This is the blog of journalist, Lonely Planet author and photographer Stuart Butler. It features news and travel updates from the regions in which Stuart works, including northeast Africa (Kenya, Ethiopia and Sudan), Yemen and Sri Lanka.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Sumatra & Java Research Trip

                                          Photo: Mt Bromo, Java, Indonesia - photo S.Butler

I recently came back from a couple of fantastic months on the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra. I was there for Lonely Planet in order to update the relevant chapters of their legendry Southeast Asia on a Shoestring guide, but of course whilst I was there I got to do quite a lot of surfing (in fact that was one of the reasons why Lonely Planet chose to send me there to do the job!). I mainly concentrated on Java, partially because there wasn’t time to spend weeks trudging out to all the offshore Sumatran islands and partially because I’d never surfed in Java before and it seems to be the one island that, aside from G-Land, most surfers skip completely. As you’ll see I scored a few pretty good days up and down the Javan coast. What I enjoyed about this trip was that I was actually forced to head inland and visit all the big tourist towns, cities and sights which is something that most surfers miss out on. It was time away from the waves well spent and Java in particular was simply wonderful. I don’t think I have ever been anywhere quite so artistic, refined and cultured as Java - everybody seems to be a musician, artist or dancer. The countryside itself, with its spine of volcanoes and bright green rice paddies, is also utterly spectacular. I was lucky enough to be there when Mt Bromo was erupting and walking around the surrounding villages or the plains below the volcano with an umbrella up to protect from the ash and sand falling like snow out of the sky was quite memorable. The highlight of the trip though was the Ijen Plateau where I followed a group of miners deep into the belly of a live volcano to photograph them as they mined sulphur from the edge of the acidic lake that sits inside the crater. It was the toughest environment I have ever been in and even with three face masks on everytime the sulphur clouds enveloped me my eyes would stream and I’d start retching! Most of the miners work with nothing more than a cloth over their face. The cloud was so noxious that in the space of a couple of hours it had literally corroded away and destroyed one camera lens and one flash unit! When a BBC film crew went there to film the Human Planet series they said it was the toughest place they’d ever filmed!

I have put a selection of photographs from the Indonesia trip up online
Slideshow of photos -

I have also put a selection of images of the Ijen sulphur miners online as well as some more information on them.

Photos with description –