The Ijen crater is famous for its sulphur mines as well as its blue flame, which is lava that actually burns blue! It's further east on Java towards Bali, separated from Bromo by a few towns and many winding mountain roads. You can buy a package deal from Bromo to Bali via Ijen, which is more expensive, but saves time, or you could take the local buses. You probably already know which option we were going with.
First we had to get down from Bromo, and it was the damn minibus again! We were told it would leave at 9 am. So we showed up and there was only 1 person in the bus. The price is supposed to be 35,000 rupiah ($2.50) assuming the bus is full, but its low season and that would never happen. After an hour of waiting, we now had 6 people, but it was looking like that would be it. Hanny and this Russian girl had been arguing with the driver over the last hour trying to get the 35,000 price, but he wouldn’t agree with so few people. I was fine with paying more, but these girls were not budging. Finally the older couple had enough and volunteered to pay the extra money to get the hell outta there. In the end the girls gave up and we all paid 50,000 ($3.50!) One more whole dollar than they were hoping to pay! So ridiculous.
From there we hopped on a local bus to another town and Hanny got into full on shouting match when they tried to charge us double the actual price of ticket ($3 instead of 1.50) and I just sat there and kept out of it. To be fair, this was basically a scam and that should kind of piss you off, but I think I would have gave in and paid the $3. She would have rather gotten off the bus and waited hours for the next one rather than knowingly get ripped off! In the end she won and we paid the normal price. This bus took longer than expected and by the time we got into the next town we had missed our bus connection to get up to Ijen. A man recommended us a hotel, a kilometre away, so we decided to go there.
At this point our options were to take the bicycle cart transportation straight to the hotel for 10,000 rp (70 cents) or walk around with all of our stuff, to a hotel we didn’t have directions to, in a drizzle. She wanted to walk!! Honestly mind blowing. A decision like this seems like the biggest no brainer in the world to me. But not to Hanny. It’s like she’s physically incapable of paying a cent more than she knows she absolutely has to. I told her that I’m taking the bicycle, she can walk if she wants. She caved and spent the 10,000. The hotel wasn’t easy to find. But I’m certain if I wasn’t there she would have wandered around town for god knows how long to find this hotel instead of paying the bicycle guy. To be fair to her though, this is only one part of her personality, that I've been focusing on because it's kind of fascinating to me. But otherwise she was nice, funny, easy going and we got along well!
Our hotel was about as basic as you can get. Two beds with thin mattresses, no fan or furniture, a squat toilet and water bucket for flushing, and that was about it. But considering we were paying $2 each, we couldn’t complain. And it had working wifi! The next morning we found the bus to the little village near Ijen that we wanted to go to. It took four or five hours to get there and we settled in at the tourist-oriented guesthouse. We had time to kill, so we checked out the waterfall (which was pretty damn good!) and the hot springs before arranging a tour to the crater. We originally were hoping to get there independently, but it was looking to be very difficult, so after much deliberation (well at least for her) we agreed to pay for tour. Even though we had negotiated a rate that was cheaper than anyone else we talked to, for her it was like forcing medicine down a child’s mouth. I paid up and let her attempt to haggle even further with the driver.
We left for the crater at 1:30am with 2 Germans and 2 Japanese guys. The hiking was unexpectedly moderate, 45 minutes uphill and then maybe another 45 minutes descending into the crater. We had rented gas masks, as we heard the fumes can be really strong at times. The reason we had to get there while it was still dark was to see the blue flame, lava that actually burns blue. I thought it was pretty cool, but most of the people in our group had more grandiose expectations for this blue flame, and seemed underwhelmed. After doing enough group tour activities in Asia, I pretty much going in expecting for whatever we’re supposed to be seeing to be really lame, and if it isn’t than it’s a nice surprise.
Ijen is also home to sulphur pits, which miners hike down to once or twice a day, loading their packs with 60-80 kg(130-175 lbs) of the big yellow rocks. It looks absolutely miserable. Plus they have to content with all the gases and fumes, and hardly any of them wear any type of protective mask. You can take photos of them, but they appreciate a cigarette or some sort of small food item in return. I made sure to come prepared.
The mines are also right next to a very scenic crater lake, but it was too cloudy to see the sunrise (as usual). This is what happens when you travel in rainy season! But overall I really enjoyed the place, it has such a unique, almost surreal feel to it with all the miners and the flumes of yellow smoke billowing out of the Earth. It was a bit more interesting than Bromo in my opinion, and I’d recommend anyone in the area to check it out!
After Ijen we hopped in the bus and prepared for the day long journey that would get us to Bali, where we definitely needed some rest!