The Unseen Beauty: A Memoir

Lyana Nurtari Putri


“You should go on adventures while you’re still young” was what my mother said that inspired me to try a kind of traveling I had never tried before which was hiking. Mount Ijen was my very first hike. The night when I started the hike, I felt extremely excited even though my muscles and bones did not share the same feelings with my soul. My neck and spine were still ached due to the super-tiring road trip from Jakarta to the city of Banyuwangi. My eye bags that I got from the lack of sleep made me look like a ghost. However, they did not stop me to feel the enthusiasm and excitement to go hiking to Mount Ijen, to see its tiffany-blue-colored-crater and of course the iconic blue fire that hypnotized a lot of people including me to see it. My friend rode a motorbike and I sat on the pillion carrying my backpack. We had to go through the forest in order to get to the first point. I assumed we were the only ones because there was no sign of anyone riding a motorbike or car heading to the first post. It was pitch black. The only source of light came from the motorcycle lights that highlighted the road in front of us. My vision was straight to the illuminated road. I was too afraid to see the surroundings. My mind was making a scene. If wild animals like tigers or wolves were in that forest, they could jump out anytime and eat us. Any specters could also suddenly appear on the road highlighted by the lights. The silence and the frightening atmosphere made me feel as if the ride to the first point took a decade. My aching spine became more painful due to the uphill ride using a motorbike plus the backpack I carried. Being in the middle of a dark and silent forest made me afraid to make the slightest movement. I endured the pain until we arrived at the first point.

The simplest thing which made me feel as if I just saw my celebrity crush at that time was seeing a street light that put a small ticket booth in a spotlight. It meant we had arrived at the first point gate. As I passed the gate, I became happier to see that there were more lights coming from small stalls that surrounded the field where many motorbikes were parked. I felt like a caveman who has just seen lights for the first time in his life. I also felt relieved seeing people who have arrived at the first point. Some of them gathered in front of the stalls while drinking coffee and eating instant noodles, some sat around the bonfire to warm their body. I felt the cold air breezed in through the gloves I was wearing and tickled the palms of my hands. The chill on the palms of my hands seemed to distribute itself throughout my body. I decided to sit in front of the campfire to warm my hands so that the warmth received by my hands could also be spread throughout my body. I started the hike when the watch on my wrist showed 12 a.m. on its screen. I hiked while carrying a backpack containing two big bottles or 3 liters of mineral water, an additional jacket—in case the temperature at the rim was cooler than what I had expected—and a DSLR camera. I also wore a gas mask to protect my nose from breathing poisonous gas when I arrived at the crater, because the gas coming from the crater could cause a death. According to officer, it usually took 2 hours to get to the crater rim from the first point, but we should be careful of the narrow-slippery-steep-slope.

In the beginning of the climb I felt enthusiastic because I was impatient to see the blue fire that only appeared when it was dark and probably wouldn’t be seen again after 4 in the morning each day. The nicely paved hiking trail, the number of people who hiked and enough lighting that came from the hikers’ flashlights made me feel secure even though I walked at midnight, passing many creepy big trees. There were sulfur miners who also hiked with us. Many of them carried reed baskets, some carried carts to transport sulfur they have collected from the crater. After about 2 hours of non-stop hiking, I began to feel exhausted but I still could not see any signs of the end of the hike. I sat in front of a cabin where some of the sulfur miners rested. One of them offered me tea and fried bananas. He told me that every day he had to hike twice to collect sulfur rocks that weigh more than 50 kg from the crater then he sold it for a little amount of money. After feeling better, I continued to hike, considering I still wanted to chase the blue fire. Once I finally managed to the top, I still needed to go down the slope towards the crater. The trail could only fit two people. It was full of big sharp rocks that made it difficult for me to go down the trail. In addition, the number of people who came down forced me to climb down as fast as possible. I saw a blazing blue light behind gray smoke. The blue light went on and off, every once in a while in the dark, like Christmas lights. Unfortunately, because it was rainy season, thick fog covered the beauty of blue fire so it was not as splendid and clear as in the pictures I saw on the Internet.

All of the sudden, strong wind brought the gray smoke to envelop people who were enjoying the beauty of the blue fire. The wind seemed to shoo us back to the rim. The poisonous gas carried along with the wind made my eyes feel as if they were sprinkled with salt. When I was about to wash my eyes with a wet handkerchief, toxic gray smoke came back to me. I accidentally inhaled the poisonous gas. I felt a strange feeling in my throat. There was a strong salty mint sensation that made it difficult for me to breathe. The only thing that crossed my mind was, I would be one of the victims who died at Ijen due to its famous poisonous gas. My friend who saw me running out of oxygen immediately brought me back to the crater rim with a help of a miner. I felt relieved that I could breathe normally again. I ran out of energy so I sat on the crater rim while watching the dark blue sky changed its color brought the kaleidoscopic effects on the horizon. The rays of sunlight shone through the clouds, highlighting the crater. They showed the beauty of the crater that has color like stunning turquoise crystals. The fog that had enveloped the crater was gone as if it was scared of the brightest star. The miners were still seen walking from the crater while carrying rocks in their basket. They worked hand in hand, helping each other to get back to the crater rim. Sincere laughs were heard as they were passing by. Although they had to risk their lives each day to get paid less than they should have, they seemed to enjoy what they have been doing. Seeing those miners showing an act of solidarity and sincerity was another beauty that Mount Ijen had besides its stunning crater and blue fire.

Photo by: Lyana Nurtari Putri

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