirs. Not exactly what we wanted to be carrying around with us for a year but we knew some people would buy some and the miners would make a lot more money this way than selling it to companies.
We eventually made it to the rim as it was just slightly started to become light. Even from the rim we could see the incredible blue flames. So cool! We decided to give it a go and get closer so carefully but quickly we headed down.
We decided not to rent the chemical face masks offer to us at the rim. Although the sulphur smell was already strong we didn’t really trust the filters used on the masks. Like many others we covered our mouths and noses with standard medical masks and scarves and headed down.
We got to within 30m of the main blue flames, the sunrise approaching fast. Unfortunately for us, some local idiot decided to throw water on the flames so the blue flames increase quickly in size before turning into thick thick sulphuric smoke – Just for us tourists to get better photos apparently!!! Combined the smoke with a quick change in the wind direction and we got caught up in the most horrific smoke ever!!! We couldn’t breathe or see and we all ran as fast as we could back up the way we came to escape it! It took us a while to recover!
A little problem breathing!
We then headed as quickly as possible back to the rim passing hundreds of people descending down to see the blue flames (which would soon disappear with the day light!) We climbed and climbed, with our heat rate going through the roof and our lungs burning so we could see the sun rise over Ijen. When we got back to the top there seemed to be no one! Everyone else was hoovering by the flames and sulphur gas in the crater! It was amazing for us. We soon discovered the sunrise at Ijen was not that great! You actually can’t see the sunrise. It’s hidden behind a neighbouring mountain! We walked half way around the rim looking over the beautiful lake within the crater and its spectacular views – but no sunrise!!
Unfortunately it was pretty damn cold so we tried to keep moving as much as possible. As the sun finally rose over the mountain it half immersed the lake in sunshine and we warmed up a little. We ended up not leaving the crater until 7am. It was just beautiful.
By the time we got back onto the path ready to head back down to the base there was almost nobody about! Everyone who had started at the same time as us had already gone down.
Just as we left the wind turned again and huge sulphur smoke clouds covered almost the entire crater and lake. Perfect timing to head down! The 1 hour 15 minute descent back to base was pretty chilled. The sun was starting to heat us up, there weren’t too many people around so less dust was being kicked in the air and we got to see the beautiful scenery that we’d missed in the pitch black on the walk up.
Calmly we passed about 40 Frenchies of all different ages in numerous groups. By this time the sun was overhead and starting to burn. We felt a bit sorry for them all. They looked so miserable, hot and bothered and we knew they were unlikely to see much at the summit with all the smoke. We tried to encourage them – all the while thinking they were too lazy to get up at 1:30am like us!! Only joking!! It is better to do it no matter what time of day, than not to have done it at all!
Our driver met us at the entrance parking and had actually never left but slept in his car all night.
We made it back down to our random home we were staying in by 9:30am with almost a whole day ahead of us. We felt great after the hike and everyone was on a high! A little smelly from all the sulphur and some freezing cold ‘shower’ buckets of water later we were ready to move.
At this time it was Friday morning and we were due to be near Balangan Beach on the Bukit Peninsula in Southern Bali on the Sunday night. We wanted to get a move on reach Bali maybe that evening in case we had any problems along on route. Our travelling times in Indonesia have ended up be rather long.
After 78 hours of go go go, two early morning volcano treks and approximately 8 hours sleep we were feeling it a little. We knew after this one last push we could rest a little in ‘pretty Bali’
From Kawah Ijen to Banyuwangi it’s only 30km as the crow flies. Great!! 1-2 hours then a 40 minute ferry and we arrive in Bali.
Unfortunately this isn’t the way for public transport. So close yet so far for us!
Unfortunately unless you have booked a private car you can’t travel straight from Kwah Ijen of Sempol to Banyuwangi!
For us, we ended up taking a small car, with the 3 others back to Bondowoso where our paths went in different directions. Here we changed to another bus heading to Jember. In Jember we took a local bemo to another station in the city before getting on another bus, direction Banywangy. (A gorgeous road and stunning views!) ¾ of the way along this beautiful route we had to switch buses and finally at 8pm we reached the bus terminal.
As usual we were too late to get the public bus to the ferry port and the bemo drivers were asking for a fortune. We decided to walk to the main road heading in the right direction and try to pick up a different bemo at a cheaper price (unlike the ones in the bus station preying on tired tourists like us!) Exhausted from lack of sleep and all the travelling with manage to find two guys who agreed to take us on the back of their scooter all the way to the ferry port 16km away for a decent price. Holding on to dear life we weaved our way through the traffic with our huge bags on our back. JM loosing a shoe on the way! We arrived, purchased a ticket, jumped on the ferry immediately and 50 minutes later we were in Bali in search of a comfy bed and some well needed sleep!!!!
Note.. We didn’t actually find this comfy bed until 3 hours after our arrival in Bali. There were no buses to where we wanted to go and taxis only at ridiculous prices. We didn’t know where we actually wanted to go and eventually we headed to Permuteran, north west Bali. Fairly close to Gilimanuk (ferry terminal), a place I had visited and loved when I was in Bali 4 years ago and because we were so desperate for some sleep we aimed for there. After 1 hour of negotiations with arrogant bemo and taxis drivers we managed to get transportation – much more expensive than we wanted but the tiredness had kicked in. Permuteran was only a 40 minute drive away but we had no accommodation booked. Unfortunately for us a huge dive festival and conference was going on in the village and most places were booked up or had bumped up the prices. Finally we found (with the help of the taxi driver!) an absolutely gorgeous little homestay with a lovely family at a good price.
Exhausted, happy and only pissed off with bus and taxi drivers, we slept like babies and excited at the prospect of seeing JM’s family and chilling out the next few days!