Early May I went to Surabaya, via Yogyakarta, from Jakarta, where I have my small rent house.
I went 15 days earlier the date of a private workshop was going to be done the 14th and 15th of May to do a first meeting with the organizer who wanted me to teach some photography. The first meeting was perfect and we set up the toppings and the schedule of the two days workshop.
In the midd time I wanted to do a new essay of the Sulphure mine in Ijen Crater. From Surabaya, Ijen it’s quite near. You only need to take one bus to Bondowoso and a private car to Post 1, the village wich is more closer to the top of the volcano.
This time I was working with Sonny, a great young man interested in photography, who came from a village 10 hours by motor bike just to met me in Surabaya and work together with me for a couple of days.
We start the trip early morning in Surabaya, friday 6th of May. We had 164 Km to Bondowoso, wich take us only 7 hours in a public bus, hot and full of passangers like hell. When we arrived to the place a we took a second bus to the crossing roads where one goes to Post 1, in the top of Ijen. We had to rent a small pick up van to do 60 km to the top. The way was rough and the engine of the van was weak for the big slopes ahead. So we did the 60 Km in 4 hours, arriving to the top of Ijen at 22:00 at night, just 14 hours of buses and van.
In the top of Ijen you can find a small village where there is a hotel and a couple of kantinees, where few really nice people live. We went straight to drink a beer and have a nassi goreng special for late dinner and we started to arrange the working for the next day.
Pak Sansudin was the owner of one kantinee, the place where we ate all the meals, the place we only ate nassi goreng special…I think up to 6 times we ate the same. He started to tell stories about the suphure and the workers who carrie the sulphure from the down of the crater, to the top of the mountain and then all the way down where the track pick it up.
I was excited to start, so we arrange a guide, Pak Sri, and we decided to start next morning at 4:00 am. After a few hours of sleeping in a small and really cold room full of blankets we started the way to the sulphure, the smae way 120 workers do 6 day per week.
From Post 1, the small village where is the last hotel in the way to the top of Ijen. You have to walk 2 km to Post 2, where you find another small kantinee where the workers weight their sulphure they have pick from the inside of the crater and have their meals. Also the tourist who arrived up to Post 2 usually enjoy a Coca Cola or a hot cofee.
It took us one hour of solving big slops to arrive to Post 2, it was a really foggy day and at 5 am the first early morning lights where coming out. I took my first pictures of a 55 years old man who was weighting his load of sulphuer. I was delight looking at the bright yellow sulphure, which looks like gold. Amaze to be in the place some years ago the great photographer Mitchell Kanashkevich did a magnificant work of this workers; and ready to come up with my own point of view from one of the most toughest work done in the world right now. The sulphure carriers.
From Post 2 we had to make it to the top of the mountain, one more kilometer of slopes. We did it in 30 minutes, but at the half of the way the rain forest of East Java, becomes in a desrt, we started to smell the strong sulphure and no more plants or animals were there, just the carriers coming up to the mountain with empty basket, and some coming down with the buckets full of sulphure.
The day was completly foggy, we couldn’t see two meters in front of us, but I tried to take pictures giving a little bit of extra light with a speedlight and a softbox. I was happy to see…well to betrayed how Ijen looked with foggy, becaus in my research of photographers doing works there, it was the first time I seen the weather condition like that, everything covered with a big cloud.
From the top of the mountain to the bottom part you have to walk one kilometer, but the slope down it’s a hard and carful trek with high views and not suitable for unexperts trekkers. Many tourist can not make it to the bottom of the crater afraid for the big slopes and afraid of the danger of the sulphure smokes, wich really hurts your through.
After one hour of shooting and walking down we made it to the mine. Incredible view! A blue lake give the contrast to the big cloud of yellow smoke coming from the sulphure when it linguee in the surface. First time in the mine is scarring, because of the strong smell, the big cloud of yellow smoke and the danger of being inside of a crater, but also beautiful to see the beuty of the landscape and the beauty of the tough workers breaking the solid sulphure in pieces to carrie to Post 1, 1 kilometer up and 3 kilometers down of dangerous slopes.
The workers, after they break in pieces the sulphure who becomes thick after it comes liquid from the insdie of the ground, they prepare their carrying basket, like a puzzle they full the basket until they weight the same. They carry up to 90 kilos! Then with patient they start to go up one kilometer and down another kilometer to Post 2, where they will weight how much sulphure they have extract from the mine, and then a finall two more kilometers to Post 1 where they will put the sulphure into a track. This proces they make it at least twice per day, and no always they do the entire process at once, usually they will prepare two basket and keep carrying both in different stages.
Ijen workers get payed per kilo of sulphure they bring to the track, the price per extracting and carrying one kilo to Post 1 (in the small village, where my hotel was) it is 650 Rp. or 5 cents of a Euro. They usually carry an average of 80 kilos per trip whic it’s 52,000 Rp or 4 euros as they usually do two trips o the mine means they make per day 8 euros, which, under my point of view, is nothing compare to the effort they make in every trip.
Sonny, Pak Sri and me arrive back from the shooting at 11 am to Post 1. we had our nassi goreng special, we download the pictures and we arrange the next day of work. We planed to start the treking at 12 mid night, to arrive at the mine at 2 am at night and be able to see the blue light the sulphure irradiate when is coming as liquid from the inside of the earth. But we failled! We both set our alarm clock at 12:00 in the morning and not at night! I think we were both very tired and unconsciously makes us set the alarm clock that way.
Fortunatley, after sleeping the entire day, we woke up frech like lettuce at 2:00 am, still at night and we strated the trekking. We make it to the mine at 4:00 and the blue light was there. Incredibly pretty! I was fascinated by the blue halo in the middle of the night.
To do photos at night we used one speedlight with its softbox and using also the available light provide by head tourch weared by the workers. I was dissapointed because the minners don’t use any more fire torch and they have change to normal electric torches, whcih should be more confortable for them, but less powerful in the photos. We waited until de sun rised and at 5:30 it did, not foggy this day, a beutiful sun rise in a beutiful place with minners were breaking the sulphure in pieces near a strong yellow smoke to carry it later. I really enjoyed the shooting and that morning, knowing that the big effort of strating a trekking at 2:00 am was absolutley worthy!
We followed the workers until Post 1, where we ate another nassi goreng special at 9 in the morning. With the work done we enjoyed the last morning in Ijen, admiring the landscape and at the end of the morning we started the way back to Surabaya.