Bali, Indonesia, Java, Travel

Bali to Java and Ijen

If you are wondering how we got here, please see previous post about Nusa Lembongan, Ceningan, and Penida.

Dec. 4th, 2017

I didn’t really know what to expect when we got to the Ubung Bus Terminal, but from what I had read online about bussing it from Bali to Java it sounded pretty simple. Fortunately for us, it was. We strolled into the bus terminal and the first man who approached us offered us a ride in a bus for 75,000 IDR (about $6 USD) per person all the way to Gilimanuk 4 hours away. We asked if there was air-conditioning in the bus, to which he replied no. We scanned the area for any other buses that looked like they could offer AC, but it looked pretty dead, so I haggled the price down to 50,000 IDR (about $4 USD) per person and we hopped on the bus. I saw later a woman who travelled the same distance as us hand the driver 30,000 IDR (about $2 USD) at the end of the trip…local price.

When we got to Gilimanuk we followed a lady a short walk away to the ferry terminal where we paid 6,000 IDR (about $0.50 USD) per person for the 45 minute ferry ride across to Java. I was starting to wonder how these ridiculously low transport prices paid for fuel, maintenance, and staff….

Ships between Bali and Java

When we disembarked in Ketapang we walked out of the ferry terminal and caught what is known as a Bemo to our first accommodation, you’ll find out why I saw “first” in a minute. A Bemo is just a small van that has bench seats that accommodate about 10 people max. without any bags. With bags like ours you’d be lucky to fit 5 people in there. We paid 100,000 IDR (about $8 USD) for what would be a 25 minute ride to our homestay. There was literally nobody else around, so I didn’t feel in a position to haggle.

When we arrived at our accommodations called Nitha Homestay, which was right across from a train station, everything seemed shut for the day. We were shown to a little windowless room with no mirrors, no a/c, and no hot water. We walked around the area for about 20 minutes and not a single place looked open for business and it was only 4:15 pm. Maybe it was our frame of mind, but we felt that we had to find somewhere a little bit more accommodating to allow us to relax before we hiked up the Ijen Crater tomorrow night. Luckily I had booked the room on and it was a super flexible option which allowed me to cancel the booking with no penalty. I quickly found another place to stay called the Grand Harvest Resort not far away with better amenities, at a cost, but which would allow us a bit more peace of mind. The only loss we incurred was the additional taxi ride to our second accommodation for the day.

We arrived at the Grand Harvest Resort to find what looked like a pretty high-end resort for the area.  The property was quite large with lots of villa style rooms, a pool, and a restaurant.  It seemed really quiet though probably due to it being low season, which is why it was such a good deal.  We were pretty tired from the long travel day so we just chilled in our room until dinner.  There were lots of nice things on the menu, but it all looked like it would be complicated for the chef to make vegan.  So we did our best to communicate to the server just fried rice and vegetables for dinner, which was good and enough to fill us up.

Dec. 5th, 2017

In the morning, we were pleasantly surprised by the breakfast buffet offered by the hotel. I have to say I stuffed my face with everything we could find that was vegan-friendly such as fried rice, tofu and cabbage soup, pieces of fried tempe, fruit, porridge, potato wedges, and a variety of vegetables.

We had decided to do the Mount Ijen hike this evening so we didn’t do too much all day, just kind of spent time using the free wifi and researching what we were to expect in our next location, Yogyakarta. We did manage a walk down the road to explore what was in the 10 minute walking distance radius. Turns out not much. Sophie decided this was an excellent place to be in case she was ever a fugitive, which gave me pause and now I sleep with one eye open…

Dec. 6th, 2017

We were instructed by the tour operator to be ready out front of our hotel by 1:45 am so we woke up at 1:15 am and slowly got our stuff together for the hike. When we got down to the front we ended up waiting until about 2:15 am for the 4×4 vehicle to show up. There was only one other person in the jeep with us who was a man from Thailand on a vacation from work. The company he works for apparently owns the resort we were staying at.

It was only a 15 minute drive to the gates to Ijen but then about a 30 minute drive along a very windy road to where we were dropped off to begin hiking. At this point we were given our gas masks and flashlights, as well as met our guide who would be with us every step of the way up and down the volcano.

The hiking path up to the crater rim was in excellent condition. You could tell it had been created with tourists in mind. It was, however, very steep in many sections so you definitely need at least an average level of fitness to make it all the way up in a reasonable amount of time. You can stop and take breathers whenever you like and there are even locals with wheelchair like devices that will heft you up for a price. We only saw one person taking advantage of this service and it took three locals to push/pull them up.

It was pitch black most of the way up but as we neared the top of the crater we could make out shapes and the mist that surrounded us. We started to smell rotten eggs, which was not unexpected as Ijen is known to be continuously spewing sulphur into the atmosphere, hence the gas masks. When we got to the crater rim it was still very dark but I could make out the gas that was continuously spewing out from somewhere down in the crater. The gas was sulfur and responsible for the egg smell. We could take off the masks whenever we were not in the path of the gas cloud, which was actually most of the time. Whenever the bad smell started again we just popped our masks on again.  The best part of the whole thing was you could let loose as many farts as you wanted and nobody would know it was you, which is quite a rare and liberating experience!

We climbed down into the crater to get closer to the source of the sulfur and to see the “blue fire” for which Ijen is famous. We could already make out faint patches of blue from the top of the crater rim, which was exciting and made the climb down go quickly. There were men carrying as much as 80 kg of sulfuric rock up the steep path to the crater rim. I felt bad for them because we were using the same paths and sometimes they had to stop their forward momentum to allow tourists to pass. Maybe it was all part of the spectacle though as some of them would offer to take a photo with you. The weight was legit though as you could see how hard they all struggled and how much rock was piled up into the baskets they carried.

When we got to the bottom of the crater we could take photos of where the gas was spewing out the hardest as well as any blue-fire patches we could see. It was hard to get decent photos of the blue fire as it was still dark and you couldn’t get that close to where they were, but it was quite a sight to behold.

Sophie and I in front of spewing sulfur gas


Worker breaking up accumulation of molten sulfur


Sophie and one of the strong-back men


View from crater path

By the time we hiked back out of the crater, it was fully light out and it was a beautiful morning without too many clouds. We hiked back down Ijen and were taken back to our hotel, where we rested and had breakfast before we had to leave. We had a flight out of Banyuwangi that afternoon, which would take us to Yogyakarta.  We were excited to get somewhere with some liveliness and vibe as the last few days we had felt pretty starved of social interaction, and from what we had heard Yogyakarta was a great place to visit on Java for many reasons including its vibrant nightlife.  The airport in Banyuwangi called Blimbingsari was one of the smaller airports we have been to, and we found out the hard way you don’t have to get there that much in advance of your flight!  We arrived about 3 hours before our flight and we weren’t even allowed into the check-in area where we could drop our backpacks, which were going on as checked baggage, until about 1 hour before take-off.  Probably in peak season it gets a lot busier and more chaotic, but it was pretty sleepy and quiet when we were there.  We killed the extra time by reading our kindle books.

When we finally got off the ground we were tired, but super excited to touch down in Yogyakarta.

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