Dubbed as Gunung Bromo’s less popular sister, Gunung Ijen, East Java, Indonesia rose to fame after National Geographic featured the mesmerizing blue fires dancing along its crater lake in twilight. Tourists and avid mountain climbers alike flock to the Ijen volcano complex to witness the dream-like scene. Come daylight, visitors’ attentions are shifted towards the lake itself: its turquoise blue perfectly contrasting against the lemon yellow of the jagged sulfur rocks flanking its banks. Travelers often brave the sulfuric fumes just for the unique experience of seeing the beauty and raw unpredictability of nature.

Gunung Ijen, East Java, Indonesia

However, a different reality plays out in the peripheries. Hazardous sulfur mining operations are carried out along the crater. Workers with minimal protective gear shuttle back and forth, through steep inclines, their wicker baskets slung across their shoulders weighed down with 70 to 90 Kg of pure sulfur. Miners often brave the sulfuric fumes, and put themselves at the mercy of nature for a little bit less than $15 a day.

Gunung Ijen, East Java, Indonesia

Travelers look onto an idyllic, surreal landscape, and then move on to another day, another destination. Miners see a harsh terrain they need to carve out day in, and day out to be able to provide for the families they left at home.

Gunung Ijen, East Java, Indonesia

Maybe, that is the allure of the Gunung Ijen experience: encountering strangers who seem to move within a reality different from our own. Looking at the same world, we see one thing; them, another.

Photos by Hario Priambodho