Living in the Indonesian Jungle and Sulfur Miners
Dear reader, I am Sebastian Jacobitz and when I am not busy traveling, I like to take pictures on the streets of Berlin. Usually, I am a Street Photographer, but for this trip, I wanted to complete a more serious project. Since I heard about the crazy job of the sulfur miners at the Mount Ijen, my desire grew to go there and witness firsthand how they mine the sulfur and carry it upwards the volcano crater. Now that I am back, I want to share their stories and the great time I had while staying in the Indonesian Jungle for more than 6 weeks.
My Accommodation in the Indonesian Jungle
Since my goal for this trip was to go to the Mount Ijen as often as possible and capture the hard work of the sulfur miners, I wanted to stay somewhere close. The next bigger city is called Banyuwangi, which is located on the very far east end of the Indonesian main island – Java.
Only a short trip away from Bali taking the ferry, Banyuwangi seemed like a good option, but the trip to the mountain would take roughly 90 minutes. Given the changing weather conditions, I didn’t want to take many risks and searched for closer places.
The Mount Ijen is very famous for its Blue Fire during the night. Many tourists visit this place during the night and stay somewhere close for one night. These homestays seemed perfect for me and the only difference would be, that instead of 1 night I would be there for around 6 weeks.
It was my first trip and “adventure” far away from home and I didn’t know what to expect in the Indonesian Jungle. Would I be able to contact friends, is there stable power and will it be become boring after some time?
All of my worries vanished when I arrived there. Although I didn’t speak their local language, I had a great time being introduced to my new family for 6 weeks. I stayed in a local village called Glondok, which is home to around 300 people.
The village life
Before following my main project and going to the Mount Ijen, I experienced the local village life. Of course, it would be very different from what I was accustomed to in Berlin, but overall it wasn’t that different. The internet connection was surprisingly good, the only downside was that rainfall would cut off the power and the mobile internet. Needless to say that it rains a lot during the rainy season.
Nonetheless, it got never boring there. The life might be completely different, but there is always something to discover and explore.
The very first evening my homestay’s family offered me to join them at the wedding of their cousin. Of course, I wanted to have a look at the traditional wedding ceremony and would want to photograph it.
A wedding in the Javanese tradition is not often to witness. Traditions have become much rarer since more people are drawn to the cities. Therefore it was really astonishing to witness such an event and coming home with these amazing pictures.
Living in a village also comes with a lot of duties. The village is only connected through a small road. Unfortunately, the rain does damage the road steadily and therefore the road has to be maintained on the regular. Although the government has promised to construct a proper road, it hasn’t fulfilled their promises yet. However, the community spirit is very strong and with the help of the whole village, they are also able to maintain the road themselves.
Other than that, there is also fun and games. To my surprise, the main leisure activity there is to play volleyball. Every few months, they have a big tournament where all the neighboring villages are invited. Our village hasn’t done great in the past tournaments and was very focused on beating some of the other villages this time. With a lot of dedication, they practiced a lot, depending on how the rain allowed them to.
The Sulfur Miners in the Indonesian Jungle
You might already notice, my focus shifted from seeing the homestay as a basis to go to the Mount Ijen, to becoming an interesting photography subject itself.
It also took some time getting used to the roads and being able to drive to the Mount Ijen on a scooter myself. The drive to the mount Ijen still takes roughly 45 minutes, although I already chose a homestay that is relatively close. Some of the people in the village were also sulfur miners before shifting to the tourism business.
After arriving at the camp, I hiked to the volcano crater with a tour guide. The hike isn’t really difficult and doesn’t take much time, but that doesn’t mean that it is easy. With my photography equipment on my back and the very steep slopes, it can be quite exhausting.
Being at the top and standing on the volcano crater does compensate for the exhausting hike. As the camera of choice, I took my FujiX100F with me and I believe it is one of the best cameras for hiking.
The volcano crater is not the final destination and to see the sulfur miners in action I had to go down to the bottom of the volcano. On my way down, sulfur miners were already going back to the top carrying the sulfur. On their way up, they carry around 70kg of sulfur on their backs. The walk does take about 30 minutes and is already very difficult without any extra weight. I also have to remark that they do this trip not only once per day but up to four times.
Sadly, carrying the sulfur wasn’t even the most dangerous part. Being at the bottom of the volcano crater, I wanted to go close to the mining site.
There, the miners were preparing a new pipe. The sulfur smoke is highly toxic and only bearable with a gas mask. But even with the gas mask, my guide would only allow me to be in the sulfur smoke for a few minutes. After photographing there for 15 minutes, I already noticed that it is very taxing for my body. I couldn’t imagine doing more physical labor like the miners that You see in these pictures.
The Mount Ijen was one of the most impressive experiences for me while traveling through Southeast Asia. For around $600, the miners are doing one of the hardest and damaging jobs in the world. The money they earn might be above average for this region, but in the end, they pay a high price to earn a living for their family.
I can only recommend everyone to travel like a local as well to experience the same adventures as I did.