A night hike in the blue flames: Kawa Ijen

Sometimes, the plan is to not stick to the plan. During our trip in Mt Bromo, we met a couple of Canadians who had just explored another fabulous volcano and were traumatized by the beauty of the place. So we jumped on the first bus, destination Kawa Ijen...

A night hike in the blue flames: Kawa Ijen

Situated on East Java, Kawa Ijen is one of the most attractive and dangerous places in the world. This active volcano holds the world's largest acid lake, and is constantly spewing sulphur smoke. More than 300 people work there, transporting up to 90kg of sulphur on their back every day, from the core of the crater to the foot of the volcano. It's qualified as one of the most extreme work conditions.

We went down into the crater to see its sulphuric gas burning into blue flames with our own eyes -an extremely rare phenomenon.

our epic night hike on volcano kawa ijen

After this Canadian couple convinces us that Kawa Ijen is an Indonesia must see, we quickly pack and leave Gunung Bromo to head back to Probolinggo. From there, we get on a local bus for a pretty unique ride : five hours paced by 1- all the men in the bus staring at me, 2- many, many, maaany vendors trying to sell bread, peanuts, chips, anything, and 3- a loud video clip on TV starring a half naked girl dancing. We somehow manage to fall asleep, until we are suddenly awakened by the driver screaming "HEEEERE!", pushing us out of the bus.

It's 8 pm, we are exhausted and lost... in the middle of nowhere, apparently. A tuk tuk ride later, we've found a hotel, two nasi goreng and a guide, Pepe. And we are leaving in two hours -for a night hike in Kawa Ijen!

1:30 am, a tea, a quick snack and we go hiking under the starlight. We can feel yesterday's hike in our legs as well as the lack of sleep, but we are impatient to walk into the crater to discover the blue flames of the volcano. The blue fire is ignited sulphuric gas, which emerges from cracks with temperatures up to 600°C. As the glow is weak, it can only be seen in the dark. 

Photo  © Eric Cowez

Photo ©Eric Cowez

As we are getting closer to the crater, we can smell the odor of sulphur getting stronger. After a while, we emerge from the beaten path surrounded by trees to finally see the edge of the crater. Downwards, we can see flickers of blue light. It's breathtaking. The long flames slowly caress the walls of the crater. It looks surreal.

Then we slowly climb down. Between the heat, the strong smell, the fire and the smoke, it could be a path to hell. Each step is shaky. We have to keep focus to avoid a possible plunge -there is no room for error here. We are still in pitch darkness, apart from the weak spots of light from our tiny torches. The views are incredible though. 

In the heart of the crater, the smell and the smoke are getting stronger with the wind gusts. It gets impossible to breath, harder and harder to see anything. In a fraction of a second, I find myself in a reek of sulphur -I can hear G and Pepe screaming my name from far. I'm lost. Petrified. I can't move, I can't breath, I can't think. These minutes feel like hours to me.

In panic, I try to walk following their voices, wavering, tottering until I can feel G taking my hand and screaming "Let's go, NOW!!!".

We climb back to the edge of the crater, following Pepe. My legs are painfully running in the rocks, I still have difficulties to breath. I'm in shock. The only thing I'm thinking right now is HOW TO ESCAPE FROM THIS HELL. 

A night hike in the blue flames: Kawa Ijen

We finally reach the ridge of the crater, where we can take a deep breath, talk and admire the amazing beauty of the place -without risking our life anymore. Suffice to say the conditions weren't ideal for taking photos, so our pictures don't quite show the magnitude of the blue flames and the beauty of the atmosphere down the crater...

We meet some of these workers doing the hardest job in the world. They perform this backbreaking work equipped with... flip-flops -and as always in Indonesia, with a smile. We share some snacks with them, enjoying stunning views of the lake. 

Afterwards, Pepe takes us on a beautiful hike on the ridge to observe the volcanic lake from the top. The landscape is so scenic, the whole experience so unique, it makes the whole journey worth it. 

Then we walk back down. The path is pleasant, with a beautiful morning sunlight piercing through the trees. Once arrived at the bottom of the volcano, it's time for a well-deserved/we-are-still-alive lunch/celebration in the same place we had our snack earlier in the night. What, lunch? It's only 9 am in the morning. Nasi goreng, green coconuts, back to the hotel, then it's time to SLEEP. After a long, long, veeery long day.

A night hike in the blue flames: Kawa Ijen

How to get to Kawa Ijen [from gunung bromo]

Take a bus from Cemoro Lawang to Probolinggo. In Probolinggo, avoid the scams and book your bus ticket to Banyuwangi with Toto Travel. It's the nearest village to Kawa Ijen. From there, you will still have a couple of hours drive to get to the volcano (your guide will organize that).

Pepe was an excellent guide, I recommend to discover his blog and why not even book your excursion with him here!