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Kawah Ijen

Have you ever complained about your job? Try to mine sulfur in Ijen Crater, East Java, Indonesia. The Kawah Ijen volcano complex is a group of stratovolcanoes, in East Java, Indonesia. It is inside a larger caldera Ijen, which is about 20 kilometers wide. The main attraction is Ijen volcano, which has a one-kilometer-wide turquoise-colored acid crater lake. The lake is the site of a labor-intensive sulfur mining operation, in which sulfur-laden baskets are carried by hand from the crater floor.

It’s unbelievable how much physical stress the miners have to endure. This ancient method of sulfur mining is probably one of the hardest jobs on the Earth. There is a sulfur gas cloud coming out of it in one part and that’s where the sulfur is mined. An active vent at the edge of the lake is a source of elemental sulfur, and supports a mining operation. Escaping volcanic gasses are channeled through a network of ceramic pipes, resulting in condensation of molten sulfur. The sulfur, which is deep red in color when molten, pours slowly from the ends of these pipes and pools on the ground, turning bright yellow as it cools. The cooled material is broken into pieces and carried out in baskets by the miners. Its a though climb to reach the rim of the crater and then steep decline down to the lake. Going inside crater makes things little dangerous. Path is very unclear, unstable and there is continuous flow of miners climbing up with their heavy baskets full of sulfur rock. Fully loaded basket weights about 70-100 kg and it’s very hard even to lift it. These guys who are much smaller in size carry it with incredible endurance from mining site to the crater rim approximately 200 m above the lake and then several kilometers down the mountain. Miners usually make journey twice a day. Sometimes they use few sets of baskets carrying them one by one several hundred meters and going back for another set.The miners are paid by a nearby sugar refinery by the weight of sulfur transported. Typical daily earnings range is approximately $5.00-$7.00 US. The miners use insufficient protection while working around the volcano and are susceptible to numerous respiratory complaints. Coughing and tearing is common and scarf over the face offers almost no protection. Miners spend few hours every day in these conditions. I have really admired their resistance. They do the job with no complaints. Some of the even speak little English so it’s possible to exchange few words with them. It’s good idea to buy a pack of cigarettes when going to crater. They really appreciate it and will be more cooperative when taking photos. Generally they don’t mind photographs taken of them but some of them may ask for little money. I spent about 40 minutes down in the mining site and I can tell it is hell itself. I got into sulfur gas cloud numerous times. Since there is limited room for escape the only option was to wait for wind to change direction.Crater is a place when one has to be very carefull and before going down it is better to think twice if it’s worth at all. For people with bad physical condition and health problems it;s big no no. Ijen is not filled with tourists as some other places like Mt Bromo. It’s a very nice location for photographers, especially those who enjoy documentary and travel photography. Villages under the mountains also offers numerous possibilities for photography. I spent at Ijen only couple of hours and I wished I could stay little longer. I am sure if I have chance I will come back again. It was a nice travel and photographic experience.For more photographs please visit photography section.

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  1. April 3, 2010 at 2:09 am

    Hi Richard!
    How are you doing? I know your amazing photos and also reading is very interesting. Keep on going!

    With compliments,
    Miroslav Simek
    president od Photoclub Galanta, Slovakia

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