I’m in the bowels of one of Indonesia’s active and most notorious volcanoes, deep inside its crater, more than 8,500 feet above sea level, crouching, fetal position employed.
It’s my only defense against the suffocating sulphuric cloud that has shifted direction and now saturates the air.
Even though the skies are crystal clear and the Milky Way is spell-bindingly resplendent above, visibility is down to an inch. For how long, who knows?
The toxic smoke encases me. The acid sears my eyes, grates my throat and burns my lungs. Surgical mask and scarf combination guarding my airways: futile. Distant muffled coughs permeate the fog. I dare not attempt another breath. I’m utterly at the mercy of Kawah Ijen and all I can think about is Sherlock Holmes.
More specifically, my thoughts are of his creator. I’m thinking what if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had personally witnessed Ijen late in the 19th century and was able to draw upon his experience as he sat mulling over ideas for the backdrop to his detective’s next case. His tale of Holmes and Watson’s pursuit of the Hound of the Baskervilles, recently finished and fresh in the memory, might not have been a chilling journey of suspense played out on Dartmoor’s moody Great Grimpen Mire, but a full-blown horror epic set amid malevolent and hellish scenes, where fire and brimstone felt at home.
Unfortunately, fire and brimstone is far from fictitious at Kawah Ijen.