Climbing Agung and helping
the sulphur porters of Ijen
In this interview, we talk with award winning cook and 51 time summiteer of Bali’s highest volcano, Heinz Von Holzen about climbing in Indonesia and his charity helping the sulphur porters and school children in the east of Java. Heinz has lived on Bali, on and off for the last 25 years and is one of the go to guys when searching for knowledge about climbing in Indonesia. He has his own website about climbing the volcanoes of Indonesia and you can check out his work here at Indovolcano.com.
What drew you to the volcanoes of Indonesia?
It was sports. I was into a few extreme things like mountain biking and thats when we discovered Agung (highest volcano on Bali) and then over to Rinjani (highest volcano on Lombok). When we were on Rinjani my friend said to me that Merapi in Yogja just exploded let’s go and so we went to Merbabu across from Merapi and then it just continued on from there. We found out that there were 13 volcanoes over 3000m on the island of Java so we did them all. Then we started to do the ones under 3000m so now i just try and do 2, 3 or 4 a year but the next one is Kinabalu.
Is it true that you pioneered the new route on Agung?
There was always a route to the crater but we thought there must be another way to the summit. So we crossed a few of the ravines and went onto the summit that way. That was true adventure you know, making your own path and finding your own way to the summit. Thats hard to find now and I often wonder if it was the right thing to do by marking the path or not.
Well I have to keep fit. I've been into sports all my life and the first time that I went to Ijen, I actually took my pushbike and rode up there. I got off the ferry over in Java and I rode up to 1900 metres, it’s a nice ride.
You’ve climbed a lot of volcanoes here and Agung seems like your favourite but apart from the volcanoes on Bali which other one is your favourite and why?
Rinjani (Lombok) without a doubt. As you climb up the crater rim you can see down into the caldera and there is a lake down there. It’s just the most beautiful volcano in Indonesia.
Photo - Ryan Mazure a
Background information - Ijen is a volcano in Eastern Java and just a 5 hour trip from the south of Bali. The Ijen sulphur porters mine sulphur from the crater of the volcano. They carry up to 90kgs on their shoulders from the caldera floor, up to the rim and then 3.8kms down to the parking lot where it is transported away. Each porter gets around $5 a trip and makes 2 trips in a day. The sulphur is toxic and the life expectancy of these porters in only 45 years old.
You’ve started a charity helping the sulphur porters over in Ijen, East Java by giving them trolleys to carry the sulphur down the mountain instead of carrying it. How did that come about?
I actually went over there to climb Merapi (the highest point of the Ijen volcano) and we got there and we went with 2 porters and on the way down we saw the porters coming down with the sulphur and i thought this is not humane. How can you make a living like this? I wanted to give them something but i had nothing with me so I said look, ill be back. I went back to Bali and said to my wife, you will not believe what I’ve just seen. So we went back over there about 3 months later, cleared out all our cupboards and bought all the clothes that we hadn’t worn for a year and bought them all over there and that’s when the whole thing started.
Apart from the clothes I thought I want to do more than that, and what we are doing now is each year we support 100 of their children by giving them schooling. By giving them a good education we can hopefully give them a better future.
In January last year the swiss government contacted me and said Heinz, we want to support you and give you some money to help out. I got back to them and said look, I don’t want your money yet but I have an idea. I asked the government to connect me with some universities that might be interested in helping design something to help the porters bring the sulphur down in a more humane way. Four universities connected with me and one of which was just 20 kms away from where I lived. It all happened very quickly and within 3 or 4 weeks I was in Switzerland at one of the universities. I took with me the piece of bamboo that they carry the sulphur with and met the people. I talked with the head of the university and he said that he can’t promise anything but I'll see what I can do.
About a month later I get a phone call and a guy named Thomas says to me that I’ve got your project, I have the prototype and ill be out there in 3 weeks. In October 2014, Thomas came over and instantly we had some problems so we took them back to Bali and redesigned them. From the feedback from the porters we were able to get a working trolley that they could wheel the sulphur down on.
Now this next part is remarkable. I have a very good friend from home in Switzerland and he heard about our project here so he came over here to have a look. When he was back home he called me up and said Heinz, I want to make you a proposal. A lady friend in London had terminal cancer, and in England you can’t die if you want to die, if you want to die you go to Switzerland so he arranged that for her to go to Switzerland, to go to the clinic to die. He said that she had some money and I inherited the money from her. She told me to make sure the money goes somewhere where it can make a difference. She gave him 20,000 swiss francs ($20,000 USD) and he said look Heinz, she gave me 20 and I’m going to give you 20.
Basically with this money we can build all these trolleys now for the porters. We’ve already delivered 61 and we have 25 more ready and 25 frames but without the wheels. And this will go on now until we have at least 200 trolleys for the porters.
So there are 200 porters?
If people are interesting in helping out or donating to your cause where can they find you?
All the information is available at http://www.indovolcano.com/overview/ and http://www.balifoods.com and for a full story of the sulfur porters and the terrible conditions that they have to endure, check out this short 8 minute video on the story of how the trolleys are changing the porters lives and also the 5 minute video on giving the school children a brighter future.
Sulphur Porters part 1
Sulphur Porters Part 2