Emma Bonvecchio


Nature’s beauty and human struggle at Ijen Volcano – Exploring Indonesia

A journey to witness the mesmerizing Blue Fire of Indonesia’s Ijen Volcano unveils a stark paradox. While nature’s beauty astounds, the harsh realities of the miners who enable this spectacle remain hidden in plain sight. Join me on this exploration of the coexistence of mass tourism and strenuous labor in the heart of this unique wonder.

Banyuwangi, Indonesia
1 October 2023

I’ve always been drawn to the natural wonders and unique phenomena our world has to offer.

So when I had the chance to visit Indonesia’s Ijen Volcano to witness the mesmerizing Blue Fire, I was beyond excited. Little did I know that this journey would leave me with not just a sense of wonder but also a heavy heart, as I discovered the untold stories of the miners who toil tirelessly in the shadows of this enchanting spectacle.

The Ijen Volcano is renowned for its breathtaking Blue Fire, a rare phenomenon caused by the combustion of sulfuric gases that escape from the cracks in the earth’s surface.

The trek to Mount Ijen covers around 10 km and involves climbing uphill by about 670 meters. It starts at approximately 2 AM to reach the destination before sunrise to witness the Blue Fire. This hike usually takes about 3 hours. While it’s not too tough, some hiking experience, appropriate clothing, and good footwear are necessary. It’s also very important to wear a gas mask because of harmful fumes in the area and to have a light because of the dark.

But back to the Blue Fire, it’s a sight that might leaves you in awe of the planet’s extraordinary beauty and the intricate wonders of nature. 

I cannot say this happend to me. 

My enchantment was soon replaced by a sense of unease as I learned about the harsh reality that exists alongside this natural spectacle. Beneath the tourist-friendly facade of the Ijen Volcano lies a grueling world of laborious and hazardous work carried out by the Kawah Ijen sulfur miners.

These brave people, often shrouded in toxic fumes, carry the weight of the Blue Fire’s allure on their shoulders, quite literally. They laboriously extract blocks of sulfur, weighing as much as 90 kilograms, and traverse steep and rocky terrain in the process. They do this every night, working tirelessly to make a meager living.

What shocked me the most was the fact that these miners seems go unnoticed by most tourists who flock to witness the Blue Fire. To be honest, being theremade me realize that, in some ways, I wasn’t that different from the tourists.  

It’s a stark contrast — the allure of the enchanting flames, while only a few meters away, people are breaking their backs to scrape together a livelihood.  

The miners’ stories are hidden in plain sight, overshadowed by the natural wonder they help create.

My disappointment lies not with the volcano’s magnificence, but with the conditions of these miners and the apparent indifference of many tourists. 

I didn’t even take photos of the Blue Fire, as I wouldn’t have been able to capture its true essence. 

I want to share these photos, which depict both the miners and the beautiful sight of Ijen.

While a part of me naturally hopes that you appreciate the photographs, my primary intention here is to spark some introspection. Often, we eagerly rush to see and visit what we label as “attractions,” almost like a competition. Yet, perhaps we frequently fail to grasp the circumstances concealed beneath these attractions. These places we visit often hide real stories of struggle and difficulty.

I must admit that this article might feel a bit different from what you’re used, and also from what I am used, but I want to be honest, sometimes, inspiration doesn’t come easily.
This adventure left me with a mixture of emotions that I couldn’t quite put into words.

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