I slept 3 hours and left for the Ijen Crater at 1 am for the climb to see the famous blue flame, which can only be seen at night.
Once reaching the volcanic rim, you descend 3,000 feet into the crater where you see this rare fiery phenomenon; caused by lava mixing with oxygen and high levels of burning sulphur. Flames can shoot up to 15 feet high and are set in the foreground of the world’s largest acidic lake.
While hiking down, it was impossible not to notice the men who carried giant baskets of mined sulphur on their shoulders.
I spoke with one man as he rested and he let me try to balance the wooden basket board on my shoulders. I’m not exaggerating to say that it weighed at least 150 pounds and these men make the trip up and down the steep crater multiple times a day. They make 78 cents for every 22 pounds carried up the crater; which is then sold off and made into products such as matches, batteries and fertilizer.
In an attempt to ease the man’s aches, I tried to massage his shoulders and he recoiled in pain at the touch. It was then I saw the cuts and bruises that were deeply embedded in his skin.
He also didn’t wear a mask and had a bad cough as a result of working in the sulfurous atmosphere. Due to these harsh working conditions, the average miner’s life expectancy is barely 50 years old; 20 years less than the average Indonesian.
He explained that he has to work in the mine to provide for his wife and 2 kids and there are no other opportunities for work in the area. It’s unfortunately a never-ending cycle of labor exploitation without safety regulations.
I’ll be posting my Nikon shots of the crater and miners in the coming weeks. These were shot on iPhone with photo credit to Dodi Mulyana for image 3.
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