Indonesia (apart from Bali) seems to be missing from most travelers itineraries which is strange when there are so many breathtaking sights, the food is so good and the people are so friendly.
Maybe it has something to do with its location on the so-called Pacific Ring Of Fire, which is home to 75% of the world’s active and dormant volcanoes. Just as we were about to leave for Indonesia, Mount Merapi erupted also causing Mount Bromo to become active, so we didn’t know whether it would be possible to travel through Java, however we decided to give it a go…
We hotfooted it out of manic Jakarta to Yogyjakarta from where we were assured the nearby temples of Borobudur and Prambanan were open. However, even after a month of cleaning by thousands of volunteers they had still only been able to clear the ash from the bottom two (out of five) layers of the Buddhist monument of Borobudur. But despite not being to climb up the temple, it was still impressive especially as the setting atop a hill surrounded by rice paddies and palm trees was amazing.
Prambanan, a ninth-century Hindi temple complex, was not affected by the Merapi eruption, but we could see the affects of several earthquakes over recent years which have thwarted the ongoing restoration. The main temples are nearly complete but some of the outlying ones are still being worked on and there are many orphan stones on the grass.
We had really been enjoying Indonesian cuisine in our first few days so we decided it would be good to learn some dishes to cook at home. It was really easy to get to grips with the basics and in only a couple of hours we had cooked up: deep fried tempe (a type of bean curd), grilled tofu, fish curry, coconut infused rice, satay sauce and sambal (chili sauce). Obviously, we then had to eat it all, which was a real chore!
Mount Bromo is probably Indonesia’s most famous volcano, although not the highest at only 2,329 metres, it is one of the most active with smoke often billowing from its cone. Since the Merapi eruption, it had been even more smokey than usual and the immediate area around it was closed because of the poisonous fumes. However, we were told although we couldn’t climb it and look inside the crater, it was still worth going to view it from a nearby mountain.
We got up at the ridiculous time of 3am, so we could walk (in total darkness with just a head torch) up the side of a mountain in order to reach the top for sunrise. The climb was pretty treacherous (especially in the dark) as it was up a narrow unpaved path with numerous trees, boulders and blind corners along the way. However, when we finally reached the top, the view was breathtaking and more than worth the pain:
Back in the town, there were no other Western tourists about (presumably they had been put off by the volcanic activity) but some local sightseers insisting on giving us masks to stop us inhaling the fumes and then they took numerous photos/recordings of us. It was all very bizarre.
Our final stop in Java, in the main coffee producing region of the island, was the crater lake formed by Mount Ijen. After a tough 1.5 hour uphill trek we reached the 1 km wide turquoise-coloured crater lake. It was amazing, but what really made it special, was that in one corner smoke billowed from the incredibly labour-intensive sulfur mine.
Several hundred men make their living by extracting the bright yellow rock and then carrying it on their shoulders up the crater and then down to the nearby town (around 5km). They carry between 70 and 80 kilos in two wicker baskets and do two trips a day. For this they earn around US$20 per day.
One of these workers, offered to guide us down to the lake edge (ignoring signs banning tourists from doing so as the path was slippery and the fumes toxic). We followed him and saw the very primitive mining operation (a few oil barrels and some hot water was all I could see) and on the way passed other men hauling the incredible loads up the crater. It was an amazing finale to one of the most unique parts of our trip so far.