Sulphur Mine and Acid Lake – Indonesia sits on a Volcano
There are only a few places on our planet, where our civilized world is colliding with the earth’s forces. Indonesia undoubtedly belongs to those places, as nowhere else in the world human life is daring to sit on a volcano the crowded way. An offshoot of the Pacific Ring of Fire is transporting the seismic heartbeat literally like an artery to the doorsteps of Java, Sumatra & Co. Catastrophes with an apocalyptic dimension happened there: the explosion of lake Toba, of the volcanos Tambora and Krakatoa, as well as the seaquake and the dramatic Tsunami on December 26th 2004.
The locals generally call a volcano Gunung, which actually only means mountain and sounds more or less quite harmless. Maybe that is even better this way, as a harmless terminology is trivialising the risks of sitting on a fire mountain quite well; and none of the Sunda islands is taking a back seat if it’s about living next to volcanic dangers. Indonesia is one of the most densely populated places on our planet. For example on Java 130 million people are living next door to the immensive destructive potential of about 20 active volcanos; among them are powerful candidates like Merapi, Semeru or Kelut. Even the legendary Krakatoa is back in the race. This time with his child, which is the literal meaning of Anak Krakatoa. Latter one is an island off the coast and actually far away from all bustle called civilization. However, the combination of magma and water is one of to the most devastating explosives and easily able to leave a global footprint behind.
Like as Jeff Goldblum already said in Jurassic Park: life will find a way; thus Indonesians are coming to an arrangement with the seismic turbulences every day anew. At places like the Ijen volcano in East Java they can even profit from the earth
directly, as there the volcano’s vent is saturated with sulphure to such an extent, that it is worth to cool down the gases by leading them through long tubes to make sulphur finally sublimate and mineable. Matches are only one product Java sulphur is used for. Mining the sulphur is an entirely manual work, without gas mask, without further means of transport. When deeply inhaled, the volcanic gas mix instantly causes a stabbing pain in the lung. Quarrying big sulphure chunks with a crowbar under suchlike conditions, then carrying a partially up to 90kg heavy load of sulphure over the crater rim down to the valley, is an incomparably back-breaking work. The cloth covering mouth and nose barely protects the lungs from Ijen’s yellow hell. Although this being a living on borrowed time, that is one of Java’s better paid jobs, as every walker bringing down sulphur is paid with 3 or 4 US$ per load. Hence, successors already queue and are willing to take all risks.
Further east the island Flores has another volcanic highlight on offer: the multi-coloured crater lakes of Kelimutu
. Coming from Komodo travelling to Kelimutu is best when going through Ende. Flying in from Bali often means that Maumere is the starting point for your adventure. Doesn’t matter which way you’re travelling, Moni, the small village at Kelimutu’s bottom is the actual gate. The volcano’s last eruption is dating back to 1968; since then the craters run full of water. Due to minerals being in constant flux and its chemical interaction, the crater lakes are periodically changing its hue. In fact the lakes are appearing differently after every raining season and the colours can range from turquoise, green to maroon or even black. In terms of infrastructure Kelimutu is surprisingly well equipped. There are signs showing the correct way and even an observation deck. The only “bad” point: Kelimutu’s mystic feeling can only fully caught when waking up earliy, that is 4am, if not to say 3:30 in the morning. Watching the sunrise from the crater rim is something very special though; it fully compensates all efforts.
Other places are differently profiting from Indonesia’s volcanic heart. Paying four or five times higher prices that usual is standard when visiting East Java’s Tengger Caldera
. Though, sometimes the higher prices also include goodies like a struggle with the Dutch early in the morning. Which reminds a bit of the anglo-german towel fight that about the best canvas chair that is held in Mallorca. However, the national park around Bromo and Semeru volcanoes is one of the most beautiful and interesting sights of Indonesia. Seeing the panorama of the caldera, its several nested eroded lava domes surrounded by ground fog and all that illuminated by the incredible colours of the sunrise, is something very special and makes the Tengger being one of the most mystic places in the world.
When magma gets in direct contact with water then apocalyptic forces are set free and our defintion of the world gets turned upside down. Back in 1883 that happened when the Krakatoa volcano erupted terribly
and destroyed all life along the shore lines of Sunda Strait, the passage between Java and Sumatra islands. Though life is always coming back, even to such places and when the volcano’s activity takes a backseat then there’s plenty of time to have a closer look at this remarkable comeback.
The town of Ende sounds like the final of a trip, but can also be quite a good start for travelling the Indonesian Sunda Islands eastwards, all the way to Jakarta
. On the way to Indonesia’s capital you’ll surely experience plenty of possibilities to get in touch with the most diverse people plus look behind the scenes of illustrious names like Bali or Komodo. Indonesia, that also stands for volcanoes, earth quakes and tsunamis. At first glance that doesn’t sound all too well, but who knows, maybe the creative hand of volcanoes’ was active again when giving birth to unique things of culture like artful batik, huge religious temples or filigree old Indonesian shadow puppetry.