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.