Of a sudden, the traveller judders awake. Somewhere far in the aether they hear a voice, drenched in echo and uttering in an unknown frequency. They shake their head and listen adroitly; the voice, closer now, repeats its mantra. ‘ We are close to Ijen’, it intones solemnly, ‘Watch out for jaguars, snakes and paranormal activity.’
The traveller, roused to consciousness, looks askance at the voice’s source. The vaguest of silhouettes passed by; it’s clear they are rising but such is the gloop of darkness it’s impossible to tell at what speed.
‘Last time I was here, I heard chanting behind me,’ the voice continued. ‘I was alone and the place was deserted. This was on the approach to the crater, where you will be. I came back to the car and lay down to sleep but woke up. Something was on my chest, crushing me. I turned the light on and there was nothing there, but the chanting continued.’
A brief pause. ‘One of you will see a ghost today,’ the voice added, the depth of its message compensating for the dearth of emotion. Up above, the moon began its slow descent toward the horizon.
The Ijen crater is one of Indonesia’s greater mysteries. Rumours abound of an acid lake, of great fissures emitting foul reams of sulphurous smoke into the aether. A dazzling flame, the result of atmospheric pressure, swathes the vicinity in a dank, blue shade. Distant figures, outlines and shapes of an earthly nature, are said to brave the treacherous paths to mine the malodorous chemicals, cursed with an unending Sisyphean task. It is their cries of pain and anguish that passers-by mistake for the nocturnal hoots of owls.
Imagine a vision of hell, solidified to life and transposed to the realm of human comprehension. The traveller becomes dimly aware of a presence as they begin their ascent to the crater: a whisper, then a voice, then nothing at all. Before them the horizon dances in a ghostly pallor, its wisps parting demonically as Ijen, slumped on the landscape like a demonic squat toad, beckons them forth.