Monday, 31 October 2011

The sulphur mines and the Million Star Resort

From Bondowoso to the Ijen plateau was a good day’s ride and we camped by the trail-head
that lead the last two miles to the crater rim. The stars ripened like fruit before our eyes and now and again dusty men would shuffle past, bowed down under the weight of baskets filled with chunks of what looked like heavy yellow cheese.
Climbing in the dark, well before dawn up the steep path, we realized these were no mountain dairy farmers but sulphur miners working the night shift. As we reached the treeless rim an inkling of daylight revealed an eerie, poisonous landscape thankfully no longer common on our shining blue-green orb.
Down in the crater were blue fires burning holes through a yellow, steaming earth. Beyond lay a large, siren of a lake which invited, with its stark aquamarine, unsuspecting bathers into its beautiful but acid realm. Descending to the fires, dawn hid the blue flames and we could see liquid sulphur spewing, steaming and cooling into slabs. When the wind took the smoke briefly away two balaclavad men rushed in and broke off chunks of the heavy cheddar with
crowbars. Another loaded them carefully, 70kilo’s at a time, into two baskets tied to a bamboo pole. Waiting porters hoisted it onto scarred and deformed shoulders and began their twice daily journey, 90 meters up to the rim and 300 odd meters and 3 kilometres down to the plateau below.
We talked to one young miner, a jolly fellow, though they all somehow had a smile for us and a “Selemat Pagi”. He revealed openly if not proudly that he could earn about 8 Euros a day, and had moved here from the more expensive Bali for this work. Here he could bring up his family in a village beneath the volcano and since his buddy with a moped had joined him he could return home some nights and not have to stay on the mountain.
Anja saw this mine as some Breugelian vision of hell but (though I would maybe rig up some kind of  cable car system), I would rather do this that work 12 hours in a factory for half the money. Our man said that a farmworker earns a quarter what he does. 70 kilos is damn heavy though, whatever you get paid.
After returning to camp we ate a leisurely breakfast, cleaned the last of Bromo’s dust from our chains and sprockets, descended the rough old track 2000m to the sea through flowering coffee plantations, caught the ferry to Bali and flopped, dead tired into the nearest house for flopping.
We followed the North coast of Bali, stopping now and then to stick our heads into the sea and look at the corals and fish. Here was a slightly disturbing mixture of poor, dry villages with a five star “Spa” resort sucking all available water to lushly green its lawns. $100 a night was not really our style so we stayed in our own private million star resorts just down the coast, (what some folks call camping out).
A few days brought us to the boat to Lombok, the next island so we hopped on the boat hoping to visit the paradise Gili islands. On the boat we met Jorgen, a 75 year old, adventurous chap who, after travelling the world as a young man had settled in Australia. He kept us entertained with tales from his well lived life and strengthened our desire to have a look at Tasmania.
The boat arrived after dark so we shared a room and a fine evening with Jorgen before riding up the coast , slinging the bikes on a small boat with a reluctant motor, and being left on a white sand beach on Gili Meno.
This morning we rose before the sun, donned our masks and snorkels, stepped from our bamboo hut and swam out to see what the reefs looked like. Under the glassy surface the wonderful world once more awaited us. Hawksbill and giant green turtles let us free-dive and swim alongside till we reluctantly had to return for air. I could have caught a ride with one old fella but I figured it would be disrespectful to someone of his venerability. I think though I will finish this “Diary of a spoilt tourist” and see if I can’t find a younger turtle willing to take passengers.








Jon said...

hey dudes good to see you in Indonesia, i hitched bussed and ferried from bali to jakarta in 1987, up bromo and all, remember it better than most things from those days strangely.

Good luck in oz, i hitched highway no.1 (all of it) the same year and ive been dreaming of cycling the nullabor recently. Just go to sydney via perth!

bet you take the easy route suckers...

nice one, wish i wasnt rolling in work etc , Love Jon.

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