Meet Sahari. Sahari is 34 years old and a miner at Kawah Ijen, an active volcano in Indonesia. The volcano is well known for it’s beautiful turquoise lake which produces blue fire at night as well as for it’s sulfur mine. Sahari had agreed to take us to the mining compound.
Meeting the miners
It was still pitch dark when we started our hike from the sulfur selling point to the mine. The 2 hour climb up the steep trail hardly had any switchbacks, making it a slippery slope. Sahari led the way and advised us on where to put our feet. I regularly took a short brake to relax and remove the tension from my calves. Sahari on the other end had no need for brakes.
Me : Sahari, how many times a day do you climb up and down the mountain?
Sahari: 2 times a day. I can’t do more. It’s hard work. I could do more if I had better shoes.
He pointed at the plastic ripped shoes that he was wearing. His socks protruded the shoes and they were hardly holding together.
Sahari: If I had 100.000 rp (6,5 euro) I could buy a pair of boots. But it’s too expensive.
I looked at my own rugged hiking shoes and felt like a spoiled rich kid.
Silently I walked on until we met the first miners. They all carried heavy loaded bamboo baskets filled with huge chunks of fluorescent yellow sulfur.
Me: Wow! How much weight are they carrying?
Sahari: Hmm it depends. Some men can carry up to 100kg. Not me. I’m one of the smallest miners. I can carry 70kg.
70kg? What?! That’s like carrying a full grown person up and down a mountain in a bamboo basket.
I suddenly remarked Saharis’ scoured shoulders which were covered with blisters from carrying these heavy loads. His back was even starting to get a little deformed.
He noticed my stare and nodded.
He pulled back his t-shirt and pointed at the scars.
Sahari: It hurts a lot. But I do it for my family. I have a little daughter.
His eyes twinkled when he mentioned her and his sad look turned into a smile. I could see that he would do anything for her. He would give up a pair of shoes for her anyday.
The mine by the lake
When I saw the lake from the top of the mountain, I was amazed by it’s turquoise blue color, but as we descended, the yellow sulfur mining compound was what really took my breath away. Quite literally.
The yellow sulfur gas surrounding the mine are toxic when inhaled.
I had a scarf wrapped around my nose and mouth but when the wind turned, I inhaled the gas. I started coughing up my lungs and breathing got very difficult.
Sahari told me to wait by the lake after which he disappeared into the toxic fog to mine sulfur.
When he returned, he was carrying yellow liquid sulfur. He pulled out and icecubicle mold with little turtles that he filled up with the liquid. In just a matter of seconds it solidified. He explained that they sell the tiny figurines to tourists. I nodded and told him I would buy one.
He smiled, filled his basket and hoisted it up to his shoulders to start the horrendous climb up the mountain again.
Sahari was grunting and sweating. This time we took several short breaks along the way for him to recover.
Halfway, we got to a weighing point where Sahari attached the basket to an old balance which pointed out the amount of sulfur: 66 kg.
Me: How much do you earn for this amount of sulpher?
Sahari: We get 800rp per kilo.
I quickly did the math. 3 hours of suffering equaled 52.800 rp or 4 euro. He did this twice a day so his income today was 8 euro.
The contrast between the beauty of the sulfur mine and the harsh working conditions couldn’t have been any bigger.
I stared at my shoes and made sure Sahari could buy a pair as well.