Have you ever been inspired by a single photograph of a place that made you want to see and experience it in person? That was exactly what happened to me when my colleague showed me an Instagram post of Kawah Ijen one day. Then and there I have decided I would do a pilgrimage to Kawah Ijen.
Kawah Ijen and its' Magical Blue Fire
And 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 and another one here in Kawah Ijen, near Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia, we got more excited.
Unfortunately, he neglected to inform where and how far it is from Bromo, the main reason we visited Surabaya. On the day we found out that it's 5 hours away, but it felt silly not to go there since I was already in Surabaya, so we decided to go for it but needed to stop somewhere in the middle to rest for a while.
The day started early, hiking the gorgeous Madakaripura waterfall which had tired us out. And we had to start again at the same night around 10 PM to begin the 3-hour drive to Kawah Ijen. We got into the car and 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 realised that my thin top wasn't a bad choice, fortunately it felt warmer when we started walking at 12.30AM.
Clear night sky and thousand stars at Kawah Ijen
At first, we all walked together with thousands of stars covering us from above.
The guide said it was 1 km walk. We thought it was doable. Unfortunately it was on a steep hiking trails! In the pitch dark. Btw, 2 km was not 2 km, but 3 km. And we were walking beside a cliff and that one-sided cliff turned into two-sided cliffs without any warning sign whatsoever. Also, did I mention that it was pitch dark, people!
This was not my terrain.
I paused every 5 minutes and was getting passed by other trekkers.
At 4 AM, we reached the top.
We 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 sulphur 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 cray-cray right there and pushed me off of the cliff?
We rushed past them to reach the part we could see Kawah Ijen's magical blue fire
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 felt like crying, but I was worried that the sulphuric air would turn my tears acidic. The guy beside me, who was apparently a 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 sulphuric 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.
Colorful Sky and Gorgeous Morning at Kawah Ijen
All that wasn't a total waste though; the sunrise at Kawah Ijen was magnificent! It beats Bromo's. 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 6 AM. All I wanted was to reach the car and drink some coffee, maybe even embrace the morning.
But instead, I passed out the minute I entered the car.
Would I hike to the top of Kawah Ijen again?
Maybe, but I would only do it after a restful day, during the daytime and I would pack a mask, tent, kindle, torch, coffee thermos, blanket, journal, tripod, marshmallows, sleeping bag, radio and more importantly, my friends.
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 there is only a small probability of me dying. Especially when I have forgotten all about the pain I had to endure.
And I do have a bad memory; which was why I keep signing up for charity runs year after year. Gaaah!