Among the sulfur miners of Kawah Ijen

It began with the alarm at two a.m. We were the first to tackle the ascent from Pos Paltuding to Kawah Ijen, active volcano crater and source of raw sulfur in east Java.

Already the day before we had observed the miners carrying their baskets, connected with a wooden stick across their shoulders and loaded with at least 60, but up to 100 kg of the yellow substance. They carry this unbelievably heavy and uncomfortable load two to three times per day. This means one long hour of hiking first up the crater and then down through the forest to earn three to five euros per load.

In the early hours we already met a couple of them marching uphill with their empty baskets. When we had made it up the forest path and through the sulfur-heavy air still before sunrise, we were rewarded by an incredible view of the smoking crater spilling its yellow treasure. The workers stood in the middle of the smoke, breaking the sulfur with iron bars and loading it into the baskets with their bare hands.

Most amazing were the blue flames of burning sulfur at the point where the substance emerges in liquid form from the earth and solidifies. These flames are hardly visible in daylight and complete a stunning and unforgettable scenery of yellow rock, the crater lake, the noise and smell of the acidic smoke and the moonlit crater walls.

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