Sulphur workers at Ijen Crater
[Photo above – We started our journey at 12 midnight to climb Mt. Ijen. Thinking to witness the blue fire (volcano fire generated by sulphur or we called it as ghost fire). However, the weather was bad. We reached the crater at 4am in the dark. The weather condition is foggy (very foggy) and we could not see anything. The temperature was cold and there was rain dizzling mixed with the poisinous sulphur gas. We felt like we were at one of a alien star in the space. We did not able to see the turquoise-coloured acid crater lake and the site where the sulphur were gathered and carried by the workers from the crater floor even after sunrise. We only saw the workers climbed up from the steep crater lake floor one after another. The visible distance was only around 3 meters I guessed. There were more foggy after sunrise and the visible distance dropped to 1 meter and we were still surrounded by the poisonuos gas. No matter how, we decided to get down. We walked slowly following the guide but some of us still lost the group and walked to the wrong track. It was extreamely dangerous because we may accidentally drop from the crater edge. A few sulphur workers managed to save us and lead us back to the right track. To thanks them, we bought some little animal shaped souvenir made by the sulphur from them. What an experience. This photo was taken while we were on the way down and while the condition become a lot clearer. It was about 6:30am].
[Photo above – We finally could see something. The colour of the sulphur was extremely bright. Some workers have left the sulphur basket along the way down to the collector centre. We did not see the worker].
When we complaint about our life everyday and seek all kind of methods to release our stress, there are around 300 to 400 sulphur collector at Mt Ijen (East Indonesia) each day, getting up at between 2am and 4am to hike up the Ijen crater at 2799m above sea level to hack out the sulphur by hand. The work condition is bad because the sulphur is poisonous and smelly and the path is steep. And they still need to carry their loads of sulphur chunks about 3 km to the sulphur collector centre to get paid. Each load of the sulphur is 60kg to 80kg and each kilo earn them around RP900 (Lonely Planet Indonesia Guide). The average workers earn around as little as US$5.50 – $8.30 (RP 50,000 – 75,000) per day (Wikipedia.org).
The life of sulphur workers is tough. However, based on the Lonely Planet Java Guide book – “the physical exercise keeps them incredibly fit with few report health program despite breathing lungful of sulphurous fumes every day of their lives. A 72-year-old still climbs Ijen most days and locals say there’s a centurion living in the village”.
[Photo above – A closer shot]
This lead me think of the stress level in developed countries could be heavier comparing to 60 or 80 kg of sulphur carried by the workers. The hectic life not only swallow up almost whole of our time, it has also created a lot of social illness.
Let see this report (www.annals.edu.sg/pdf/41VolNo2Feb2012/V41N1p49.pdf ). Mental illnesses are not only a growing public health concern but also a major social and economic issue affecting individuals and families throughout the world. Could it be too much heavy “sulphur” in daily life of developed countries for the people to cope with? Do we really need to create so much “sulphur” to carry to ourselves? I worry about myself sometimes.
The only advantages we have over the low income workers there probably is we have more choices to choose what we want in our life. But most of the time we probably just being tighten by all kinds of housing loan, taxes, insurance and etc. For the sulphur workers, there is only a choice. To work at wee hours. Since the income is low, their only wish probably is to have enough food to feed themselves or their family. One thing surprised me is they are still very genuine in treating tourists like us.
Throughout the whole journey in Mt Ijen, I only bumped into a few sulphur workers who stopped you by trying to sell us souvenir made by sulphur. Most of the time, they focused on carrying the sulphur and occasionally they stopped for a rest and smoking. And they did not ask for tips when we took their photo. This really surprised me. Even if I were them, I will for sure to ask for some tips for photo taking. This is definitely an easier money compare to carrying the sulphur. The most they asked are – “Do you have cigarette?”. I suddenly felt they are one of the most respectful people in the world. They earned their living with their own strength. And I found we the tourists are ugly. Because we kept taking their photo. There is one time I accidentally turned the camera flash too bright and it caused a bit of uneasiness to one of the sulphur worker. That turned out to be one of my most satisfied photo. You see, what a shame for people like us who thought they are from a richer and developed country who only know taking pictures to show off the photos to friends and family as a showcase of the holiday.
[Photo above – The camera flash light was too strong and it shocked one of the worker and I took his photo in short distance. Thick callused skin can be observed on the shoulder, which is attributed from excessive pressure and friction of the sulphur over years]
[Photo above – let see the back muscle they built]
[Photo above and below – Life is not easy up there]
[Photo below – The souvenir we bought from the workers. Made by sulphur]
Map of Ijen Crater, where sulphur is mined
2. Lonely Planet Java Guide