Banyuwangi, just across the channel, is the gateway to Java. We decided to pay a third visit to the crater at Kawah Ijen with its sulfur miners. After trying yet again, unsuccessfully, to rent a motorbike, there was no choice but to take public transport, as the year before. A public bemo only took us so far, though. The remaining 20 km to the park headquarters had to be chartered. Thrilled to see tourists, the motorbike jockeys waiting at the crossroads started quoting incredible prices. Because it was school holiday season, groups of Indonesian students with backpacks were waiting for shared transport as well. With their guitars and stylish clothes, they were looking forward to days of camping and nights of music and parties in the fresh mountain air. Pickups were making the trip up and down, but no driver would take us with the students, they wanted us to pay the full charter price. None of the drivers wanted to lose face in front of the others by giving in. After a few discreet inquiries we managed to establish a rough price for the trip. Waiting was getting us nowhere, so we walked up the road, around the bend and out of sight of the transport mafia. Here was a group of friendly students waiting for a ride. We ingratiated ourselves, and, when the truck pulled up, hopped on with the others. Before leaving, the driver asked us to get off, but we refused. The others didn’t seem to mind. Exasperated, the driver finally gave in. The road was so steep in places that everybody had to get out. At the top we palmed some money to the chauffeur, with more than enough to pay for our share of the ride but still much less than he would ever have asked for!
Despite the field of rowdy young campers, Kawah Ijen looked the same as the year before. We walked to the crater and around the rim, enjoying the view. This time, however, we decided not to go down to the lake and fuming sulfur vents at the bottom. At the weigh station we sat, drank tea and chatted with the workers. We tried to guess the amount of sulfur they were carrying in the baskets on their backs. One slight man topped the scales at 99 kg! A Chinese-Indonesian who had brought his family to see the crater on a day-trip from Surabaya drove us back to Banyuwangi. He had made the 6-hour journey that morning and would be returning in the evening. His son, overweight, had huffed and puffed his way up to the crater rim barely making it, while his daughter, even fatter, had opted to stay in the car with her plump mother. His mother, a wizened, delicate old lady, had also accompanied the family from Surabaya. She had attended a good school before the Indonesian revolution in 1945 and still spoke Dutch. It was interesting to reflect on the changes she had seen in her lifetime as Indonesia went from colony to dictatorship to democracy. In good spirits but hungry, we returned to our favorite streetside restaurant to feast on grilled fish and sweet-and-sour fried squid. The owner, remembering us from last year, posed for a picture in his makeshift kitchen.
We spent the next few days visiting friends in Surabaya and planning our next steps. It was a good chance to look at a few furniture places in the area. We considered buying teak furniture and shipping it home, and even found a few good places. A French ex-pat gave us a few buying tips. Shipping turns out to be easier to organize from home than in Indonesia. In the end, we didn’t feel prepared to take the risk. Maybe next time!