In the caldera of the Krakatau fishermen hope for a catch, in Ijen miners labor in sulfur steam - and Michael Martin experiences a magic garden of blue fires. A photo tour to the volcanoes of Indonesia.
Like a secret code, Deni reads the curves drawn on continuous paper, which rattle out of the printer around the clock. The rashes show the seismic movements of a probe mounted on the crater rim of Krakatau into the volcanic observatory on the west coast of Java. "Krakatau is asleep" explains the young, Indonesian volcanologist and shows us pictures of the last great eruption on December 22, 2018.
At that time, a part of the volcano was blown away and slipped into the sea, the subsequent tsunami killed more than 400 people. The largest eruption of Krakatoa occurred on August 27, 1883 and claimed by a 40 meter high tsunami over 36,000 lives. It is one of the six largest volcanic eruptions in the last thousand years.
22 picturesMichael Martin in Indonesia: Photo tour to Krakatoa, Bromo and Ijen
Officially, Krakatoa is currently closed due to outbreaks, but that does not bother our captain Tukul, nor do the dozens of fishermen who hope for a catch every night in the sea-flooded caldera. He and his boatswain took my wife Elly and myself by boat to the middle of the Sunda Strait between Sumatra and Java, where the Krakatau Archipelago is located.
We are dropped off on the black-sanded beach of Anak Krakatau and climb in the late afternoon light to the crater rim. Below us is the crater lake that was created after last year's eruption. The geothermal heat heats its water, so that incessant steam rises.
For safety reasons, we spend the night in a tent on a neighboring island four kilometers away, also uninhabited, and return twice to the volcano.
Merapi: Tamed with concrete
In the following days we want to explore the most important volcanoes of Java. The first target is the 2914 meter high Merapi, which permanently endangers the near-megacity Yogyakarta. Since the last major eruption in autumn 2010, a lot of concrete has been used to build up protection against the dreaded pyroclastic flows due to their high speed.
Fields reach the flanks of the volcano up to 1700 meters above sea level and can be harvested up to four times a year due to the high fertility. The farmers know the risk of an outbreak and trust that they can be warned in time and flee.
We took a taxi to the highest village on Merapi and hope to see glowing lava escape from its lava dome, but nothing happens that night. Only three days later, the volcanic observatory on Merapi reports of an imposing lava flow.
Bromo: drone flight over the caldera
We are already at Bromo in the east of Java. With a jeep we drive from the city of Malang through endless fields far up the flanks of the Tengger Caldera, where the volcano is located. The sunrise at the highest point of the caldera edge is famous. In order to secure a good spot on the viewing platform, most of the visitors already start at 3 am in their hotels.
At 6:20 am, the sun finally sets, and shortly thereafter, the caravan of jeeps moves back into the accommodation - and we are alone on the concrete platform, which is an ideal launch pad for my drone.
I let them fly high over the caldera to picture the triumvirate of smoking Bromo, even Batok, and the 3676 meter high Semeru in the background. Particularly photogenic is the fog that sometimes forms at night on the bottom of the caldera.
From Bromo there are seven driving hours to the second known volcano Ostjava, the Ijen. He has also become a tourist magnet in times of Instagram. The main attraction are the blue fires, which are attributed to burning sulfur and can only be seen at night.
Ijen: Schuften for 14 euros daily wage
When we reach the parking lot at 2 o'clock in the morning at 1800 meters above sea level, it is already overcrowded. Hundreds of people have passed the entrance check before us and climb the 500 vertical meters to the crater rim via a steep path. The subsequent descent into the crater is not for the faint of heart.
From the fumaroles on the crater floor poisonous sulfur dioxide clouds rise, which can become life-threatening without gas mask. The descent takes more than an hour, as it always comes back to traffic jams on tricky spots. At 4.30 am we stand on the crater floor in front of the blue fires, which disappoint us.
Only rarely do the clouds of steam clear your eyes, and then the dozens of mobile phone flashes are aimed at the small, blue flames. With the onset of dawn, the fires seem to disappear and with them the crowds. Slowly the outlines of the crater lake Kawah Ijen become recognizable.
Miner Hatonn in volcano Ijen: injured shoulders
One hour after sunrise, we are the last remaining visitors to the fumaroles. Between them are only ten miners left and break out sulfur plates with poles and drag them away. The sulfur is formed at the end of ten-meter-long tubes that cool the transmitted, initially up to 240 degrees Celsius hot sulfur vapor. At the bottom of the tubes, the sulfur exits as a still 100 degrees hot orange mass. Only after complete cooling does the sulfur take on its yellow color.
A few plates fill a basket, two baskets each are connected to a pole. As harmful as working in the sulfur vapor is, so murderous is the transport from the crater. Hatonn, a miner and father of three, shows me the damaged skin on his shoulders, unasked.
He tells me in good English how much he can earn per day. He gets 1000 rupees per kilogram of sulfur, he can carry 70 kilograms, on some days he can climb three times. I calculate "210,000 rupees" in my head, the equivalent of 14 euros daily earnings for a job that ruined your health after a few years.
On the crater ground: as in the magic garden
Back in our accommodation at the foot of the Ijen, the blue fires do not leave me in peace, so we get up at midnight the next night. We are now all alone and stand at 2 o'clock in the morning on the bottom of the crater. But we are unlucky and do not see a single blue fire. Hatonn recognizes me again, looks at my disappointment, grabs my hand and leads me straight into the steam columns of the biggest fumaroles.
Just in time, I can push the gas mask in front of my face. Elly holds onto my sweater, both of us keeping our eyes tight. For an endless minute we run through the biting steam.
Like a magic garden of blue fires
"Open your eyes," I hear Hatonn say. Carefully, I open my eyes and find myself in a magic garden of blue fires again. In a magical, blue stream, the burning sulfur flows down the slope to the lakeshore and pours into the crater lake in a blue delta.
I am so overwhelmed by the surreal situation that it takes a few seconds for me to reach for my tripod and camera.