Ijen volcano, Java, Indonesia


Kawah Ijen, a fuming volcano in eastern Java, Indonesia, is a place where poor people head in search of fortune. You have to be amazingly fit and fearless to get down into the crater of the volcano every day and drain the yellow gold from the heart of it. That is the way to execute sulphur mining. Then, once that is done, hopefully without choking on extremely dangerous sulphuric fumes, there are still some kilometres up the steep slope and down again to bring the hardened sulphur to the collection point.

The first time I saw those people coming up the steep edge then running down the other edge with a complete load in their two baskets I had no idea of what kind of weight they were dealing with. So I tried to move one of the loads on the path, left there for later collection, just to see how heavy it was. And I couldn't even displace it by a millimetre.

Apparently, the strongest man can carry up to 100 kg in one load and can do up to three loads a day. Mine, collect, bring up the volcano, bring down the volcano. All that with a heavy smile and readiness for jokes. That is not how I was expecting one of the most dangerous jobs imaginable to be done.

Men, young and some old were saying that they could not imagine any other honestly done job to bring them such a high earnings; around 13 euros per day, but the harshness of the conditions was making that job only possible for some months and then they would hope to do some business with money earned. At least the ones who had schooling and connections.

There was absolutely no protection against fumes, except for the Afgan, the one person at the bottom of the vent with a gas mask.

Sulphuric acid is used for fertiliser manufacturing, oil refining, wastewater processing, mineral extraction, sugar processing and medicines. It is interesting that the data on usage and production of the sulphuric acid actually shows the level of development of industrialisation of a particular country while the mining of sulphur can use such ancient and unsafe methods.

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