Descending into the mouth of a smoking volcano | Two girls enter Ijen Crater

Travel is appealing for so many reasons. The joy of discovering something new, of experiencing a unique moment in time and of seeing something not everyone is able to see. One could have more life experiences, more wisdom and personal development.

And so you might decide to do something like climb into the world’s largest acidic volcanic crater. How difficult could it be, right?

Before you decide to take on Ijen Crater and Mount Bromo in Indonesia, know just one thing – it’s really not that easy, but it is very possible. Here are 7 things I learnt on this trip in March 2018, when a friend and I just one day decided that we would climb these two volcanic structures.

1. The view is worth the trek

Yup, every bit of it. Your legs will ache, your breath and heart rate will quicken, you will sweat, but every bit of discomfort is worth the breathtaking sight of a smoking giant acidic lake / volcanic crater.

They’re both not superbly tough treks in the sense that it’s not too steep (going up), long or cardio-inducing, but I’d say that if you go all the way down into the Ijen crater, be very careful as there isn’t really a defined path and some parts can be a little steep (downwards).

2. A companion is great to have

Seriously, when you are in a pitch black place with dim glows only from torchlights and lactic acid is shooting up your legs, it really helps to have someone there to convince you that you are not insane for wanting to do this (and not feel so lonely or helpless too should anything untoward happen). 

These 2 treks can definitely be done alone as well, but it would probably be so much more assuring to have another person with you especially when you embark on the descent into the Ijen crater. Plus, always handy to have someone to help with photos! In particular at the top of Mount Bromo, at the rather narrow and steep ledge…

3. Your “limits” are higher than you think

When there’s ‘just a little more’ to the top or to some spectacular end point (in this case, the blue fire), you can somehow muster energy from reserves you did not know you had, to push on to the finish line.

The fatigue will set in later, but I realise, at least for myself, that having a specific aim helps to get me to press on more than I normally would. Just tell yourself you can do it, because the human mind is capable of much more than most of us can imagine, I reckon.

Looking down at how far down we went

Of course, if you never exercise at all, I would recommend you try to walk or run minimally at least once a week before you try this! I think neither of us walk or run often, but we dance quite a lot and I guess that can be considered some form of exercise.

4. Manage your expectations

Remember, you are going to see a phenomena of nature. And nature is often breathtakingly stunning, but what is nature if not unpredictable?

You might not see the most blue or most big of flames or the most magnificent sunrise (due to fog), but hey, it’s okay. You were there, you did the best you could, and nature did the best she could too, for that day. Just bask in whatever beauty she has to offer, and be at peace with that.

5. It actually does get cold

At first I thought, it’s Indonesia and the tropics right, how cold can it get? Well it didn’t get as cold as it did while climbing at Emeishan and Sapa, but I should’ve learnt by now that higher altitudes and late night hours would contribute to lower than expected temperatures.

So just a word of advice if you’re planning to do either of these treks, bring some extra tights and sweaters!

6. Local guides are a great value add

Oops, hope he doesn’t mind me posting this

For regular people like me, anyway. I’ve done a couple of (simple) mountain treks, with and without a local guide (or driver), and while the free and easy exploration route is kind of fun too, I found that with a local’s assistance it’s so much faster and easier to get to where you want (if you have limited time), and also to experience a little of local culture and life (especially if you chat with them).

Some local coffee and tea

The problem is, if there is a language barrier it’s sometimes hard to communicate where it is you actually want to go, but I guess you’ll just end up exploring some other place that the locals instead of the tourists go instead.

We used Ijen Bondowoso Homestay, they also provide tailored local guide and driver service (just tell them what you require), in addition to accomodation. We told them how many days, what we wanted to cover and then negotiated for transport and accommodation for our particular needs.

Also, one more person to help take pictures!

7. Get in touch with nature and yourself

This for me, was a great opportunity to disconnect from work, social media, and other worries, for a bit. I didn’t take the laptop I was constantly glued to (and currently typing on) along, there was patchy WiFi in some parts, and I don’t think I missed them all that much as I was focused on the journey. Focused on climbing, on soaking up the immense nature in this place and its beautiful views.

Granted, we didn’t manage to get the views we wanted (I think we went during a not so ideal period) – if it’s foggy or rainy the blue flames at Ijen are not so bright and the sunrise at Bromo is somewhat obscured. But it was still really great to be near all this nature and not have to check emails or stress about all sorts of things, for this short time.

Our biggest worry which probably overshadowed everything else at that point was – don’t fall into the volcano!

How about you, have you visited these volcanoes or would you want to visit them when we can all travel again?

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