In this blog we leave West Bali, cross the ocean by ferry and explore beautiful East Java, a place in Indonesia where not many (white) tourists go and where we get treated like celebreties. We eat and stay with locals, visit the nice beach of Red Island and climb the Ijen volcano to see the blue flames in the crater and the sunrise at the top.
Not in the mood for reading? Check out the pictures here!
When our dives at Manjangan Island are finished, it’s time to strap our backpack to our scooter and head towards the harbour of Gilimanuk. This is the town where you can find boats to and from Java. Like mentioned before, on Java there’s the Ijen volcano that you can climb to see the so called ‘blue flames’. These flames form because of sulphur gas, that escapes through cracks in the earth, with a temperature of about 600 degrees . Once it mixes with oxygen, these sulphuric vapours ignite and the flames that are formed turn blue. A very impressive sight and apparently this can only be seen here at Ijen, and somewhere in Tanzania. According to Wikipedia (we know this is not very reliable information but still…) the flames can reach up to 5 meters and Ijen is the best place in the world to spot them. Definitely worth a visit since we are so close now.
The ferry crossing from Bali to Java goes smoothly, the harbour is fairly big and there are multiple boats leaving for Java every hour. We are a little bit scared of the Javanese harbour police though. At Made’s we met a Ukrainian guy who has been to Ijen as well and he was pulled over by the police when leaving the ferry. He was only allowed to continue after paying them off. They just made up some story about the scooter documents not being the original ones, but merely a copy. Which was untrue in his case because he borrowed Made’s scooter with the original papers. But anyway, if you renting a scooter in Bali and planning to take it to a different island, make sure to ask for the original documents at the rental company. They won’t like it and charge you some money for it, but that’s always less than what you pay to the police if they stop you. We paid an extra 50.000 for ours for the whole month so our paperwork should be fine, but hey, if the police stops you and tells you otherwise I guess there’s not much you can do. You can either pay or go back. They know that most tourists will not go back and rather just pay.
Our worries were all in vain though, because upon arrival there is not a single police officer asking for anything. We quickly leave the harbour before they change their mind. At a small restaurant we ask for directions. We’ll try to get to Ijen tonight, to climb the mountain. After about half an hour it’s time for dinner, so we stop at a small mountain restaurant. Before we get off of our scooter we become the centre of attention and everyone welcomes us with open arms. We sit down at a low table, basically we are sitting on the ground, and Febrian brings us the menu. He’s a nice guy who speaks remarkably good English and he translates the whole menu for us. He tells us that this restaurant belongs to his aunt and uncle and seconds after that his aunt is there to take a picture with us. After the picture’s taken, we ask Febrian if he can send it to us so we can upload it to our Instagram page. But his aunt has already uploaded it on her Instagram. She is so thrilled we came to here restaurant. I think her followers live pretty close to the restaurant, because minutes later a bunch of people come to take a look at us. We feel like celebrities! A group of mature women are at some distance, giggling and pointing towards us. When our eyes meet, they quickly look the other way. Quite hilarious.
Febrian’s uncle offers us to stay at his restaurant for as long as we would like, to relax and regain some energy before heading up the mountain. Even though the restaurant closes at 7, we are more than welcome to stay until midnight or longer if we want to. So we stay here talking to Febrian for about an hour more but then we start feeling very sleepy from the 2 dives and the long drive earlier today. So it’s probably wise to look for a place to sleep and postpone Ijen to tomorrow. Febrian says he has some good connections with guest house owners and offers us to take us there.
Tonight we are heading for Kawah Ijen, which means the Ijen crater in Indonesian. The blue flames can only be seen (clearly) at night and the sunrise at the top should be spectacular. The general advice is to climb the mountain at night so both can be seen in one single climb. During the day we take it easy so we can start our ascend with full energy.
0:30 at night, time to leave the guest house, because the drive takes roughly an hour. We dress warm because we will be going up for quite a distance and at night it really cools off. We hope that our small scooter will be powerful enough to make it to the top.
Half an hour later we get to the serious part of the mountain. The road here is pretty steep and it will be like that for the next half hour. We can really feel the temperature going down as well, being up here. My estimation is that it dropped down to about 8 degrees Celsius. Gloves would have been very welcome now!
We then pass a building where a few men are seated, wearing reflector jackets. The moment they spot us they get up and start blowing their whistles. We have no idea what it is they want from us and don’t feel very tempted to stop for a group of people in the middle of the night. They might just be part of the trip, but we heard stories of people laying in the middle of the road at night and that they got up to rob you when you stopped to ask them if they were alright. Those stories in the back of our mind make us decide to ignore them and just go past them. If they really need something from us, or it is really illegal what we;re doing they will surely follow us and tell us.
So we pass the building and then nothing happens, so it’s probably not that important. Most likely we just had to pay them to be allowed up the mountain. Oh well, we have access now as well.
Once we get to the parking at the start of the track we look for a spot to park. Our scooter made it all the way and we didn’t even have to get off and push. Also the road wasn’t as bad as they made us believe. The times that only 4 wheel drives could get you up here are long gone, a scooter does the trick as well nowadays. As soon as we turn off the engine there are street sellers coming to sell us all kinds of stuff: hats, gloves, socks, scarfs. You name it, they have it. We kindly decline because we know we are about to start ascending. We might not be warm at this point but once we start our trip we will be warm in no time and the extra clothing would just be a burden.
Gas masks on the other hand are something that you do need while climbing Ijen, or rather when descending to the crater. Cause when the wind is blowing your way you might find yourself in a cloud of sulphur, which not only smells bad but also hurts your eyes and is highly toxic when breathing in. So we rent 2 gas masks from a random guy. Don’t worry if you don’t have one, they got more than enough at the parking and the price is reasonable, 50.000 Rupiah.
The guy that rents out the masks asks us where our guide is because you are highly recommended, almost obligated, to go with a tour guide. But we rather go without one, so we can go our own way and stop if neccessary for resting or taking pictures without feeling sorry for having the guide waiting all the time. On top of that it is cheaper to go without a guide so we tell him that our guide is on his way with the rest of the group and that we are supposed to meet him at a certain point. He doesn’t seem convinced so he asks us for the guides name. We mumble something and Milou quickly asks him a return question: “Where can we get tickets?”
His reply is that the guide will have these, if we have a guide. Now it’s time to get going before he’s going to ask more questions about our fictional guide.
The ticket stand opens up at 2am which is in 15 minutes. Great time to go see if we can get in without a ticket. Not just for the costs but even more important to be ahead of all the tourists so we can take some nice pictures of an empty crater. Instead of being part of a huge trail of people. Once we get to the entrance there is no one there and the gate is slightly open. On our left side a woman approaches who seems to be heading for us. So it’s now or never! We quickly open the gate and go through.
Time to move quick!
While walking I assemble my headlight, which is something I should have done up front haha. We are about 50 meters down the track when we hear a lot of yelling behind us. So we look over our shoulder and there’s a guy walking and waving his lamp. Apparently we were not yet allowed to be here, hence the closed fence haha. Time to pick up the pace because we don’t feel like going back and explain what we are doing. The man is stubborn and maintains his pursuit but eventually gives in, or at least that is what it looks like. Once we are out of sight and don’t hear him any more we slow down our pace again.
When all of a sudden we hear the sound of a scooter behind us. No way, he won’t be coming after us on his scooter, right? It sure looks like it so we jump aside into the bushes and hide. Seconds later a scooter is passing by pretty fast. That was close!
We wait a few minutes to make sure he’s not coming back, or more scooters are coming and then leave our hiding spot to continue walking. We barely left the bushes and then we hear the scooter again, now it’s in front of us!
So we run back to our hiding spot and dive in again. Milou sprains her ankle while trying to jump and now has some difficulty to get off the track. But driven by adrenaline she is able to ignore the pain and with a helping hand I am able to pull her off the track just in time. The scooter drives past and after that we start to laugh. We feel like 2 kids playing knock, knock, ginger.
When the sound of the scooter has faded and Milou is over the worst pain it’s time to start walking. Otherwise her ankle would swell and it becomes even more difficult t to walk. Normally resting and cooling would be the best move but since this is not really an option in our case, it is better to keep moving so the ankle stays flexible. I do a quick check to make sure it’s not broken and then we get back on track.
By now we look like 2 pigs who just got out of their favourite mud pool. Let’s just hope that there is no one at the top, waiting for us to arrive. Because probably there would be some form of contact between the people down here and at the top.
We also notice that htere is a group of people, with a guide, right behind us and it takes about 20 minutes for them to catch up on us. Milou is worrying, ever since we heard them, about what the guide will say to us but in the end I was right. They just pass us by without saying a word and the guide doesn’t care a single bit. Finally Milou can relax as well and pay full attention to the track. Which can be tricky with all the holes and cracks, especially with her injured ankle.
Proudly we arrive at the top, being the second group there. It’s not the real summit yet, that one will come later for the sunrise. Now we first have to descend into the crater to see the blue flames. We put on our gas masks and slowly climb down over the sharp and loose rocks, one step at a time. The tricky part is that sometimes your sight is completely gone when a big cloud of sulfur passes by. All you can do then is stand and wait with your eyes closed in a smell of rotting eggs (even trhough the mask at times) until the cloud has past. Not really nice, but totally worth it and we even get to see the blue flames! Really small though but we have seen them. The ascend is tough, especially since we have to pass all the people coming down on the narrow track.
Once we’re up, we luckily have plenty of time to get to the peak, because it’s still an hour till sunrise. From here we have a beautiful view on the crater and all the lights of the people climbing up and down. We can still see the blue flames every once in a while. We settle on a good spot for the sunrise, have some food and put up all our equipment. Riny loves sunrises and sunsets, so the GoPro is allready in position, and he’s standing behind it with in one hand his phone for Instagram pictures, and in the other our camera. My hands are tugged away deep in my jacket because of the cold. We’re very lucky, after a long wait it still turns out to be a very beautiful sunrise. When we’re satisfied with all the pics and videos, we turn around and walk to the other side. There is the view on the blue crater lake, amazing!
The way back is gorgeous. Now we can see in what kind of landscape we climbed up here. The crater looks like a moon landscape, with deep, eroded cracks and pointy rocks. When we leave the volcano behind us, we pass by green, forest-like mountains and we can see amazingly far. This was totally worth the climb. The way down fortunately is a lot easier, but we notice that our muscles (and us ourselves) are pretty tired. We’re happy to arrive at our scooter around 9.30 am. Time to drive home, get some sleep and wash the sulphur smell off of us.
Staying with the locals
The alarm goes off at noon, because we have to check out at the hostel in time. Time to move on. We strap our backpack to our scooter and drive off. After about a minute I have the feeling that we forgot something. We’re not wearing our helmets! Quickly we turn around and go back to the hostel. There we find out how we could have forgotten them. Normally we put them on the mirrors of our scooter, just as we did this morning. Apparently someone really needed a helmet, because Riny’s helmet is gone, and mine is on the floor somewhere. After asking around in the hostel, it turns out that the hostel owner ‘accidentally took’ Riny’s helmet. We really wonder how someone can confuse our helmets with his while they are on our scooter, but well, the big boss has been called and he should be back around 5 pm.
At that moment a guy walks in, Febri. He talks quite good English and would love to show us his cousins shop. His cousin makes traditional Javanese clothing and has his own art studio. Since we have a few hours to kill and it sounds rather interesting, we go with Febri.
His cousin runs a Batik shop and makes all the clothes himself. His dream is to expand his shop and educate tourists about Batik people and culture. It’s very nice to see what he makes, beautiful kinds of fabric with self-made patterns, and then made into traditional clothes. Unfortunately we cannot see him work at that time. His mum brings us cookies and tea. People here are so proud when white people come visit, and they really make an effort to spoil you. It’s quite fun to experience.
After our visit Febri shows us his house, where his whole family lives, the carpenter shop where he works, the rice fields belonging to his grandpa and a high tree house in the town. He insists that we spend the night at his house because he really loves to have foreign guests. Also he would like to take us to Red Island tomorrow, a nice beach on Java’s south coast, about 2 hours from here. After some hesitation and doubt, we decide this really is no different than Couchsurfing and decide to trust this nice fellow. He really means well, but he does tell us beforehand that he doesn’t have much money and he would appreciate if we can pay for his petrol and food during the trip tomorrow. That sounds rather fair, and doesn’t really cost us that much anyway. It’s even cheaper here than it was on Bali. And normally accommodation and a private guide are a lot more expensive.
After an adventurous night in a traditional Javanese bed and freshing up in a traditional Javanese bathroom (wash from a sink and pee in a hole in the floor), we hit the road. After about one hour, something’s wrong. Our scooter is suddenly very wobbly, and when we get off we see why. We have a flat tire! Febri is quite fast, so it takes 5 minutes for him to notices that we’re gone, turn around and come back. He’s very helpful and immediately asks around if anyone knows a mechanic in this small town. Luckily there is one, only 300 metres further. We do have to wait a little while, because the mechanic is at the mosque for his midday prayer, which is right next to his house. Meanwhile we can follow the whole prayer live, because it’s normal here on Java to have a huge speaker on the mosque, that tells the prayer very loudly. The first prayer is always at 5 am, so when looking for accommodation, it’s quite essential to locate the nearest mosque.
When he mechanic returns to his home, it turnes out that this also is his work shop. And the whole town seems to know about it, leaving the man with plenty of work without even putting up one sign. His wife is busy inside the house to prepare some snacks and drinks for us, that we can enjoy while waiting. She’s very excited to have foreign guests, and tries to get her son to sit next to us for a picture. Unfortunately a lot of the kids we meet are quite shy towards us and don’t really want to get too close. We take a seat on the carpet (which is a common way to sit and eat here), and have some delicious tempeh snacks. When the jar is half empty, the wife quickly refills it to make sure we have enough food. After about 15 minutes we ate so much that we can skip lunch, and are scooter is ready to go, for only 10.000 rupiah.
Red Island is very pretty. It’s a large, clean beach with few tourists and a nice view on the rock formations in the ocean. The beach is full of art work of small crabs, who make nice drawings on the beach to attract female crabs. Very special to see. We have a very nice day and drive back to Banyuwangi around 4 pm.
At night Febri organised a barbecue with a lot of his friends, who all want to meet us. Preparing dinner takes all night, but the food is amazing and they even have mushrooms on the barbecue, so I can enjoy it too. It’s a fun night and we really feel welcome in this company. The hostess even offers us to stay the night in her house, but we have to refuse because we made a commitment to Febri. It’s not a luxury resort, but he is very happy and appreciative that we’re there and we don’t want to ruin that.
The next day we go see a ‘bird fight’, as Febri calls it. Which luckily isn’t like anything we imagined. It’s a competition for the nicest singing bird. Quite hilarious, because to make their bird sing, the owners are all clapping, shouting and whistling on the side line. Meanwhile there’s a judge under the cages, trying to hear the singing of the birds through all the shouting. Apparently this is a common thing here, because we see many scooters travelling with a bird cage. Again we are quite famous. Especially the children are fascinated by us and chase us down the street.
Then it’s time to get on the ferry back to Bali. Febri really doesn’t like saying goodbye to us. We thank him for his hospitality and are on our way. On the way to the ferry we get our 3th flat tire. The last time we got it fixed, we even got a whole new inner tire. So we didn’t expect this to happen again. And now we have to find a mechanic by ourselves. This turns out to be quite easy. I ask someone and point at our flat tire at the same time. He points to the other side of the road, where two men are sitting on the side walk next to a generator. That must be it. We push our scooter there and they start working their magic. Meanwhile we’re being watched by all woman and children in the nieghbourhood. One sits next to me and tries to let her 1,5 year old daughter say hi. Quite funny, because this little lady has a very strong opinion, and doesn’t really want to cooperate. Eventually she does come to me to shake my hand. By the time the scooter is ready, we’ve been photographed quite a few times and I almost have my scarf put on my head like the Muslim women.
By now it’s dark and quite late, so we really don’t want to take the ferry tonight any more. We find some cheap accommodation here and decide to leave tomorrow.