Behind The Beauty Of Kawah Ijen: A Hard Way of Making a Living

by Jessy Eykendorp | March 13, 2012

© Jessy EykendorpPicturesque Kawah Ijen is the world’s largest highly acidic lake and is the site of a labor intensive sulfur mining operation in which sulfur laden baskets are hand carried from the crater floor. In the future, the crater and its sulphur will be a major source of clean geothermal energy, in line with government plans to attract billions of dollars of investment in high-tech power plants.

In the meantime the miners of Kawah Ijen will extract the volcano’s mineral wealth the only way they know how, with bent backs and bare hands. It’s a hard way of making a living.

Crater Lake © Jessy Eykendorp

The quietly active volcano emits gases through fumaroles inside the crater, and local miners have tapped those gases to earn a living.

Miner site and worker © Jessy Eykendorp

Stone and ceramic pipes cap the fumaroles, and inside, the sulfur condenses into a molten red liquid, dripping back down and solidifying into pure sulfur. Miners hack chunks off with steel bars, braving extremely dangerous gases and liquids with minimal protection, then load up as much as they can carry for the several kilometers to the weighing station.

Miner site with worker repairing a sulfur pipe © Jessy Eykendorp

Workers repair a sulfur pipe flow, watering it to keep it from burning. Nothing has changed here for decades. Nothing is mechanized. The men do everything by hand.

Price per kilogram solid sulphur is Rp. 600 (less then a dollar). Each worker can transport from 70–100 kilograms at once on the abrupt slopes of the volcano, using bamboo ladders where the slope is too steep. The sulphur must be carried to the crater rim approximately 300 meters above before being carried several kilometers down the mountain. Most miners make this journey twice a day.

Miners transporting sulfur © Jessy Eykendorp

One of the problems with improving the men’s situation is that they are all essentially freelance workers, with no direct employer. The only safety standards are those the men impose on themselves, which are very few.

Miners working on ground © Jessy Eykendorp

After a long hard day, the miners are paid by a nearby sugar refinery by the weight of sulfur transported. As of July 2005, the typical daily earnings were equivalent to approximately $5.00 US per day!

To learn more about the beautiful Ijen Crater, where these miners tirelessly work, check out Jessy’s first article “Beautiful Kawah Ijen: The World’s Largest Acidic Volcanic Crater Lake”.

About the Author

Jessy Eykendorp is Bali based outdoor photographer. Living in a small island of Bali, Indonesia, her works has been internationally published on magazines, travel guides and advertising campaigns.

There is so much beauty in this island and country I live in, I hope my photography can capture this and can be shared with others for a lifetime.

More of her work can be seen at:

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