How Indonesia’s media-savvy miners became traveller attractions, branch sulphur into selfies

Ahmed Arifin creates his approach solemnly adult a hilly trail in a darkness, respirating heavily with 80kg of sulphite stone dire down on his shoulders. One of his hands balances a bucket while a other carries a torch.

He delicately pushes his approach by a tide of tourists who are on their approach down to a volcanic void lake where Arifin harvests a sulphite. Somehow he finds a strength to poise for a photo.

Media-savvy Arifin, 47, has been a sulphur miner for 28 years and has had his design taken dozens of times during this same spot, by tourists and general media alike.

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Indonesia’s largest sulphur mine, nestled in a active volcano Kawah Ijen, a mesmerising sight. At a centre is a dark blue lake, from that gas rises and colours a surrounding stone yellow. At night, a void presents another visible consternation as a sulphuric gas spasmodic combusts, producing scary blue abandon that dance around a rocks.

Dozens of group like Arifin can be seen moving underneath a weight of their splendid yellow loads, completing several trips a night before day breaks and it gets too hot.

The dangerous philharmonic is a print event that attracts thousands of sightseers any weekend. A throng gathers in a parking and camping areas 4km downhill from a crater’s rim, and walks adult once a gates open during 1am.

The site is ill-prepared for mass tourism and visitors are mostly ill-equipped. Some transport in sleazy sandals, others gloomy from depletion before reaching a rim. Accidents start frequently. On Mar 22, a gas blast during a void left dozens of people in hospital.


In high concentrations, a gas is unwholesome and a breeze that day carried it into a villages on a volcano’s slopes. The mining operation had to be halted and visitors were banned.

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Banyuwangi, a easternmost regency of Java island where Kawah Ijen is located, is positioning itself as an eco-tourism destination. It has a lot going for it: inhabitant parks, white sandy beaches, and a world-class roller mark famous as G-Land. It is a brief packet float from Bali. Its biggest attraction, however, stays a sulphur mine.

Kawah Ijen’s expansion into a traveller site is sincerely recent. Bachtiar Djanan, 44, a debate user who also manages an NGO that helps encampment communities in Banyuwangi, recalls a time when few people knew of a singular blue glow phenomenon. Until a 1990s, usually miners and gifted hikers done a trek to a top, says Djanan, who done his initial climb in 1993.

In a late 1990s, an entrance highway and a parking area were built, he recalls. This helped a miners, who could now import a stone and bucket it into trucks here, instead of carrying it most over down to a village. The highway was rough, however, and usually brave tourists attempted a trip.

What unequivocally put Kawah Ijen on a traveller map 10 years ago, according to Djanan, were photos used by several debate operators taken by Frenchman Olivier Grunewald. Specialising in capturing geological phenomenon, Grunewald claims he was a initial veteran photographer to constraint Kawah Ijen’s blue fire.

In 2008, a crony of Grunewald told him about his revisit to a crater. “He showed me a design on that we could see some silhouettes of miners operative during night with blue lights in a back. we searched for information, though during that time there was zero on a internet,” he says.

Grunewald has given visited a void on 6 occasions, and his photos seemed in reputable magazines including National Geographic. He was also concerned in a documentary about Kawah Ijen, and his photos of a crater’s blue abandon have proliferated on a internet.

Then, in 2010, Banyuwangi inaugurated a new monarch who aggressively promoted tourism to a segment with festivals and events including cycling foe Tour de Banyuwangi. In 2012, a supervision invested in an pavement highway to a bottom camp, creation a outing to a void some-more convenient.

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According to information from Banyuwangi’s tourism department, a segment final year had 4.8 million visitors, about 5 times as many as in 2010. The regency has usually 1.5 million inhabitants.

Today, about 2,000 to 3,000 people make their approach to a void on a bustling weekend night, to constraint their possess photos of a famous blue abandon and to snap selfies with a miners.

After posing for photos, Arifin drops off a bucket and aloud exclaims Alhamdulillah – “thank God”. He creates several trips down to a lake that night, violation off pieces of sulphite stone from a shelf that forms on a lake’s shore. As a object rises, he sells a few slabs as souvenirs to a tourists before they conduct behind down to a automobile park.

He afterwards loads his annuity onto a two-wheeled trolley and shuttles it off to a weighing station. There, a miner will get paid 1,000 rupiah (seven US cents) per kilogram. Ninety-five per cent of a sulphur from a cave is used in sugarine estimate to make sugarine crystals finer and whiter.

The series of miners is shrinking as other opportunities, such as running tourists, arise. But for a 230 or so who sojourn active, a mining routine is mostly unchanged.

In 2014, however, Swiss inhabitant Heinz von Holzen, who has a grill on Bali, done it his goal to support miners’ families with donations, including a two-wheeled trolleys that they now use to move their night’s rob to a weighing station. Some miners have incited to regulating a trolleys as taxis for visitors who are too diseased to make it adult to a edge on foot.

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The miners of Kawah Ijen have churned opinions about a flourishing series of tourists during a crater. The entrepreneurial few have incited their lives around, like 36-year-old Ahmad Efendi and his family.

Efendi, his father, hermit and his cousin, were all miners. Some still work during a cave occasionally, though it’s no longer their usually source of income. In a collaborative effort, they built a 10-bedroom homestay in their village.

The family had to sell a 3 cows to finish a construction, though now Efendi hopes his children are set adult for a improved future. He’s been means to send all 3 to school.

Others, generally comparison miners like Arifin, don’t see any other option. Meanwhile, their work is removing increasingly dangerous as some-more tourists step in their path.

The supervision recently announced a devise to build a wire automobile to convey tourists from a automobile park adult to a rim, an beginning that would potentially move in even some-more visitors.

At a internal dialect for tourism and culture, conduct of a enlightenment multiplication Choliqul Ridho tells a Post that a wire automobile plan is going ahead, nonetheless a required building permits have not nonetheless been acquired.

Local officials determine that tourism during a cave is tighten to superfluity point, though given Kawah Ijen is partial of a inhabitant park, it falls underneath a office of a executive government, Ridho explains. Local officials are approaching to toe a line with mainly designed projects such as a wire car.

Djanan says a internal supervision should do some-more to live adult to a prophesy for Banyuwangi as a colonize of eco-tourism in Indonesia. Although it is compelling a segment with festivals and sports events, a income they move in frequency trickles down to a encampment level, he says.

His organisation, Hidora, has undertaken grass-roots work to assistance communities urge their destiny prospects, assisting them to brand sights and culinary traditions, and enlivening them to set adult their possess cafes and homestays.

In a encampment of Gombengsari, a 30-minute expostulate from Kawah Ijen, these efforts are starting to bear fruit. Two families have begun revitalising coffee flourishing and normal roasting techniques. Now they sell locally constructed coffee to tourists and online.

This kind of tourism can give a villages a future, says Ulfah Hidayat, Djanan’s wife, who also works for Hidora.

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In Gombengsari, a tiny series of immature villagers who had left to find work on Bali have returned to build their possess businesses – a trend that could have extensive advantages for a segment if others follow their example, she says. But she knows there’s still a prolonged approach to go.

“Visitors consider holding a selfie in inlet – that’s eco-tourism,” Hidayat complains. She also fears a internal supervision is creation skeleton but a plain bargain of what tolerable eco-tourism can be.

Instead, a regency has started portrayal supervision houses and roadside cruise areas in splendid rainbow colours, maybe anticipating to obey a success of a supposed rainbow encampment nearby a beside city of Malang, that became a renouned end after people posted photos of it on Instagram.

Getting there

Garuda Indonesia flies between Hong Kong and Banyuwangi around Jakarta. Connections are also accessible around Singapore and Surabaya.

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