Mount Ijen, East Java, Indonesia, 2015

We packed into a bemo mini bus in the village of Cemoro Lawang with 9 other travelers we would spend the next few days with. I am typing this from a beach bungalow in the Gili islands over a week later and we are still with 2 members from this mini bemo bus. The characters from the bus were: The crazy Mexican and his wife .. This guy was scary .. very real tattoos .. a large build .. long pony tailed hair .. maybe 50 years old and extremely well spoken and confident. His wife, an Asian American who was mainly quiet and went along with whatever he said. Next we had Lasse ( aka Heath Ledger ) from Denmark .. an awesome guy we traveled with for a few days after this… 2 Canadian girls from Calgary .. 2 Swiss girls .. one of which was to be an amazing negotiator on our trip. And a French couple, Marion and Pierre, who we are still traveling with today. Some crazy traveling and learning experiences were up ahead .. stuff that made my run-in with the tour operator near Cat Ba seem like normal activities in these parts.. and now I realize that I did the right thing that day .. you need to fight for your rights around here, otherwise they will take you for a long and expensive ride .. literally.  I’ll try and make this short and yet capture the epic proportions of the shit that went on with the buses.

After getting back to Probolinggo, our group of 11 stuck together at the ridiculous bus station .. because it’s “taxi taxi !!” “ Bromo Bromo ??” “ Where you going ?? “ “Ijen Ijen ?? “ “My bus over here !!” “my taxi over here “ .. all the while pawing at you to go with them.  Sylvie and I hadn’t a clue what we were doing .. we followed the crew .. to an old local bus that was packed !!!! Cramming their bags in the back .. others taking them on the bus .. it was slowly inching away from it’s parking spot .. leaving as Sylvie and I hesitantly hopped on .. at one point, I said “no, let’s not get on this bus” as I was hanging off of it from the outside handrail .. my 10 kilo pack hanging off my arm .. a horde of people scrambling for a seat inside along with musicians and 4-5 merchants selling food. I didn’t want to be standing for the next 4 hours in that crowded zoo they called a bus. Then I looked up and saw Lasse, looking at me saying “get on!! get on!!”.. the bus is moving this whole time .. ok, we are in for one hell of a ride, and on we got.

The next 20 minutes are hard to describe. A war .. a battle.. 11 of us against 3 con artists. At the time, Sylvie and I had no idea .. we were a bit too agreeable and gullible. We were the first of our group to fold under the pressure and we essentially screwed it up for the rest of the group. We didn’t know !!! We learned .. The basics of the situation are .. Con men patrol the bus terminals waiting for travelers to show up. They find you before you find the bus.. they quote you a price and take you to the bus. The price they quote you is obviously more than the real price, but of course, you have no idea .. and you have no idea that these men have NOTHING to do with the actual bus. The bus drivers go along with it and the real ticket man on the bus goes along with it so the traveler has no idea he is being ripped off. Well, the Swiss girls knew this .. the Mexican had his suspicions .. Pierre knew the real price for the bus .. Sylvie and I caved and payed right away as soon as we crammed into a seat WITH our backpacks .. very uncomfortable. Yelling and screaming all around us .. a war breaking out. The Mexican yelling and protesting at the price .. slapping his hands threateningly to the con men .. at this point, Sylvie and I are like “ just pay, it’s only a couple of bucks, we are on the bus .. what’s the problem ??” .. the yelling escalates .. the conflict continues ..Pierre is clearly stating the correct price for the bus.. the Swiss girl is rallying the group of 11 together telling the con men, that we will all leave the bus right now if they do not surrender to this standoff. Sylvie and I hear this and are scared now .. get off the bus ?? in that heat ?? no way !! we paid .. we are ok with the price .. please keep us out of this. The Mexican looks at me and reassures me “ it’s all theater .. don’t worry “ .. Having paid already, the standoffs ends with the group paying the con price 😦 20 minutes of yelling and arguing and threatening comes to an end … calm is returned to the tuna packed bus .. and the Mexican looks around and noticed “ Where are those 3 men ?” … gone. They got their money and jumped off the bus. Only the official ticket man and driver remained. Fack … lesson learned. We apologized to the group explaining we had never witnessed anything like this. All was good and there was no hard feelings.

5 hours later the bus stopped at a terminal far from the city center we wanted to be at. Banyuwangi was the goal, because it was the jumping point for Mount Ijen, our next attraction. So we were not at Banyuwangi, but instead in some dark neighborhood in the middle of nowhere. The Mexican explodes !! The Swiss girl jumps into action … the war restarts !!! This time, Sylvie and I say nothing, and follow their lead. Their new argument is what we had paid a premium for this bus ride and we wanted to be dropped in the town center as the con men had told us. Since the driver and ticket men had not intervened on our behalf, it was their responsibility to get us to our destination. The Swiss girl was making our problem with the con men, their problem .. hopefully helping future situations and lessening the feasibility of this rouse they allow to happen on their bus. Yelling and screaming .. the Mexican exploding up and down the aisle yelling at a crowd of Indonesians .. “ We are not getting off this bus !!!! take us to Banyuwangi !!” The Swiss girl telling us to stay on the bus at all costs … to collect our bags and to be ready to move .. 20 minutes of this stand off goes on and this time, the Swiss girl comes out victorious. Our hero !! She negotiated 2 free bemo buses that picked us up and drove us to the city center, right to a hotel for the entire group. Awesome work !!

Banyuwangi was scary.. especially at night. Hard Core poverty all around .. cockroaches everywhere.. normal food (to us) impossible to find .. no toilet paper anywhere lol .. real difficult ! Haha 2 giants rats came running at us as we started our stroll to find a market. A bit longer than my arm if you include the tail.. We ended up eating some very sketchy street food which ended up being ok with the stomach. Cost us like 50 cents ..


The goal here was to climb another volcano .. at night. Again, Sylvie and I, ill prepared for this part of our trip hadn’t a clue how to accomplish this and we were prepared to scrap the idea if we couldn’t figure it out.. no biggie. On the bus, I spoke with most of the travelers asking their plans and such .. and everyone was sort of like Sylvie and I .. unknowing .. unsure .. The only 2 people who seemed to know what to do were the Mexican and Lasse, the great Dane. The Mexican was very unpredictable and quite scary.. Lasse was a very calm and cool guy.. The French couple seemed very down to earth and knew their prices .. the Canadian’s were a little too lost .. not able to ride motorbikes ( in case we rented and climbed the volcano ourselves ) .. so much confusion. We needed a leader !! won’t be me .. I hush up to Lasse “ hey man, are you a leader ? Can you lead this show ?” his immediate response “Fuck ya I can lead !!” and he stood up immediately and addressed the travelers to get us all on the same page. Awesome.. thank you very much 🙂  We decided on renting 2 4×4 SUV’s to bring us up to the trekking part of Mount Ijen. From there, we would trek the rest of the way to 2500 meter crater rim… at midnight.

Mount Ijen is the sulfur mine featured on BBC’s special “The Human Planet”.. Indonesian miners hike up the volcano and down the very steep and rocky inner rim to the bottom where there is a sulfurous area that burns eternally with blue magical fire .. fumes billow out of this thing that basically kill the Indonesian miners. They carry a very heavy load of this bright yellow sulfur back up the crater to the weighing station where they are paid approximately $5 per load .. along with lung cancer and severe back abnormalities from the loads .. We would only be doing the trip once .. we should be fine. Sylvie and I bought 2 head lamps and many facial masks for the fumes from the market and then crammed in a 2 hour power nap before the jeeps picked us up at midnight. So, we were up all day and now we were going to trek all night .. oh boy.. what have we gotten ourselves into?


The jeep ride was fun .. dark winding roads .. no clue what it looked like outside. The driver in first gear most of the ride up and at some points had to switch to four wheel low to make the grades.. We didn’t bring our “good” camera for this as we had heard that the sulfur fumes can damage the mechanism .. a mistake I will regret for a while.. we missed some hella photos 😦  Once at the trekking point, we geared up in warm clothes because it was freezing outside !! Lasse and I were the only 2 people in shorts still .. We climbed for a good 1.5 to 2 hours .. I lost track of time .. Sylvie was exhausted and we both agree this was the toughest trek and climb we had ever done. Completely in the dark with headlamps .. steep drop offs occasionally to our right .. no clue what the world around us looked like.. on and on .. the sky above as clear as the planetarium in Toronto.


Once to the top, there is a sign saying it is prohibited to go down in to the crater without a guide .. bah .. most people were going down .. so we went down alone. A very slow going climb down the most difficult rock face ever .. in the dark … with our walking sticks.. the very same descent you see on the Planet Earth episode.. the miners going about their climb and descent as well. About an hour to get to the bottom to witness the sulfurous mound of fire forcing itself from beneath the ground .. blue magic flame !! amazing .. I went in close to the mound for a better picture and got caught in the sulfur smoke full on .. panic hit me right away as I was not able to breath properly .. I was so scared, I bolted away from the area and never approached the mound again. The fume cloud coming out of the mound was enormous but was blowing in one direction away from us .. so we were safe from it from about 40 meters away. The miners are in the middle of it .. unphased .. but dying for sure:(


After spending some time there, we climbed back up slowly as the sun started to rise.. OMG .. the view was unbelievable and I was very much regretting not having brought the camera. There was a huge sulfurous lake in the crater we hadn’t been able to see before .. the mountain side we had climbed to get here was breathtaking and unimaginable in the dark.. The top of the volcano had a landscape of some other planet .. like nothing we had seen before .. even after Bromo. But the best, was Mount Raung that was erupting only a few kilometers away … this volcano started erupting a few weeks ago, grounding all flights in and out of Bali.. what a view !! A real live volcano erupting beside us ..At this point, Sylvie and I are just loving Indonesia… We made our way back down, collected our jeep members and left. A mystery was created though.. I was the last person to see the Mexican down at the bottom of the crater. “Have you had enough?” he asked his wife and she said “yes” ..We arrived back at the hotel … puttered around showering and packing and having breakfast .. for over 2.5 hours and the other jeep had still not returned .. strange. The Swiss and Canadian girls made it back to the jeeps but the Mexican still had not, and yet he left the crater hours before we did .. I have been in touch with Lasse on Facebook and we still do not know what happened to the Mexican man and his wife …

Lasse, Marion, Pierre, Sylvie and I would leave Banyuwangi together that morning for the ferry to Bali and then another bus to Kuta, Bali. We had been in Indonesia for but 3 days and already had witnessed the most incredible experiences of our lives… wow wow wow .. Sorry the pictures aren’t the best .. BlackBerry has been an amazing traveling tool, GPS, browser and organizer but they surely need to work on their cameras.. if they make it 😀


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