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Mining in Hell's Fire for Devil's Gold
by Larry Louie


In the volcanic mountain of Kawah Ijen on the Island of Java in Indonesia, toxic smoke billows out onto the surface of the mountain through tentacle-like tunnels. A golden treasure is escorted into the light from the depths of the burning hell fires:pure sulphur, or Devil’s gold, as the local calls it.

Sulphur is what the miners are harvesting as they labor deep in the belly of Mount Ijen, collecting this yellow mineral with their bare hands and crude tools. The toxic smoke emitting from the pipes appears to be alive, invading pockets of fresh air where the miners are working and making it difficult to breath. Most of the workers only have rags to cover their noses and mouths.

The sulphur sometimes drips like melted candy from the man-made outlets in the mountain. Miners break up the sulphur into smaller pieces for transport in their reed baskets, carrying about seventy kilograms on their shoulders with no padding and begin their steep ascent out of the crater, climbing 800 meters. Completing two trips a day in ten hours earns them a daily wage of US $12.00, which is considered very high pay in this region.