33. It’s Sulphur Nothing

Jakarta Bound is a travelogue about life in one of the largest and most densely populated cities in South East Asia.

Dieng sulphur mines 6

The only time I had been anywhere near a crater or a volcano was back in 1999 when I spent a brief time working as a holiday rep in Tenerife. I did the company’s night tour up to the top of Mount Teide, which is a dormant volcano, and at 3,718 metres, the highest peak in the Spanish territories. I don’t remember too much about the trip except that the guide told us that the eerie lunar landscape of the surrounding Mount Teide National Park was where they filmed parts of the Planet of the Apes films of the 60’s and 70’s. I also remember it being bloody cold on the way to the summit. I do also remember that there was a bar up at the top where they served a quality brandy that went down warm and smooth, which added to the experience of looking up at the clear night sky that was peppered with the pinhole glows of a million stars. Actually, now that I think about it, it was a pretty memorable little trip. The Sikidang crater experience will be memorable for very different reasons.

Indonesia is undoubtedly a beautiful country with a range of flora, fauna and geography that is totally unique. I had watched enough David Attenborough, seen enough pictures and read enough about it online to be confident of this fact. Unfortunately, Indonesians have no idea how to make the most of their natural assets.

According to the tour sites, the Sikidang crater is supposed to be one of the two main tourist attractions of the Dieng Plateau. I had already been to the Colour Lake, which is the other one, and without meaning to be too churlish, it was shit. From packaging to presentation to the spectacle itself, it was barely worth a twenty-minute bus ride let alone a three-hour drive. Now, as we pulled into the empty car park of the attraction that is the Sikidang crater, I knew this was going to be just as uneventful.

Persisting with his professional distance, my driver Nana remained in the car as I stepped out to explore what Skidang had to offer. The view ahead of me was that of a barren mountain landscape beneath a noxious looking blanket of yellow smoke and I had little idea as to where I should be headed or what I should be looking for. I had even less belief that I was going to find anything worth seeing, but I continued walking forward and soon came to a path. The path led me through what looked like a market that had packed up for the day. There were colourful signs above one or two of the stripped down wooden stalls advertising warungs selling bakso and various mie (noodles) dishes. There were also still a few random locals that appeared to be leaving the area who may have been traders or even sulphur miners, but there was no one who looked like they were there in any professional guiding capacity. Nevertheless, I continued along this path toward the plumes of yellow smoke rising up in the distance still not really knowing what I was looking for, hoping that whatever it was that I was supposed to be seeing would make itself known at some point soon.

Dieng sulphur mines market

The path eventually dissolved into the rocky ground, ash and dead earth and I carried on up a mild gradient toward nowhere, but the most eerie nowhere I had ever seen. The whole area literally looked like scorched earth; like a place that had been nuked years before. The air was filled with the pungent eggy stench of sulphur and all around I could see smoke rising up out of holes in the ground. I thought about the market I had just passed with its open-air warungs and really could not imagine why anyone would want to sit and eat food there, or come here to buy their fruit and veg for that matter. Whilst the hills in the distance showed the verdant green signs of life, the immediate terrain was nothing but patches of choking brush amidst a dusty, barren, yellow jaundiced landscape; there was simply nothing to see here. Nonetheless I was still curious and I could see what I thought might be a sort of rope hand-rail leading further up the mountain a hundred feet or so ahead, so I continued up the rocks and through the smoke and ash toward whatever it was that I was supposed to be looking for. But, after about five or ten minutes of walking I decided that I really could not be bothered. I told myself that the best I could hope to see was a bubbling pool of grey, molten rock and it just wasn’t worth me wasting my time when I had a long, long drive ahead of me with a meal and a Javanese massage waiting at the end of it. It had been a nice day; Borobudur was pretty impressive and the Dieng drive was lovely, but it was now time to go home. So I took some photos just to remind me that I had been there before heading back to the car. If nothing else, the landscape of the area was pretty unlike anywhere I had ever been before and I knew I was probably never going to go there again.

Dieng sulphur mines 2

Dieng sulphur mines 5

Eerie but dreary