Exploring Blue Flames and coffee plantations in Indonesia
After viewing the sunrise from the Bromo Viewpoint and exploring the infamous Mount Bromo up close, we returned to the village guest house to grab breakfast, pack up and start our journey to the village of Banyuwangi, our rest point before starting the long trek up Kawah Ijen.
Despite our early start, we reached Banyuwangi around 5pm. After quickly being shown to our respective rooms, we then gathered in our rest-house courtyard to sample some fried plantains, tahu (tofu) and tempe, local delicacies which were very thoughtfully provided by our rest-house manager.
With just five hours available to us, we quickly showered, unpacked and repacked and grabbed a quick nap. Before we knew it, it was time again to head out. Our journey was a little over an hour, and soon we reached the base point of Kawah Ijen. We quickly grabbed our masks from a vendor who appeared, sorted out our gear and waited for our guide to complete the other formalities. Soon after, following a short wash-room break, it was time to set off.
I’m not lying when I say that this is the hardest and the best thing I have done in my life. I’m not a very fit person (always preferring to take the elevator rather than the stairs!) and I don’t usually trek very often. It wasn’t long before I had to take a break every 10 steps up that steep incline, because I was panting and out of breath. Although my group was understanding and patient, I knew there was no way I could keep up with them and hence I asked them to go ahead without me.
What happened next was a series of the following: I would walk up 10 to15 steps, stop and rest for four to five minutes, and then walk up 10 steps again. We had started our trek at 1am and our guide had warned me that the Blue Fire would last be visible at 4:30am, before sunrise – which meant that I had to aim to get to the top by 4am at the very latest. I’ll be honest – there were many, many, many times that I actually doubted if I would be able to make it. The biggest doubts surfaced when the clock struck 3am and I knew that I just had an hour left.
The trail itself is easy enough to follow. I was also lucky to be doing this trek during a full moon, which meant that I had ample light. Also, with so many different groups heading up, I found that a lot of the guides were nice enough to allow me to join their groups briefly and helped me navigate.
And then, lo and behold, I finally made my way to the top of the crater. The first glimpse below revealed the many sections of Blue Fire which were burning brightly. The next segment was a tad bit challenging – it was making our way 800 metres down the crater, to the site of the blue flames. The trail leading down is not smooth – be prepared for some inventive climbing over rocks. I slipped and fell a couple of times and so did a few other people. The third time I was about to fall, I suddenly felt someone grab my hand and steady me and then continue to lead me downwards. At that time I had no idea who was guiding me down, my instinct just told me to trust this person and follow him blindly through the trail he had chosen, I had reached the site of the blue flames.
A quick chat with my “rescuer” allowed me to learn that he was a miner, working at Ijen during the day and also working as a guide during the nights. His client had come prepared with a tripod, a fancy high definition camera and a multitude of lenses. We chatted in peaceful harmony whilst waiting for that perfect Blue Fire shot to be captured. I have to admit, at that very moment I felt very touristy and amateurish with my phone camera – but then again, my memories of that moment are still so very fresh!
Eventually my companions decided to head back up and I sat there quietly, just enjoying the moment. Whether it was the timing or otherwise I don’t know, but I was lucky enough to be inside the crater as the sky got brighter and the sun started to rise. I had read previously that many other tourists had missed this experience, so I consider myself fortunate enough to have had the chance to experience it. It also gave me a chance to witness, first-hand, the activity of sulphur mining being carried out by the local miners.
As the sun came up, I slowly made my way upwards, back to the rim of the crater and was reunited with the other members of my group. I was fascinated by the change of colours as the sun came up, and couldn’t stop photographing the Ijen crater in the changing light.
Eventually it was time for us to head back down with our guide. Thankfully the walk downhill was much easier than the trek uphill, and the views were to die for! We surprisingly had reached the base of the Ijen trekking route – only this time the sight of our little micro-bus was a welcome one, as we all heaved our tired bodies onto it. Our guide managed to rally everyone together to capture a group photo, commemorating the event.
However, you know what they say about adventurous souls, right? Our driver and our guide had a little chat, following which our guide came back to tell us: “Since you guys are so tired, we are going to take you directly to the ferry terminal for your ferry to Bali.” My friend and I sat upright immediately. “Since we are tired? Is there more to see?” we asked. “There’s a coffee plantation nearby, where amazing Javanese coffee is cultivated. We take our coffee very seriously,” he said with a wink.
Since I had never visited a coffee plantation, I immediately signed up for it. After driving for roughly 20 minutes, we arrived at the edge of the coffee plantation. Since everyone else was snoozing inside the micro-bus (including my friend), another girl and I silently made our way out and began exploring the plantation.
I had never witnessed coffee beans up close, so I was sufficiently intrigued. I had visited tea plantations and was expecting something similar, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that coffee plantations were indeed very different. After browsing for a bit, we decided to rejoin our snoozing group members back in the micro-bus. I also took a couple of coffee beans, with the intention of keeping them as souvenirs and memories of my amazing time at Ijen.
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