Volcanoes are the conical hills or ruptures on the crust of Earth through which molten lava and gases erupt out from the centre of the Earth. Volcanoes are known to be destructive as well as constructive. They can cause havoc to plant, animal and human life. They have severe effects on the air quality and other environmental factors. At the same time, they nourish and provide ideal conditions for many ecosystems to thrive, yield fertile soil and above all create new topography. This post is not a lesson on Volcanoes but the story of my first encounter with an active volcano in its volcanic surroundings.
I have always feared a volcano learning about its destructive nature. At the same time wondered its creativity. Though never had any experience to see it so near and close. Just a couple of weeks before Mount Agung in Bali erupted I happened to be in the volcanic archipelago.
The group of islands of Indonesia is located in a tectonically unstable region. It lies on the Pacific Ring of Fire just on the edges of the Pacific, Eurasian, and Australian tectonic plates. Thus the ideal site for tectonic disturbance resulting in volcanoes and earthquakes. Indonesia has around 400 volcanoes among which 150 are active volcanoes. The volcanic stretch extends from Sumatra, Java, Bali, Nusa Tenggara, to the Banda Islands of Maluku to northeastern Sulawesi.
On my visit, I was highly excited to see a topography created by the volcanic eruption. I was also sceptical about the completion of our trip and safe return. As there were signs of early eruptions in Mt Agung in Bali. People residing within a radius of 10km were asked to evacuate.
We already had our plan in place. We did not want to miss the opportunity and went ahead as per the schedule. Our first destination was the amazing island of Bali. We were supposed to visit Mt Batur in Kintamani which is near to Mt Agung. The first thing we came to know while hiring a vehicle to move within the city was due to the volcanic activities in Mt Agung, tourists are not allowed to visit in any of the volcanoes within the island.
Disheartened by the news we found solace in the other beautiful places in Bali known as a beach paradise. After sinking ourselves in the Balinese air, water, food, culture and surrounding we set foot forward to Yogyakarta. The famous Borobudur was our primary attraction while the rest were tertiary.
It was an early morning flight and the weather was mostly clear. I had no idea what was waiting down the window. As we flew off the coastal airport of Denpasar Bali, it was all blue with tiny green patches. Sometimes there were golden shorelines too.
Then came the volcanic terrain. The extended vast plain with fissures and vents sometimes with volcanic hills and volcanic centres were seen. I was dumbfounded seeing this vast volcanic region. It was something beyond my imagination. I never expected to see such landscape.
Satisfied by the aerial show I did not expect much, just the same clear weather on our return flight to Bali. In Yogyakarta when we were speaking to the lady of the car rental services. I noticed some volcano trip written on the chart. Observing closely I found it was for Mt Merapi.
My eyes sparkled with the very name of Mount Merapi – the fearsome and dreaded volcano. Mt Merapi which literally means the Fire Mountain is a decade volcano which has been a subject of study since ages because of its destructive nature and its proximity to populated areas. Merapi is the most active volcano in Indonesia.
It is a stratovolcano or a composite volcano, where a conical hill is formed by deposition of lava, tephra, pumice and volcanic ashes in the form of layers. The lava flowing from these volcanoes as opposed to Shield volcanoes are highly viscous which cannot travel far so cools, hardens and settles near the volcanic hill.
I could hear the clear and distinct call of Merapi. I immediately asked the lady that if we can visit Merapi as all the volcano trips are closed in Bali for some eruptive activities. She noticed my eager eyes waiting for her nod. Smilingly in broken English, she said: “Yes, you go Merapi, its open”. Keeping aside the other places for the next day we were off to see the fearsome Merapi.
Off the city precincts then through the village roads, we reached the base station of the Merapi volcano. There we had to hire a jeep from the counter paying as per the package for the further journey. We were curious about the reason behind the change of vehicle. After sometime when we moved down from the paved road to the rocky slopes of the mountain the reason became quite obvious.
Our driver cum guide, a young Javanese guy in broken English tried to explain as much as he could about the spots he took us to. With bumps and jerks, he drove the beast over the rugged terrain. So rough was the way that every moment we feared to fall off the open jeep. We hold the handles tightly and tried hard with our hands and feet to stay glued to the seats.
Thus we reached the museum which preserves the remains of the village destroyed by the wrath of Merapi. At the entrance, there were skeletons of cattle used for farming. The houses were destroyed by the rocks and hot ashes from the volcano. The ‘Jam Clock’ stands motionless, frozen to the capture the date and time of the fateful day of the latest eruption in the year 2010 when this village was destroyed.
Inside those dilapidated houses, there were different household items that too were destroyed in the volcano. Some volcanic stones of geological importance were also preserved. Other information about Merapi with pictures of the explosion and eruption through ages are also seen.
With a heavy heart and mixed thoughts on destruction and the supreme power of nature, we went off to our next destination. Again on the bone-rattling drive. As we were doing our ‘Ahhs and Auch’ our driver cum guide smiled and enjoyed watching our expression saying something. Which we interpreted as – ‘Isn’t the drive adventurous? Guess you guys are having fun.’ Our hands were preoccupied to hold on to the car so no photography while in motion. I was feeling the need of a GoPro.
On our ascend we watched the topography. There were new settlements again in the proximity. The settlers also have their own farms and crops cultivated in the surrounding fertile soil. The long stretches of lava bed are still being excavated, even after seven years of the eruption. Every truck carries minerals worth millions of dollars, as per our guide. Now we were close to the mighty fearsome dreadful Merapi.
The ferocious Merapi stood with its open mouth surrounded by fog. It looked even more deadly with the thick shroud of the smoke. Our guide said he had a clear view the last morning. He showed us few amazing pictures clicked on his cell phone. On request, he transferred them to us. Such amazing were the pictures that I could not stop using them here. Just to show the beauty of this sleeping monster.
There was an underground bunker. He says it is used as the refuge area during the time of the eruption. I guess this is what he wanted to say if I am not wrong. Then smilingly he asked us to pose standing on the bonnet of his jeep which he parked on a steep slope with the Merapi as the backdrop. After the close encounter with Merapi and all its constructive and destructive stories, we were on the same track to return back to our car waiting.
This time he thought we were already accustomed to the road and happily drove us even faster. We were praying to get back to the base safely. Thoughts came that Merapi can take our lives if not through its lava outrage but through its bad road breaking our bones. We safely returned with our bones intact a joyful heart watching a volcano and having an adventurous time, but just a torn dress – thanks to the rusty jeep and the Mighty Merapi who constantly keeps on its activities to destroy the roads.