The Ring Of Fire: Mount Ijen

Located in Banyuwangi, East Java, Ijen compound consists of several small strato volcanoes and a 20km wide caldera. The highest point is Mount Merapi. To the west lie Ijen Mount and its famous lake souring 9000ft above sea level. Ijen Lake is the largest caldera lake in Java Island and also the most acidic in the world with the acidity level close to 0.2, which is enough to dissolve human flesh.  The size of the crater is about 960m x 600 m with 200m depth. Ijen is an active volcano. The first eruption occurred around 640 BC. Many small eruptions

occurred afterward. In 2004, the lake changed color from green to white releasing sulfurous rocks and foam in the process. Due to this increased activity, the area was temporarily closed for visitors. On 29th July 2002 small explosion occurred. Ash emission lasted until mid August. On 15th July 2000 sulfur emission from the volcano entered the cabin of a Singapore-Denpasar flight. Another small explosion occurred in 1999, 1994 and 1993, and a bigger one in 1952.

What it offers

The area is extremely beautiful. When you fly from Singapore or Jakarta to Denpasar, Bali, you could see a great green turquoise lake surrounded by white smoke from your left plane window.

The mountain is located in the middle of Ijen National Park. Besides its dramatic volcano scenery, Ijen National Park also offers collections of animals such as Javanese porcupine (hystrix brachyuran javanica), and other species of rare trees and flowers commonly grow in tropical rain forest.  In August to September, beautiful edelweiss blooms everywhere in the mountain. Green coffee plantations are variously scattered on the floor of the caldera.

You could also take a day tour around the caldera. On Ijen lakeshore there are thermal springs. The discharges have magmatic and hydrothermal component. It may be helpful to wear mask or handkerchief to protect yourself from sulfuric fumes. Ijen provides not only interesting panorama for tourist but also a fascinating subject for geologist or for those who are interested in geochemical phenomena.

The life of local people

Ijen is a mystical and frightening place for the local people, but it also provides alternative source of income. In contrast with the beautiful scenery, the life of local people is very hard and in no way beautiful. Most of them work as sulfur miner. 

On the wall of the crater, sulfuric fumes and burning red fumarol (liquid red sulfur) are released from inside the earth through active vents. The fumarol immediately becomes solid as it enters the crater due to very low temperature. Its color changed from red to yellow. This yellow solid sulfur will be mined by local people. When fumarol burns uncontrollably the miners will pour water onto it to avoid phyrophoric chain reaction.

To work in a live volcano is like working in hell.  They have to breathe stinking toxic fumes, walk 800m up the steepy crater and 3km down the mountain with almost

100kgs load on their shoulder in a very cold temperature that only few can bear.  This traditional mining method can only be found in Ijen and Welirang, both in Java Island, as this practice had been abandoned in other parts of the world.

The miners began their 3km walks up the mountain at 4 AM every morning. They use their axe to break the yellow sulfur into big chunks and use their bare hands to collect and place it into two bamboo baskets. Many years back, some people tried to use horses to pull a fully loaded cart, but the horses continually fell into the crater. A human force was proof to be more economical and reliable than the horses. The miners have no safety equipment. To protect themselves from toxic fumes they use piece of cloth called sarong to cover their mouth and nose. They sometimes bite their sarong to fight the bitter cold temperature. Luckily they still wear safety plastic boot to cover their feet.

Normally, only a few minutes after you expose yourself to sulfuric fumes, your eyes will weep, you will feel burning sensation in your nose and ears and your chest will hurt. You will start choking and coughing. The miners, however, have to stay expose to the fumes for almost five hours a day. They have to carry as much weight as possible as the more they carry the more they earn. Most of the miner have back pain and irritated shoulder skin. Their income is around US$ 2 -3 per day. Probably not much, but for the miners, this income is four times the earning they could obtain elsewhere. One miner’s wife says that she is very proud of her husband. By having his husband works in the mine, she could buy a house for the family and send their children to school. 

The miners are very friendly; you could easily converse with them. You could also take their photographs if you like. They usually will ask you for cigarettes or candies in return. In such extremely dangerous condition, how long will you last working in an active volcano? One miner had worked for 20 years. Many of them had worked for almost their whole life. It is the only life they know. One miner said that he only wishes that he could works as sulfur miner until age 58. He does not wish for a better job or a better life, he only wishes that God could grant him long enough time to live as miner before the toxic fumes start causing trouble to his health, at least until his children graduate from schools. A tragic wish. A sadder fact, many still see the activity of the miner as tourist attraction


Article Written By Yovita Siswati

Yovita Siswati is a blogger at

Last updated on 25-07-2016 98 0

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