Poisonous Gases and Curious Tourists: Inside the Lives of the Kawah Ijen Miners
In the remote, far-eastern tip of the island of Java, a stone’s throw away from paradisiacal Bali, stands the active Ijen volcano complex. In the middle of this complex is Kawah Ijen, a volcano like no other. Kawah Ijen is home to the largest acidic crater lake in the world. Its shimmering turquoise waters are surrounded by vents expelling sulphuric gas. This suffocating environment is extremely hostile to life, yet some people spend entire days on the volcano. These people are the sulfur miners of Kawah Ijen.
The volcano is far from urban centers, the nearest city of Banyuwangi is 20 miles away and no roads go to the crater. The one-hour steep trek up to the base camp on the crater’s rim is tough, but it’s probably the least difficult part of the 230 or so miners’ job. Twice a day, they go down into the solfatara to collect hardened, cooled sulfur, and carry fully loaded baskets back up to the camp. They then carry it all the way down the volcano to be weighed. Their life expectancy is said to barely reach 50 years.