After hiking Mt Bromo, I met a traveler who was going to Kawah Ijen. I was planning on going to Bondowoso but she said Banyuwangi was easier to navigate. So we went together. We left Bromo and went to the Probolinggo bus station. We arrived around 11:00 AM, too late to take the morning train to Banyuwangi. We could wait around for 5.5 hours to take the next train, but we checked in with Toto Travel and he said there was a big express bus that left at 12:30 PM that only took 5 hours, versus the normal bus which took 7 hours. It was 100,000 R so we paid him and he called the bus driver. The train was about the same price and since we were planning on hiking Ijen that night, I wanted to get into town and get a motorcycle before everything closed. Looking back on it, the train would have been the better choice. The Wisata Jawah Indah bus showed up late and even though it was an express bus, there really is no such thing. Most of the journey just has two lanes and there are transport trucks, regular vehicles, buses, people pushing carts, etc all on the road. So it was a very slow trip. Also, the air conditioning was nice, but the driver was smoking in the bus and all the smoke was in the cabin. There was a big No Smoking sign above his head, but he didn’t care. After 2 hours, we stopped so he could changed a belt inside the engine. It took 20 minutes and I was wondering “how is this considered an express bus?”. We get back inside and start proceeding towards our destination and there’s more cigarette smoke. I’m starting to get a headache, but I assume that we’re halfway there and it should be over soon. We enter a forest area and encounter a problem. Two trucks have collided and nobody but motorcycles can get around them. Traffic is backing up for many kilometers. We wait for over an hour before the trucks get pulled apart and then continue on to Banyuwangi. It took almost 8 hours for the trip and I thought that we would go into the town, but he drops us off at the pier. Banyuwangi is about 10 km south of the pier. We didn’t want to go to the Ketapang pier and on to Bali because we are hiking Ijen. But I wasn’t watching the GPS and we got out when the driver told us to. We do not have wifi and it’s dark and there are no motorcycle rental shops. We wander into a building by the pier after avoiding transport touts and find a man selling tours to hike Ijen that night. He lets us use his hotspot and we researched where our hotel was and how to get to a motorcycle shop. I found this site, http://www.kampungosing.com/2016/06/where-to-find-motorbike-rental-in.html, and after looking up 4 shops and contacting them, one of them replied and said that they are open, but they are at the train station. So this is why the train is a better choice. No traffic, no cigarette smoke, and it drops you off at the motorcycle shop. We go outside and haggle with an old van driver and he wants 25,000 R per person to drive the 14 km to the train station. We see another van driver and trying to pit the two against each other, but the other guy says to go with the van driver we’re talking with. There’s a problem with competition and free trade when you just give up a potential fare. There must be some collusion going on with the taxis in Banyuwangi. We haggle him down to 20, 000 R per person, he agrees, and we start the trip. He sees the other taxi driver, pulls over, and shouts at him what price he charged us, grinning the whole time. He must have been pretty pleased with himself. As we’re going, he picks up other passengers, so I figure it’s just a public van that’s trying to rip tourists off. We make it to Toko Subur around 10 PM and the lady that runs the place is very nice. They’re basically open 24/7 and have a shop, restaurant, hotel, and motorcycle rental inside the train station grounds. She charges around 75,000 per motorcycle for 24 hours. They also rent headlamps and gas masks and she was nice enough to lend me a light windbreaker because I didn’t have a jacket. We paid the money, got some food from her, and started our journey to our homestay. When we booked it at http://www.booking.com, it had a different name than on Google maps, so when we get to the small town of Licin, we can’t find it. We drive around for a few minutes and then ask someone at a bar if they know where the homestay is. Luckily the man spoke English and knew the owner and he said he would drive over there with us and we could follow him. I was nervous about doing that because it was 11 PM and the road was just gravel and there were no lights and he was a complete stranger. But everything turned out ok. We met our host around midnight and the address was Kawah Ijen Homestay Banyuwangi, Licin, Banyuwangi Regency, East Java 68454, Indonesia. It’s off the main road, JL Raya Licin. He gave us some tips about hiking and then we paid 100,000 R per room and tried to get some sleep. At 1 AM, we left the homestay to drive to Ijen. It was so cold and pitch black. We were whistled at about 30 minutes into the drive at a checkpoint and had to pay a parking fee. He gave us a ticket for a receipt. At first I thought it was a scam, but I think it is part of the setup. It took about 1 hour to drive to the parking lot and campground area. We bought our hiking ticket, 100,000 R, and declined an offer from the guides. We had to show our ticket to a checkpoint control before we could begin hiking. So you can’t just skip out on not paying. We started the hike around 2 AM and saw two people that had passed out or were tired, being carried down the mountain. It is very steep during the first 30 minutes. There were a lot of people hiking and I’m glad we rented flashlights, but you could have just used your phone’s light. Plus, you could have just walked behind a group that had flashlights to see the path. Around 4 AM, we make it to the top of the crater and guides/workers are pressuring us to rent a gas mask. We keep declining but they follow us and talk about how the security guards won’t let you down there without one, beware of the toxic gases, it’s unsafe for your health, etc. We keep saying no to them and start the descent. There are no security guards but the gas does smell horrible. We have basic masks we brought with us but they are no match for when the sulfur gas hits your nostrils. We hike down and see the blue flames. It truly was an incredible site. The workers are chipping away at the rocks, hauling them up the mountain, and then coming back for another load. I’m glad I just have to hike this 1 time. I can’t stand the smell any more so I hike back up top and my companion suggests we wait for the sunrise. I agree and so we wait another hour. It was a beautiful morning and around 6:30 AM, I hike back down and return to the homestay. I take a shower, our host cooks us breakfast, and then we return to the train station around 10 AM. My companion wants to go to Bali that morning, but I don’t know my plans yet, so we go our separate ways.
Eventually, I decided to go to Bali that afternoon, but I didn’t have any wifi and I thought that once I cross over to Bali, I can stop at a restaurant or hotel and use their wifi. Big mistake. It started raining and the sulfur smell was overpowering me. I had to leave Banyuwangi. I took the train to the pier and paid 45,000 R. I think a motorcyle taxi would have cost 40,000 R, but I wanted to take the train. I take the ferry to Gilamanuk and paid 6,000 R. There is a little form you fill out and they give you a ticket. The ferry runs every 20 minutes and takes about 40 minutes to cross. Once I departed the ferry, I realize that there is nothing in Gilimanuk. There is a bus station, but most of the shops are closed and there are only 4 buses waiting for various destinations. I was extremely exhausted from only getting 30 minutes of sleep and hiking for four hours. I didn’t want to sit on a bus for another 3-4 hours to Denpasar and then search for a hotel. After walking around for 2o minutes, avoiding the constant barrage of taxi touts, I concluded that it’s a ghost town and there is no wifi anywhere. I had downloaded an offline maps application to my phone before starting the trip, so I search it for hotels. It shows 5 options. I decided to walk there because Gilimanuk is a super small town and dusk is approaching. I get to the first hotel and it’s out of business. The second hotel is also out of business. The third hotel doesn’t have a receptionist on duty but I see a man in his hotel room and so I ask him if the hotel has wifi. He doesn’t speak English, but he knows what wifi is and says no. I keep walking and see a sign for a hotel that is not listed on my map application. I walk there and they also do not have wifi. I walk to the fifth hotel and they do have wifi but the cheapest room is a fan room for 150,000 R. I thank them and keep walking to the 6th hotel. It’s under construction and does not have wifi. So I go back to the hotel with wifi, Sari Hotel, and pay my money and get ready for some sleep. It’s built in traditional Balinese style architecture, but my room is very dirty. As soon as a I lay on my bed, I hear rats in the ceiling above me. And because it’s a bamboo thatch ceiling, dirt/fecal matter/who knows what, falls through the roof as the rats scurry around, and land on my bed and on my face. Gross! And the glass windows are slated glass and don’t close all the way and so mosquitoes enter my room. I keep thinking that this is not happening right now. Just the circumstances of the day went from bad to worse. Who would have thought that a port town was so lacking? Anyways, I slept, woke up, checked some things out on the internet, and the hotel receptionist said that I could just stand on the road and a bus going to Denpasar would show up within a few minutes and I could just flag it down. It worked! I think I paid 30,000 R for the trip. The man in front of my seat was smoking cigarettes in the bus and so was the driver. There was no AC but the windows were down. We made it to the Ubung bus terminal north of Denpasar and I walked to a circle K convenience store to use their wifi. Yes! Civilization! : ) I found a super cheap hostel and used Grab Taxi to get a ride to Morotai Camp Hostel.