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With sulfur in the lungs to the equator

At the early afternoon of August 14 we took the vehicle ferry from Bali to Java. Again it took more than three hours for a bit ore than 100 km to reach the Gilimanuk, the town near the port. Now it was time to say Good bye to the Lesser Sunda Islands and with entering Java switching to the one of the Greater Sunda Islands.

Our first stop on the more than 1,000 kilometer long island of Java was the crater lake of Gunung Ijen in the far east of the island, site of a sulfur mine and geologists refer to it as the 'Largest acid container in the world'.

While travelling along the roads we strenghten our view that the average tread depth of tires of vehicles here in Indonesia under German law would come up to lets say 3 years in prison without possibility of parole.

By the time we had been able to consolidate some phrases in Indonesian, which however did not help us here on Java in many places, because many locals we met only speak Javanese which differs significantly from Indonesian.

The road gets narrower and steeper while we begin the ascent towards the volcano. Many locals greet us while we drive along rice and vegetable fields and notice falling outside temperatures. At half past three in the afternoon we reach the parking area from where the ascent to the crater starts. Unfortunately we must learn to wait with the said party up to the next day.
Due to the blisters Nadine got due to dancing a whole evening without shoes she decides not to take part in the ascent to the crater lake. This night thanks to temperatures around 16°C we were able to sleep in the car.

The next morning we woke up at 6am. Some loads of other tourists did already arrive. While Nadine stayed with the car adn spent the time with reading e-books, I started the ascent to the crater lake of Ijen. The path was very steep and I have in memory on the way up seeing a father who had difficulties, to motivate his wife and kids to move on. My windproof rain jacket which had seen no more daylight since Canberra in Australia was perfectly suited to hold the body sweat in the clothing without any loss.
During the climb, I get to know the carrier Asnaui. He spends five to six days a week carrying sulfur, which they collect next to the crater lake, put it in bamboo baskets and bring it to the valley to a drop off site. From the pick-up point at the crater lake, they first have to ascend 200 meters to the crater rim before they start the 3 km long descent. Usually they do two runs per day and while carrying 60 to 100 kg every time. When Asnaui showed me his scarred shoulder it didn't tell a different story.

Gunung Ijen carrier
Kawah Ijen
Sulphur collection at Ijen

Once at the top I got a good idea of ??the size of the crater lake, despite a lot of fog. With approximately 950 x 600 meters, it is much larger than that of Kelimutu on Flores.
Looking down to the lake, lying 200 meters below, one sees dense bright yellowish clouds of smoke rising. At the crater rim and of course everywhere near the lake one have the typical smell of rotten eggs caused by the sulfur oxides.
Asnaui hands me a proper gas mask hand and we start the descent to the lake. Halfway, I lift the mask briefly away from my face and must immediately cough from the stench. Can't understand how the local workers stay and work here permanently without a mask. The descent to the crater lake is very steep and the rocks sometimes very slippery. Once at the bottom I stand with Asnaui before the turquoise crater lake - Kawah Ijen. The lake always has a temperature of about 35°C, so you can see clouds of steam everywhere above the water surface. Speaking of water: the pH of the lake is not more than 0.5. So it is a pure acid pool!

Meanwhile I even smell the stench through the gas mask and as the wind shifted briefly, we were trapped for half a minute in a thick cloud of sulphur oxids.
Located at the crater lake of Ijen is one of the most active volcanic gas exhalations - so-called solfatara - in the world. Those up tp 250°C hot fumes, mostly sulphur oxids, carbon dioxide and water vapor, exit on top of the earth crust, the fumaroles.
For extracting sulphur those gases are passed through a pipe system to lying deeper sites. In connection with atmospheric oxygen, the gases get cooled, condense and appear as still above 100°C hot viscous reddish mass, which after further cooling becomes yellow solid sulfur. This gets broken out of the rock by the workers and transported to the valley.
Due to occasionally overheating sometimes the sulfur ignites on the surface and thereby burns with a bright blue flame. Especially at night this should be very nice to see and that is why many visitors motivate themselves to start the ascent to the crater early in the morning (around 3am).

Back to the car around 9am I wash my hair and change clothes completely. Nevertheless, we should still have the smell with us for a while.
Now we wanted to move to Gunung Bromo, another volcano on Java, which is ranked among the top attractions of the whole of Indonesia because of its breathtaking views.

On the way, we reached the area over which the idea for this road trip was born - eleven months ago in an airplane. And now we were actually going to take the car from Australia to Germany. Kinda hard to believe.

About 3.30pm, we reach the small village Cemoro Lawang, the eastern entrance to the National Park Bromo-Tengger-Semeru.
The Gunung Bromo is, as we have previously read, surrounded by a large flat sandy sea, where you can take a guided jeep tour.
Contrary to the experience of other individual travellers who have not been allowed to cross unaccompanied with their own vehicle, we were lucky and no one stopped us. We passed the barrier and stopped after the first corner at the side of the road and marvelled at the vastness of the land and saw the slightly smoking Bromo and the Gunung Semeru in the background, the highest volcano on the island of Java.
Now we only really recognized what was actually meant by 'sand sea'. Before us was a huge dark sand desert spread and we only spotted one single - tiny - jeep in the whole area. Immediately I became fidgety and couldn't wait to jet down the hill and turn into the area.
Four-wheel drive with differential lock mode and off we went!!
The landscape simply astonised us. Amidst a windy dusty dark and flat sandy desert rose like a pyramid Gunung Bromo and next to it the even more photogenic Gunung Batok. At the foot of both volcanoes lies a small Hindu temple to which we went first. It was really hard for me to actually leave the car since I just wanted to let off steam in the sand. To get a better view of the terrain, we made us to climb Bromo. Since Nadine had great trouble walking because of the blisters on her feet we paid one of the local horsemen walking around and looking for tourist to offer a ride. While the lady herself was on the back of the horse and got carried up the mountain, I was on her side - panting like a foot soldier.
But also Nadine was not save from walking up the stairs leading to the very top of Bromo and when there she now also had the pleasure of sulfur oxides in the air.

Time passed by quickly and the sun was already low. And since we were planning to leave the area using the southwestern track and did not know how long this would take we opt to leave.
In the car two ways of thinking collided with each other. Nadine had a lot of trouble to restrain myself behind the wheel and on the gas pedal, since I just wanted to completely ... plough up this whole sand sea once. But at the time we had not even a third of the journey behind us. So it was to go more easy on the equipment (the car). Rats!!

Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park
Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park
Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park

The southwestern route was quite a kick with its deep potholes and rough gravel. Getting steeper and narrower it took quite a while until we reached the exit, where we pretty much smelled the clutch.

Traditional dancers in Yogyakarta

In the following days our route brought us through the chaotic traffic of Java via Semarang to Jakarta, capital of Indonesia. We had the incredible talent to arrive here on a weekend at national holiday. Almost all sites were closed so we could get much impressions of the city, which seemed to have more skyscrapers than any other city in Southeast Asia. Negative memories was the confusing road layout, after which the traffic is very often passed over U-turns: one can, for example, often do not turn right because of a lane separation in the middle of many roads and must instead turn left and after one kilometer or so turn around in the opposite direction using the provided U-turn bays.

Nasi Special
Masjid Agung Semarang
Masjid Agung Semarang

After about 1500 km on the island of Java, it was time for us to cross over to the last Indonesian island on our tour.
Aware of the fact that the shipment of our car from Sumatra to Malaysian mainland will be likely to cause more delays and the fact that the appotinment for the crossing of Myanmar (in a concoy) was not far away anymore we had taken no great plans for this island. Furthermore, most of the most worth seeing places in Sumatra are all located in the far north of the island and therefore not on our route.

Just a few minutes on Sumatra already, we find ourselves again in the middle of massiv traffic.
The streets are clearly dominated by Indonesia's large - for European understanding always completely overloaded - trucks, which often fall back to walking speed on even small inlcines. While the ministers in Europe are arguing about the latest pollutant classes, the trucks in Indonesia blow black clouds of smoke that could intimidate even volcanoes.
The seemingly endless number of such trucks we had to overtake, has virtually raped the air filter of our Pajero. After I had taken this piece of coal out to first clean it by myself, I was pleasantly surprised that the engine ran with it at all.

Student parade
Jakarta old town
Overloaded Lkw

While - compared to Java - time seemed to stand still here on Sumatra we especially will keep the local cuisine in mind which used to be even more spicy as the ones on the other islands of Indonesia.
In Palembang we went to a mechanic to perform an oil change and check the chassis. After we had done only 370 km at the end of the day after 12 hours, despite the heat we trusted our fatigue make us fall alseep after parking at a large truck stop. It got 10pm and we still weren't able to sleep so at the end we chose to look for a hotel.
Our destianation on Sumatra was Dumai, a with a population of approximately 300,000 small port town where we hoped, to find a ship that can transport our car to Malaysia. On the way there we crossed the equator.
We spent a whole day was with running from one authority to the next and ask several people after a ship that could carry our car. The ultimately unsuccessful search culminated with passive smoking of estimated 14 cigarettes in the cramped office of the harbor master.
At the end we had to get back in the car and move further north to the city of Medan, 550 km north of Dumai.

Since we had already received contact details of a shipping agency from other travellers, we were able to organize the shipment of the car quickly, while the city itself had nothing to offer. Since we could not ship from Dumai and there are no ferries in Medan, we didn't have any other choice than getting in the plane again. And so, an Airbus A320 of AirAsia brought us to Kuala Lumpur, capital of Malaysia.

With opening a container in the port of Dili, Timor-Leste, we started the stage of crossing the Pacific ocean by using the Indonesien islands. And with closing the same in Medan it came to its end. We will keep Indonesia, a country that is versatile than no other, in positive memories. You could spend years in the land of over 17,000 islands and still haven't seen everthing. But nevertheless we have seen a lot on our tour of the island of Timor to the north of Sumatra, but also on our trip here in 2013. We say Terima kasih dan sampai jumpa (Thank you and goodbye!)