Have you ever been inspired by a single photograph of a place that made you to want to see and experience it in person? That was exactly what happened to me when I was working in the Jakarta office. Che showed me an Instagram snap of Kawah Ijen on our way to lunch one day, then and there that it’s included in our Bromo itinerary.
When the guide told us that there is a magical blue fire that could be found only in two places in the world; one in Russia (hey, Sergey!) and another one here in Kawah Ijen, near Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia, we got more excited.
Unfortunately, he neglected to inform us where and how far it is from Bromo. On the day we found out that it’s 5 hours away, but it felt silly not to go there since we were already in Surabaya, we decided to go for it but needed to stop somewhere in the middle to rest for a while.
We started at night around 10 PM to begin the 3 hour journey to Kawah Ijen. The day started early, hiking the gorgeous Madakaripura waterfall which had tired us out, so once we got into the car we slept almost immediately. In the middle of the journey I woke up. Half aware that we were driving fast on a pitch black road it didn’t look safe at all, if anything, it looked the opposite. I mumbled a little prayer and went back to sleep.
Once we reached there, I realized that my thin cat print long sleeve top wasn’t a good choice. I cursed my bad fashion-weather sense while shivering. It got better when we started walking at 12.30AM. At first we all walked together with thousands of stars covering us from above. We could even see some constellations. I wanted to take pictures of them, but it didn’t come out well, because I didn’t know how to work an ISO.
2 km doesn’t equal 1 hour’s walk, especially on steep hiking trails. I can do this, I thought to myself. Unfortunately, soon after, we found out that it was not a walk, but a steep trek in the pitch dark. Also, 2 km was not 2 km, but 3 km. Also, we would be walking beside a cliff and that one sided cliff would soon turn into two sided cliffs without any warning sign whatsoever. Also, it was pitch dark, people!
This was not my terrain, literally. I paused every 5 minutes and was getting passed by other trekkers. I so wanted to give up, but didn’t. Instead, I channelled Harry Potter and saw the blue fire as my Triwizard cup in the book The Goblet of Fire that night.
I now realized that my reference was way off for many reasons and I always relate to Luna Lovegood more than Harry (why did he choose Ginny over her?), but I hadn’t slept properly for at least 3 days so I was entitled for some wrong body changing delusion within Hogwarts.
At 4 AM, I reached the top. I then had to pass hundreds of people who sat by the cliff. It looked like they were camped there the whole night and most of them didn’t wear masks. I didn’t get it; weren’t they aware of the strong sulfur smell in the air? I could feel my lips peeling and my eyes watering; didn’t they feel the same? Also, what if one of them decided to go craycray right there and pushed me off of the cliff? Ugh, teenagers! Gawd, I sounded like a mean old lady. Have I become too privileged?
Anyways, we rushed past them (rushed being the incorrectly used verb here). When we reached the part we could see the blue fire coming from, I was like, “Where is it??” The guy beside me pointed out to a small, teeny tiny thing down below. It was a fog in a faint purple color. That, apparently, was the blue fire. My legs were like “WTF man, you dragged me here for this?!! I am going to murder you!“. I zoomed in as much as I could and snapped a picture of it. Below is the depressing result of my best effort.
It was one of my biggest travel disappointments, right in between Vietnam and Wellington. I consoled myself by remembering that Harry too had an unpleasant surprise in the Goblet of Fire when he touched the Triwizard Cup, only to find out that it was a Portkey. I felt like crying, but I was worried that the sulfuric air would turn my tears acidic. The guy beside me, who was apparently another tour guide, continued the conversation by sharing a story that 7 tourists died here a few years ago. That was the last straw for me. I needed to get out of this crowded sulfuric unsafe place.
On the way, in the dim light of sunrise, I was reunited with my colleagues, who had gone up much earlier because, unlike me, they had the normal human strength.
All that wasn’t a total waste though; the sunrise at Kawah Ijen was magnificent! It beats Bromo’s for me. Which brought me to the conclusion that people go there not only to see the stove fire, if at all, but to enjoy the starry night, build a campfire and stay until the sunrise.
I thought going down would be easy, boy I was wrong. My legs decided to punish me for making them walk for 4 hours only to see the damn fog. I had to squint with pain every step down, all the way until we reached the exit at 6AM. Once we reached the car, I wanted to drink some coffee and embrace the day but instead, I passed out the minute after.
Would I climb to the top of Kawah Ijen again? Maybe, but I would only do it after a restful day, during the day time and I would pack a mask, tent, kindle, torch, coffee thermos, blanket, journal, tripod, marshmallows, sleeping bag, radio and more importantly, my friends. Also, I would have learned the ISO thingy by then.
Would I hike again? As much as I want to channel Cheryl Strand, I am not a hiker. I don’t like it. This ass wasn’t built for such activity. But every now and then, I still like to challenge myself, to think that I am better than what I am. As long as it’s fun and I don’t die. Especially when I have forgotten all about the pain I had to endure. And I have bad memory; which was why I keep signing up for charity runs year after year. Gaaah!
Do you enjoy hiking? After seeing the last picture, would you climb Kawah Ijen?