Chasing Blue Fire : Banyuwangi
For a long time, Banyuwangi is known for its ferry port, for those who want to cross the sea to Bali. I also thought the same thing, until one day, on our way to Bali, me and my family missed the last ferry that day, and we needed to stay for one night there. We stayed in a resort near the port, I couldn't recall the name, but it was such a great resort by the beach, and the beauty of the landscape is just magical. I thought, one day i should come back and explore this bit of Java.
Fast forward about 10 years later, October 2016. My first KANO project. I decided to go to Banyuwangi with 8 friends. The region is now somewhat been explored more, and we had some good information about where to go. We decided to visit 2 places and if we could, we probably add more destinations on the way. However, 2 was proved to be a lot. We visited Baluran National Park and Mount Ijen.
Banyuwangi is approximately 8 hours away from Surabaya, the capital of East Java Province. You could either go to Surabaya, and go with car or bus or train, or fly straight to Banyuwangi. Flight to Banyuwangi is normally much more expensive. We decided to rent a van from Surabaya, and take an overnight ride to Banyuwangi.
The traffic was good, it was rather empty, we arrived in the gate of Baluran at 4.30am. We stretch our legs, wash our face, and had a bit of breakfast in a nearby restaurant. There are only 2 of them in Baluran, and only one that open during early hour.
Baluran National park is basically a vast area containing forest, mountains, coastline, and savannah. We are here to see the savannah. It is said to be very similar with savannah in Africa. 7am, we mad our way through the gate and about 30 minutes drive through the forest road, we arrived at the Bekol Savannah. Well, it is right if they said this place as 'Africa van Java'. I've never been to Africa, but the scenery is definitely africa-look-alike. Even the animals there, we saw some monkeys, deers, buffalo and a lot f birds flying around with Mt Baluran in the background.
A little walk toward the car park, there is a watch tower that we can climb to get a much better view of the savannah. The climb up was a little sketchy, because of the narrow ledge and stairs to get to the top, but he view was worth it.
One thing that I kept thinking in my head was how different the landscape here from what I was accustomed to. When i think about Java, it is always about green rain forest mountains with some beach around, but Baluran has certainly changed my mind about that. I'm still quite amazed every time I looked at the photos we took there. Our initial plan was to stay in Baluran for a couple of hours, but it ended up with us staying until about 3pm.
Before we left, we visited Bama Beach, still in Baluran. The beach was chill and nice, but the monkeys are kind of violent. Many tourist are giving them foods on daily basis, so they changed their behaviour and every time someone have some foods in their hands, the monkeys will try to violently steal it. We need to stop giving foods to animals, not just here but anywhere in the world. 5 minutes away from the beach, there is also a mangrove walk, well it is a short trek through the mangroves and in the end of it there's a little shelter at the edge of the ocean.
After spending about 8 hours at the national park, we finally continuing our journey to town. We checked in to our hotel and decided to have a rest. We had a swim in the swimming pool, dinner, and had an early sleep for our next destination Mt Ijen.
Mount Ijen is a unique one. The crater is rich of sulphur and it has created a phenomenon known as Blue Fire. The crater is spitting out gas all the time, and it is the one responsible to create that Blue Fire. We can only see it when it is dark. So most people are departing on midnight, hoping to arrive at the crater at around 3am, and stay there until sunrise. That was exactly what we did, at midnight we started to to drive there, and started the hike at around 1.30am. The hike was around 1 hour long, most of the trek was nicely paved until the last bit towards the end. We spend a bit more time, on the trek, because when we looked up, the stars were showing up and we couldn't miss our chance to take some astrophotography. Continuing our way up, we came across so many sulphur miners, who you might know, work with very minimal safety equipment and have to bring a very heavy load on their back. Definitely the unsung hero of East Java.
Once we arrived at the crater, we saw the Blue Fire! It was one of the most magical thing i've seen in my life. I mean it is probably the only place in the world where you can see such thing. The smell of the sulphur was also very strong though, so we need to wear masker to protect our self from the gas.
Once the sun showed up, the landscape started to show itself, and boy it was surreal. The landscape that some described as moon-like, and I couldn't agree more. We spend a little bit of time on the top, just enjoying the beauty and the silence. It was a priceless moment.
We hiked down to the car park, and drove back to the hotel. Clean up and had some breakfast. But I was still so amazed with the whole experience of this project. A place so close, so different, so magical, but i missed it all this time. I never thought there would be something like this in Java. There are a lot more to explore in this part of the world, so I am surely coming back for more.
As our project has ended and we jumped in to our car and had another 8 hours drive back to Surabaya. It has been an extraordinary journey.
See you soon Banyuwangi!