Up along the north coast sits Pasuruan, a tiny fishing village which makes up for size in its dazzling array of colours. Fishing boats, houses, street stalls, in competition as to who can make the most charmingly garish statement. Bright blue fishing nets, lime green carts loaded with ripe coconuts, bubblegum pink houses and everywhere, the glinting silver skins of fish, spread out to dry in the scorching sun. Pasuruan’s inhabitants languish below deck or in the shade of tarpaulins, understandably reluctant to engage in anything more active in these crushing humidity levels.
Numerous volcanoes, 45 of them active, have shaped the geographical landscape of Java. After the relatively quick and easy ascent of Mt Bromo, we take on Kawah Ijen at sunrise and are continuously overtaken by nimble sulphur miners, hauling their trolleys up behind them. This will be the first of many journeys they make today, each one earning them a pittance with which to feed their families. In the other direction, back down the slopes of the volcano, appear stooping figures, yokes resting on the backs of their necks and a total of up to 90kg of yellow sulphur bricks weighing down the baskets on either side. At the crater we look down into the turquoise, sulphuric crater lake and scramble down through the noxious fumes to witness the mining operation itself. Molten sulphur emerges a deep red colour before turning bright yellow as it cools and solidifies. At night, the substance emits an eerie glow known as the ‘blue fire’.