This past weekend, during a dinner with some friends on Nusa Penida island, off the east coast of Bali, I felt the full force of a 7.0 magnitude earthquake erupt beneath my feet. Like something out of a movie, locals and backpackers fled into the streets in panic, glasses crashing off shelves onto the floor, with screams and cries surrounding us. Within the hour, a tsunami warning was issued, and we grabbed backpacks full of essentials and immediately set off on our motorbikes to higher ground in search of safety. There was fear, panic and genuine anxiety amongst us, as we huddled in the mountains discussing the potential natural hazards coming our way. Unfortunately for our neighbouring islands, the experience was far beyond just fear, and for some, it was fatal. After some deliberation, I made the decision to head West, in an attempt to distance myself from the potential danger, heading towards Java, home of Indonesia's most reputable sulphuric volcano crater, Kawah Ijen.
Famous for it's unique electric blue flames, sun-coloured sulphur and gorgeous, highly toxic turquoise lake, Ijen is popular amongst many travellers and I was told by friends that it was a must do. They were one hundred percent right. We started our experience at midnight, travelling by jeep into the foot of the mountain. Surrounded by headlamps, we made our ascent in the darkness. Within an hour or so, the strong stench of sulphur spills in to your senses and the gas masks you've been provided are put to use. The huge, thick smog clouds make their way through and above the mountains around you and you're instructed now, at 2389 meters up, to start your climb down into the volcanic crater, towards the flickering blue flames and golden rock. Even with the mask, my lungs felt congested with thick, warm air within minutes, and my eyes started to water. After ten minutes, half-choking, half-mesmerised by the electric flames, I needed to make my way back up, desperate for fresh mountain air again.
Venturing into the crater was an amazing experience, but the real highlight for me came with the sunrise. Huge, thick clouds floated across the earth below us, with the sky filling with colour as we sat on the edge of the cliff. On the other side, the famed turquoise lake slowly came to light. Once the sun finally showed itself, the view from the mountain top was truly baffling - the sky was filled with deep shades of blue and purple, and the crater formations around us felt so vast, stretching across the landscape. We walked along the crater edge, peering over the edges at the deep drop into smoke and water, suddenly feeling very, very small, surrounded by nature's grace. For anyone visiting Indonesia, I would highly recommend the climb. Suk Sumah, Kawah Ijen.