Saturday, 8 August 2015

Merapi volcano

A cool army jeep turned up at our doorstep this morning, ready to take us for a tour of the volcano. Indonesia is the country with most active volcanoes (172) in the world. And Merapi is the most active volcano in Indonesia. There is no danger though, there are 7 different monitoring stations and at the slightest alert tourists aren't allowed in the area. Most deaths are from villagers who don't heed government warnings, fearing for their livestock. In the last eruption, in 2010, 353 people died. It must be pretty nerve-wracking living at the foot of an active volcano, with the constant threat of life and possessions, but there are benefits too. Not only is the earth fertile but there is also a sizable mining industry picking up rocks which are good for construction (and mud for pottery). Locals also benefit from tourism. Even communities without infrastructure like shops or hotels make a pinch out of roadblocks that exact a toll from all the tours.

We piled into the jeep and hit the road. Jeeps are possibly the most uncomfortable form or transport I have been on, beating a horse drawn cart by a mile. The roads did their bit as well, as did having Lucas on my lap. But they make up for it in fun and adrenalin.

We bumped our way round the foothills until we got to one of the villages destroyed in the 2010 eruption. One of the houses has been transformed into a museum, showing the aftermath of the latest disaster. There is even a clock, it's hands melted into the face at 12:05, the time when the cloud of molten ash hit it. There are all sorts of ash-covered semi-melted bric-a-brac, livestock skeletons, and a few shelled-out motorbikes. Photos of the event hang from the still-standing walls.

We then headed to the main volcano viewpoint. Traffic here is intense, full of other jeeps carrying tourists and lorries carrying rocks. Since Aisha had lost her hat on the way (it blew out of the car before we realised) we got her a new one, and Lucas fell in love with an army hat which we also had to buy.

There is a bunker at the viewpoint which was supposed to protect people from eruptions. Sadly it was placed in the wrong area - there things are dust and ash proof but not lava proof. Apparently in 2006 two people used it and unluckily a lava flow headed this way, turning the bunker into an oven and killing them both. Apparently they also didn't close both doors properly.

Just after the bunker the land turns barren. In this area ash and flows are so frequent that not much apart from a bit of scrubland grasses have time to reconquer the land. Vegetation survives on a couple of hills to each side.

We said goodbye to the smoking giant (smoke can be seen virtually any day of the year) and made our way back to the hotel, where a cab was waiting to take us back to Yogyakarta. The plan was to visit a Hindu temple called Prambanan in the afternoon but it involved 3 different buses and the kids were knackered from the early jeep tour. So we swapped Prambanan for swimming pool and cartoons. Sometimes you just can't get two things done in one day.

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