Mount Ijen, Indonesia. Volcano Crater Sulphur Miners. The Job From Hell.
The climb to the top of Mount Ijen, on the Indonesian island of Java, was physically demanding, however, nothing could mentally prepare me for what I would see inside the crater. Mining Sulphur by hand, deep inside an active volcano crater. Breathing in stinking toxic fumes, hour after choking hour, walking for miles, weighed down like a pack mule carrying loads of up to one hundred kilograms – in ambient temperatures few could bare, all for a few dollars a day. Truly, this is the job from hell.
Mount Ijen volcano, in Eastern Java, Indonesia, towers above the landscape. A 2800 meter volcano, “Kawah Ijen” is a mystical and frightening place for the local people. The Mount Ijen volcano is also a source of income, for those men hardy and desperate enough to enter its active crater to work as sulphur miners.
At four in the morning, the miners begin their gruelling day with a four kilometer walk to the crater-mine. All day, the men extract sulphur with little more than their bare hands, a primitive method long since abandoned in the western world. Using bamboo baskets they carrying their back-breaking load up to the top of the crater, and then down the other side of the mountain. It’s weighed, and recorded for sale.
This is a job that some men have performed for decades.
At the bottom of the Mount Ijen volcano crater, the extreme natural beauty of the turquoise coloured crater lake, is the backdrop for a surrealistic mine-site. The miners were very considerate to me, I was a welcome guest in their work-place. I stayed in the crater for an hour or two, as various miners toured me around. On the way up and down the dangerous, steep, rocky path, the foul-smelling toxic plumes were thick and choking. My eyes were weeping, my nose and throat burning, breathing was difficult, and my chest felt tight, like asthma.
My journey into the crater was spur of the moment. I had seen the miners taking their loads down the mountain, as we were climbing up to the rim of the crater. At the top, looking down through my zoom lens, I spotted many ant-like figures. The view, far below, drew me into the crater and with some hesitation I began the descent, advising my travel partner (Phillipa)”I’ll be back, when I get back”.
After the remarkable experience below, I headed back to the top of the crater – under the guidance of a miner who had befriended me. Upon my return to a waiting Phillipa (who, by this time, was clearly worried for my safety), I looked into her eyes, and was completely lost for words. Not knowing how to explain what I had experienced, I attempted to describe a most bizarre combination of incredible beauty, and outright hell that these workers endure.
I began to cry.
13 thoughts on “Mount Ijen, Indonesia. Volcano Crater Sulphur Miners. The Job From Hell.”
they need gas masks!
Hi Roselle. Yes, there is a lot of safety equipment that would come in handy!
My wife and I would like to sent two filter type mask we have and really don;t need. can you sent us an address so that we can sent them to help does workers. thank u. Celestino
Hi Celestino, sorry about the slow reply (I missed your comment)… that”s a very kind thought you have, but unfortunately, I do not have a contact address.
they don’t need mask, they just need money..
life is tough but they got some effort, not earning money in illegal way
best part of street/travel photography is, it opens our eye
Thanks for your comment, ekeu. I agree, they need the money – or else, why would they put themselves through such back-breaking work. This was an eye-opener in the extreme.
We are going to go to Bromo volcano in two weeks and we are also interested in going to Mount Ijen but it is difficult to find some information (even in the Lonely planet guide…) So maybe you can help me:
– How far is Mount Bromo to Mount Ijen?
– How can we get from Bromo to there?
– Is it possible to go at the two mounts in te same day? (Bromo at sunrise and Ijen at midday-afternoon)
Thank you in advance!
I agree with you that being on Ijen is very impressive and it did really opened my eyes. Did you also see the episode of Human Planet of BBC where these men are filmed? I love your pictures, it seems like you’ve been down into the crater is that right? Do you (or anyone else who is reading this) know whether there is a foundation or some other Non-profit organisation that supports these men?
Thanks! Greetings Susan
Hi Susan, yes, down into the crater. I’m not sure about a foundation or non-profit, hopefully somebody else will stumble upon your comment and fill in the answer. Tale care, Nate.
Thanks for your quick answer Nate :)
Let’s hope somebody knows, or otherwise I might start my own foundation :)
I would like to be a part of it if you have your own foundation
I just wrote to vso in indonesia. Vso is a development charity doing lots in indonesia. If they are doing some work there, I’ll let you know. I know the mining companies should be legally required to provide safety equipment, but how many more people will die young whilst we await that change.