SOLYMONE BLOG

THE VOLCANO MINERS OF INDONESIA

Lying at Java’s eastern end, Indonesia's Ijen Plateau is a cool, cloud-covered upland region studded with peaks and covered in coffee plantations. 
For the most part, it’s an area of great fertility and beauty. But at the plateau’s heart is the Ijen Crater, an acidic volcanic wasteland known for the group of miners who descend each day into the belly of the fiery monster to harvest the volcano’s sulfur. 
Pictured here, a worker digs up the yellow rock as acidic smoke drifts overhead.
Sulfur is widely used in the manufacturing of cosmetics, fertilizer, sugar and matches. In most parts of the world its extraction is fully automated, but in Java, local people gather the sulphur using more basic methods. It’s hard, tough work with little in the way of safety measures.
Despite the danger, Ijen has a magical beauty that is best seen at night, when the burning sulfur lights the crater in eerie blue flames. The crater is an increasingly popular tourist attraction, and although most travelers visit in the early morning, it’s also possible to clamber down into the crater by torch light – an experience few are likely to forget.
The highly noxious gases make it hard to breathe and cause eyes to stream and sting: if you are not used to them, you’ll likely start to retch and get a headache within seconds. 
Travelers visiting the crater should come prepared with face masks and stay away from the vents and toxic clouds. To get this close-up shot, must wore industrial googles and a gas mask, and had my cameras in airtight casings.
Most miners walk the 12km round trip journey between the crater and the collection point twice a day, carrying up to 90kg of sulfur down the mountain in baskets over their shoulder. 
The 50,000 to 70,000 rupiah they earn each day might not sound like much, but the miners say it’s more than other work such as laboring on the local coffee plantations – will earn them.
After carrying such heavy loads for so many years, many of the miners have hyper-developed shoulder muscles. 

Source: BBC Travel, Photo by Stuart Butler
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