day 740 | August 14, 2016 | Ijen Crater Lake Trek

In the darkness, under the rain, wet and shivering, struggling to work with my photography equipment while navigating slippery slopes and muddy rocks. It must have been at least 3 hours of what felt like blindly trekking, only knowing the mud in front of you made visible by headlamps. As we approached the area where we expected the blue flame, sulfuric gas escaping the depths of earth to ignite with air, we began to worry we would see nothing. Rain dims the flame, washes it away, we were told. Rain kept on pouring down, drenching jackets underneath flimsy raincoats, soaking cold into bones, and rendering eyes and camera clumsier in the darkness. All I could see was darkness and smoke, all I felt were cold raindrops, and my lungs fought against the thick volcanic fumes. But we were luckier than most. Despite the rain, blue flame danced for us, hiding behind sulfuric clouds, then coming out for a while to dance again. Here is another place where nature held us enthralled by its magic. 

After watching the flame and failing to photograph it, exhaustion weighed heavy on my body. We had seen blue flame, tick the box, time to move on. It was then that S insisted that we wait for sunrise and move further inwards to see the lake. And he moved forward as if he didn't feel rain, or cold, or weary, like the rest of us human beings. There was very little shelter to wait in the caldera. Just a makeshift tent, which was already occupied by several people. With all the smoke and rainclouds, I was doubtful there would even be a sunrise. I sought warm and comfortable as soon as possible. Took a few minutes to regain myself, and rejoined the group just as the light slowly revealed the inspiration I needed to soldier on. In daylight, I saw all the details I had missed. The vibrant yellow hues of sulfur, the shades of red and brown on the rocks, the vibrant green of the hydrochloric acid lake, and the dramatic landscape before us. So thankful the group decided to stay. I would have turned back sooner and missed the point of the journey.  

As the beauty unfolded itself in front of us, there was a growing awareness that perhaps if I had seen the path on the way to the blue flame and the lake, I might not have made it, intimidated by the scale, the height, the hurdles. But because I couldn't see anything around us as we marched on, I simply focused on the next couple of steps ahead. Leaving the caldera and backtracking where we came from, every angle, view, and detail was a revelation. It felt new and familiar, and incredibly satisfying that with a combination of a big ambitious goal, and small focused steps, we made it all that way.

My images don't do this place sufficient justice. Take a peek here on what it must look like when the sky is clear. :)

"Sometimes you got to get through your fear to see the beauty on the other side..." 
- The Good Dinosaur 

The lake, the yellow smoke where the blue flame danced, and all the little people who are there for the magic

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