He continued reading Bukowski- it was disgusting , sometimes depressing and at times dark. Yet Bukowski had that something magnetic. Guess waking up for last 2 days at ungodly hours to climb volcanoes was taking its toll. His routine – Wake up at 2:36 ; drink red bull; skip brushing and went of droopy eyed to climb volcanoes.
A day before he woke up groggy eyed sharp at midnight and got into the dilapidated jeep, which blasted some Indonesian songs. None of words made sense, until the band started playing ‘someone like you’ with this Indonesian tempo and something moved inside him. The two hours ride dozed him off , and he went into a trance. where he would be painfully answering what ifs and fighting his conscience and then the brakes of car would wake him up. He would look out of window, into dark, for next five seconds he would remain disoriented, having lost time and space continuum. It happened twice or thrice before they reached the base camp of volcano after an hour. He put on his head mounted torch light and switched on , it blinded the other occupants of small room – mining workers who were warming themselves over log fire, preparing for their first trip . His guide passed him a gas mask and added ,
– see if it snugly fits , the gases down the crater are pretty intense.
Which meant the disposable N95 masks would not be sufficient and this one made him feel semi claustrophobic, and auditioning for breaking bad.
They walked on in dark, the black road stretched menacingly ahead of them. Three day old moon was shining up and high. It had rained last evening and the ground was soggy and yellow stones shone which shone with the focus of headlight.. On both sides there seemed to be infinite forest and when he would swivel his head , one would have seen the bushes and creepers and green and brown rusted bark.thickening and vanishing in darkness. With that headgear he felt transmuted to some console game where his mission was to surreptitiously invade into enemy’s territory.
The ascent was plenty at times and he would feel his thigh muscles flexing with each steps, and he slapped a stick on note on his mind,
– fuck the elevation I have been working out , this gonna be easy it’s just 3 kms !
As if response someone pleaded halt, apparently the guy with 94 kgs on his body and 6 feet frame needed the first of many breaks to come.
He felt his heart pounding like a teenager heart would have seeing Monica bellucci for first time.
It took a whole 3-4 minutes to get back to regular rhythm from tachycardia. The group of five continued , he got other three to walk in front of him in a single file.
– am gonna be your shining beacon
And swivelled his headlight to trail his frontman steps, the light made an perfect white circle, and synchronised with the footfall of young Japanese accountant in front of him.
Soon the vegetation gave away and the they could smell sulphur in the air, it burnt their nose slightly and overworked his overworked lacrimatory glands, He tried to remember lessons from his high school about sulphur and only incident he could remember was some chap putting old sulphur box in sink and the sulphur burnt like fire in Dante’s inferno. He put on his gas mask , and braced on the slope , but with the gas mask on and with heaving heart and water dripping down eyes it was difficult to breathe. He took off the mask and took a deep breath and allowed his olfactories to get used to the smell of burning sulphur.
– was it SO2 or SO3 ?
They reached the top of crater and it was dark sand dunes – instead of sand it was some dark soil. Black dust rose in air and through his hair. They have given on breathing sans mask and got accustomed to wet droplets that came from exhaling inside the mask.
At a certain distance lot of folks flocked at the perimeter of the crater , thick fumes arose from inside and it was still dark in the sky, he peered down into even more darkness mixed with dense fumes . There were snake trails left by lava going deep down into the crater,like hundreds of giant lava snakes thousands have wiggled down the slope only to vanish into the famed sulphur lake. Their guide hustled them into an imperfect circle formation and asked them to check their shoes. He was confused what was there to check on the shoes, his hiking boots worked perfect, waterproof and the maker had a legacy of being in production in France serving at World War I.
– I checked those shoes a thousand time before making that hefty purchase, mister. He thought.
His friend undid his shoe laces and retied then for a snug fit, and the guide instructed
– it’s a difficult climb down and is legally forbidden . You take a wrong step and you fall and die
DIE ! and he laughed and he was again confused if it was joke but didn’t have heart to ask.
They started their ascend down , on rocks and incomplete rocky pathways.Often someone shoe skidded and for a nanosecond everyone would freeze. The presence of tourists and occasional miners gave them the needed comfort zone. The other japanese chap put on his goPro with head mount. If only Frodo had a go Pro things would have been easier in Lord of the rings, and Mr. Tolkien would have moved in his grave seeing his epic getting this modern hardware add-on. It took them another thirty minutes or so to reach the very bottom of crater, the source of fumes was a tiny yet potent one. The camera enthusiasts started with their tripods and hundreds worth of digital SLR. When the burst of fumes settled down, lo and behold, the blue flame of Kawah Ijen. It was pristine, pure yet so unworldly.
Lured by this unearthly blue, he continued down to the source, carefully marked his steps with the white light, slipped twice on a soft sulphur rock. He reached the source and sulphur gods acknowledged him. He inhaled before holding his breath, and closing his eyes , and turning away from the source. It was too late he tasted sulphuric acid in his mouth, it was bitter and acidic.An olfactory nostalgia time warped him twelve years back to school in Varanasi. They stayed around for another 2-3 hours there, and decided to go back, they were exhausted. Sulphur had given him a nagging headache right between the eyes, and yet it abided a bit when he thought of poor miners.
– C’est la vie !