Ijen Resort and Villas is a materialization of a dream. A long time dream which stayed in mind during some decades.
The First Inspiration
The story of Ijen Crater was heard for the first time from an old uncle who happened to be sent there joining forced workersīó by the japanese army in the second world war period. It was in his childhood time.
The Solitary Crater, it is so called because of its position, alone out of reach and out of nowhere. It sounded rather intriguing. The old uncle said that it took the whole day walk to cross through the dark jungle, to arrive in a vast open plain area where they had to spend the night before hiking up the mountain on the next day. And the crater was the only interest because it spit out large quantity of sulfur. That chemical stuff flowed out in liquide with the colour of lava, yellowish red first when it is coming out from the deep to finis completely yellow once it hardens after a few minutes exposed in the fresh open air. In the darkness the colour turned out to be strikingly bright blue.
The story was refreshed fifteen years later when a French television featured it in its late evening program: the Ijen Crater. Through the television screen the beauty of the crater and the perilous working condition in which the mine workers carried the sulfur was just painstakingly spectacular.
They called it the beauty of the hell.
It was at the time when he took some years break from his professional activities as tourist guide in Bali, to travel and stayed in France. It was precisely at that moment that an idea came up in his mind, maybe an accomodation facility would be good for inciting the tourists to go there, even if he himself has not yet visited the region to measure if the idea was realisable. Anyway it was the period where there was no question of launching any kind of project. Just a dream. With his no situation condition in France and the bleak perspective with regard to finding a job good enough to generate substancial income, there was no way of fixing any sort of target. But dream brings only good feeling in life and dreaming is one of his specialties.
The Hotel Project
We were in 1998. The country was in turmoil of regime change. Tourism was in a total halt. The idea that emerged 20 years before, about building a hotel, was about to be put into realization. It was amazing that the dream finally touched the ground. Life brings miracles for certain persons.
Actually the hotel project construction was initially intended for Ubud area in Bali, as first priority. About ten thousand square meters land was ready for the purpose. The design, drawings with details submitted by the architect and the financing were all ready. But the go signal was not yet given.
Actually he still thought about Ijen Crater. Besides, as a dreamer he sometime feels obsessed by idealistic ideas and big thinking.
Some questions actually arised, why should more hotels be built in Bali while in the region of Banyuwangi, there is not a single hotel good enough to accomodate foreign tourists. More than 1.5 million foreign visitors came to Bali every year but none of them interested in visiting Ijen Crater. With such number of visitors the balineses had been organizing parties everyday and for some years already meanwhile the neighbours over the strait continued to play the no hear and no see game of ignorance. At the same time thousands of banyuwangese were already in Bali, working mostly in construction fields and unskilled sectors and more thousands continued to come looking for jobs. The logic was if Bali could help develop the neighboring islands it will help itself solve the problems in the future. Because by then those outland workers would prefer go back home to perform in their own region, close with their families and where the cost of living is much lower. Or said differently; if Bali monopolizes the big cake of tourism just for itself, it just dig its own cemetery.
Bali is just a small island with limited resources of sustainability. It should adopt more intelligent ideas for solutioning the problem of its future.
This sort of thinking came incessantly, and after a long period of reflection the decision was finally taken. The project for Ubud was finally abandoned. Now the focus was switched to IJEN where the location has actually also been found.
Three years were needed to find an ideal location. After exploring through the region crisscrossing all areas and possibilities finally a magic site was found, a hill next to the remote village near the edge of what seemed to be a rainforest. The hill is just 600 meters from Randu Agung, the closest village.
The village Randu Agung was a small village with some hundred inhabitants who used to living in seclusion. Since the first cutting of the trees, on the outskirt of the jungle, done by 4 gentlemen, Sap, Mishal, Satoman and Simun around 120 years ago, and then followed afterward by 4 families from the village far downhill some years later, the village of Randu Agung never attracted much outside attention. Years after the end of the second World War two guys dropped down from Madura island joining the group and not untill mid-fivties when two other guys originated from Mojokerto came in.
The small community mixed one another through marriages and intermarriages over the years. Nowadays the whole inhabitants are mixed and interconnected to become a group of relatives.
A small path or track of 5 kilometers connects this village to a small asphalted road where there was rarely traffic, and the path was in such condition that not any kind of vehicle could work on it. Even a bicycle had to be carried on the shoulder and sandals had to be put off due the 30 cm deep of mud in most part of the track, especially in rainy season. And the forest uphill seemed to have been sacked long time ago or if not regularly exploited, but the green dense vegetation still covered all along the flank of the mountain up further. It meant a rainforest was still there even signs of big tree tops look scarce. Some volcanoes imposed their presence majestically when the air is clear and the visibility is good.
Village of Randu Agung
This is a village which many could just simply forget its existence. And the villagers prefer it that way, to be forgotten and put into oblivion. Since the beginning they have been living in peace and tranquility, despite their poor condition of subsistance. Nevertheless about 400 poeples lived there along with sixty cows, more or less the same number of goats, some hundred ducks and chickens, 3 bicycles and 3 radios constantly on to connect with outside world by listening the regional broadcasting stations presenting songs and talk entertainment all in Osing language. The radios worked on batteries since there was no electricity. 65 hectars of green terrace ricefields surrounded the village, but mostly owned by the inhabitants of next door village across the deep valley. So mostly all of the inhabitants of Randu Agung were little farmers or just farm workers, with side activities which they normarly don't want to talk about openly.
There was a school in the village, elementary level, built in 1983 to become the only construction in brick by the time the hotel was about to be built.
All the rest are small houses made of rudimentary wood structure with bamboo walls. They call it tikel house.
It needed no much time for the building of the school to fall in ruin if reparation was not to be undertaken soon.
Most of the classrooms could not be used due to deteriorated condition of the building mainly part of the roof which could fall down at any moment.
Only 2 classrooms were sure and safe. So they used it alternately for class of all levels. By the way there were only 40 childrens who went to school more or less regularly with teachers coming also more or less regularly from the city, due to acces road condition.The children had no much interest or concern about the school activities anyway.
With the absence of encouragement and motivation (no TV or any kind of information), blank perspective of the future and with no vision of better life ahead why should they have to bother about school and learning.
Living with no electricity was what they inherited since the the beginning of their life in Randu Agung. It cut them out not only of the comfort of living after the sun down but also of the instant communication from the outside world. It meant also no everyday entertainment whatsoever. Curiously the average number of children in the family remained low, despite longer moments living in almost darkness.
Had it something to do with so long period of intermarriage? More serious study should be done to confirm this.
There was no shop and no grocery either, or a stall to buy food. They did the shopping on the village next across the valley where the acces to the main road was easier .
There was only one carpenter in the village, and a low rank civil servant working in the observation post of volcanology at the crater of Ijen, Mat Hasan. He motivated around 30 males hiking up regularly to Ijen Crater working in sulfur mine down at the crater bottom to collect the mineral stuff and carry a load of 80 kilos each man up to the top and down again 10 kilometers away through jungle where an old truck waiting to transfer the stuff to the company base down. For all of that effort a sufur carrier was paid 180 rupiahs a kilo. Apparently this exploitation had been organized with the same method since the Dutch colonial era, and worse during the Japanese occupation.
Around 25 peoples left home regularly for several week period to find trivial jobs in the neighboring prosperous island of Bali, working mostly in farm or ricefield with minimum wages. Three persons known to have enough skill to work on building construction.
What about the rest of the adult males of the village? They simply went to the rain forest to cut the woods, on daily basis. Adult means physically able person. A lad of 14 years old is good to start the job.
When life is difficult and the better future is beyond reach the only thing you could depend on for your subsistance is the mother nature.
The rain forest which borders the village of Randu Agung is part of 280 000 hectars of Ijen National Park, a dense jungle with rich eco system. The park was set up by Dutch colonial administration in 1929 with aim of preserving Java natural forest in view the rapidly growing number of population.
Around 60 to 80 adult males of Randu Agung went regularly to the forest to cut woods. Along with those from neighboring villages, Segobang and Rembang, the number increased up to hundred fifty and even more. They left at 9dawn and might stay overnight in the jungle. Once inside the forest they split in groups of 4 to 6 persons to perform the cutting. Around 10 to 15 trees were cut down everyday. And it had been taking place for years already. Since the eighties, stressed Mr Misnatun, the 87 years old gentleman who performed as head of the village for nearly 30 years. The woods came out from the forest when the sun is down in form of slim beams. Each member of the band carried one on the shoulder, forming a long procession along the track. The beam measures normally 2 meters long intended for door and window frames or roof structure when it is longer. Those beams will be stocked in their respective tikel house before being delivered to destination in the middle of the night. A door frame were priced 17.000 rupiahs. Two persons in the village were known to have outside contacts for larger scale supply.
Naturally the national park was protected and forest guards regularly organized the control. But the number of guard personels was far too little to cover such a vast area.
Moreover what can 4 park rangers do against more than a hundred thieves? Sporadic searches were done periodically in the village and arrest might took place when the operation proved fruitfull. One or two persons taken into detention. The case never ended in judicial proceeding and no one has really been put in jail.
The Hotel Construction
The starting point of the project was building the road to the site, to enable trucks bring all the materials. The local government was informed about the project, which responded with nods of consent. Nothing more. So the financing of road building was assumed personally.
This surprised the villagers, who had no slightest idea of what was about to happen. But road building was already offering job opportunity at least. About dozens of adult males joined the road construction, putting aside the wood cutting activity, temporarily. But they were needed for further jobs once the road is possible for the trucks to go to the site and when the hotel construction begins. Building the foundation needed more workers. The skilled personnels were supplied from outside and by the time the foundation was finished nearly all adult males of the village were engaged in the project. The foremen were obliged to teach them how to do the job and bit by bit they learned and after a brief period of time they mastered the job they were assigned to.
In the mean time the procession of wood cutters was still visible passing by coming out from inside the jungle when the sun is nearly down but, after a few months they disappeared progressively. Even those from the other villages stopped their activity inside the jungle, at least not passing by the track of Randu Agung because their visibility was not good with the presence of many outsiders in the workfield.
The hotel construction lasted nearly two years, long enough to make the villagers established with their new job and skill.
By the time the construction finished half of the workers from the village were recruited by the newly opened hotel called Ijen Resort and Villas. Some assigned to become security men, some as gardeners and the rest working in the kitchen, cleaning up the rooms joining the housekeeping and maintenance service. With such raw personels never be in touch with formal education whatsoever, the mess was inevitable. It was source of incessant headaches. But with passion, patience and willingness to educate young village population the result was encouraging. Thanks to the managers of the hotel who have been able to grab the opportunity and to understand the philosophy of Ijen Resort and Villas owner; It is easy to join the undertaking for the betterment of an established society, but to help rise excluded and left over communities however small it is, help them open new horizon for the future of their children and the environment is a noble cause.
What about the rest of the workers? The never come back to their old activity devastating the national park. With their new professional skill they went all to the cities and mostly to Bali joining the workforce in building construction. Their look is no longer directed toward the rain forest, which gave them chances to survive anyway, but focused on other directions, thus let the rainforest in peace to grow wild again.
Randu Agung Now
Since then the new establishment canalised clean running water for the village, helped bringing in electricity, helped restoring the school and improving the road condition.
By the time this report is written, the Village of Randu Agung has changed. Nearly al houses are in solid building now except 3 remaining bamboo houses (tikel). The number of population increases by nearly 50 percent in 17 years. All children are not willing to stop studying until higher level of education. Only 1 person is now unemployed, aged 18 years old, whereas many members of the big family work outside the region. New jobs are easily available (escorting tourists for trekking for example). There are 3 grocery shops, 5 homestays fully owned by the villagers with 39 rooms, 4 Jeep vehicles to take tourists to Ijen Crater, joining the fleet of nearly hundred jeeps now available in the region.
On the other hand there are less number of cows, goats, ducks and the likes in exchange of the alarming number of japanese motorbikes, more than 200, available in almost every household.