I arrived in Java by ferry to a city called Banyuwangi, right on the East coast. I had planned to leave the next day to head to a turtle project in the Meru Betiri national park, but after chatting with a tour guide and making some phone calls I realised that the convoluted trip to the remote beach was just too much of a logistical nightmare. It would have been a fantastic place to visit, and I would have certainly seen some Green or Loggerhead turtles nesting, but the journey relied upon a number of rivers being passable and for some dude with a 4x4 who could give me a lift for the last part of the journey actually deciding to come to the local town that day... and he could not be contacted since there was no phone reception. I just didn't have the time to accommodate such contingencies, so I decided instead to use Banyuwangi as a base to visit the famous Ijen volcano and the Baluran national park.
Banyuwangi was refreshingly light on tourists, in total contrast to Bali, and apart from at the top of Ijen I did not see another white person the whole time I was there. The locals were accordingly very shocked to see me, and it reminded me of being in West Rajastan in India, where jaws drop, eyes stare, and minor road traffic accidents occur all around you. Whenever I headed out to grab a bite to eat or a bottle of water people leapt from the pavement to come to talk to me and try out their English vocab, usually consisting solely of the words Manchester and United. The city was pretty interesting though, and very colourful and clean. It was difficult to get around though since I elected having to take the local 'bemos' everywhere - mini-vans with bench seats in the back driving around on set routes, a bit like the trufi taxis in Bolivia, but in much worse shape, with what seemed like square wheels and transmission audibly grinding away on something that it clearly shouldn't be. It was odd, I thought, how Bolivia was cheaper than Indonesia, yet much more developed in many ways. Not that Banyawangi was pricey, far from it; Java was to turn out to be much cheaper than Bali - half the price in fact - which made everything very affordable.
Ijen volcano was magnificent, with a really stunning turquoise crater lake with lots of steam venting out of it against the early morning backdrop of misty jungle and other long-since dormant volcanoes in the distance. I went there for sunrise, which entailed jumping on the back of a moped at 4am and driving the hour-and-a-half long journey up the mountain. I had come ill-prepared wearing just shorts and t-shirt and I froze my nuts off. The adrenalin offered some protection though as the driver expertly navigated us up slippery and steep off-road tracks. I am amazed by just how well mopeds perform off-road. Sulphur is mined by hand from the crater by a number of local miners, who carry heavy loads of the yellow element in wicker baskets balanced on their shoulders. They receive a horrifyingly low sum of US10cents per kilogram of sulphur as reward for their hazardous work, and life is extremely tough for these guys.
The next day I headed to the Baluran national park, a large expanse of protected savannah home to several species of deer, banteng and buffalo. This place was most definitely off the beaten track, and despite being featured in the Lonely Planet, the pleasant English-speaking ranger informed me that I was the first international tourist they had had their since before the 2002 Bali bombings. Tourism in Java has really taken a massive hit in recent years. I did a self-guided trek in the early morning and saw a whole bunch of white and black monkeys, the latter a particularly elusive species, and some peacocks and deer, and in the late morning I went for a snorkel over a reef that no white man had seen for nearly ten years. The water was quite contaminated by plastic, but the reef was excellent and I saw many species that I didn't see in Indonesia, including a bunch of very tall-looking angel fish, Christmas tree coral, coral fans, clams, stonefish and some banded sea snakes, plus the usual puffer fish, lion fish and coral-munchers. Really, a fantastic hidden reef.
After one more night in Banyuwangi, and a few more astonished cyclists crashing into lampposts, I caught the night train to Yogyakarta in Central Java.