“Don’t dance on a volcano” – French proverb
Oktober 2013, Jakarta Indonesia. Plan… visit one of the biggest volcanic eruption sites in redent (100 years ago, in 1883 to be exact) history: Krakatau. Followed by a tour along some more volcanoes and fantastic places on West Java.
But first… Krakatau. I have read the book of Simon Winchester, watched some documentaries on Discovery and NatGeo and realize this was one monster volcano explosion in 1883. Officially more than 36,000 people died according to the Dutch authorities, but un-officially it is said over 120,000 people died. The blast was heard almost 5,000 (!) kilometer away and the whole world experienced strange sunsets because of the ash particles in the sky. And there are many more superlatives which can be found on the internet. I simply have to see this.
On the way to the harbour where we board a small boat, we pass Anyer. The location where in 1883 a lighthouse was washed away by the 30m high tsunami caused by the eruption. The little motorboat leaves from the harbour in Carita. It is a very small boat and we have no clue if the radio is actually working. Ah well, we only have to go halfway the Sunda strait, one of the busiest sea routes in eastern Asia. We are on the way to Anak Krakatau, the highly active child of Krakatau. It takes 1,5 hours before we finally see smoke. Some rocks loom out of the sea. We realize they were part of the former volcano Krakatau. When mountain exploded, this was all that remained. It shows how big it was, and how destructive the eruption must have been. In the middle there is a new cone shaped, smoking island, the child of Krakatau or Anak Krakatau. We go ashore, survive a large thunderstorm and start climbing after the storm is gone. We see some impressive monitor lizards along the way. Slowly we climb up. There is no real path. Just ash, rock and lava bombs. Some as big as a fist, some even larger than my car. We keep on climbing until it is not possible anymore. The lave rock is very unstable and sharp. We have to turn around and return. It is amazing to stand here, realizing how insignificant human life is in an environment like this. A few days later we make a stop at the geological centre on the mainland Java, showing us in real time the seismic activity of the mountain. Knowing the ‘child’ grows on average 7m per year, I do not want to think of what can and will happen one day in the future…
The captain brings us to Ujung Kulon National Park. We pass many floating fishing huts in the sea before we reach this very beautiful park, totally not touristic and with a lot of wildlife. There is a small but nice reef we snorkel on, we kayak through a tropical rainforest on an island nearby and there are many animals living on our ‘home’ island Pulau Peucang. Javan Rusa deer, wild pigs, monkeys and monitor lizards share the beach with us. It is a funny thing to see, however we need to protect our food before it gets stolen! In the evening we cross the water to visit Ujung Kulon and see the grazing Banteng cattle. Nice!
The next day we decide to hike in the National Park. An area with some Dutch history, until the eruption of 1883. Here nature showed its most fierce face to its visitors. First of course with the eruption and the subsequent tsunami which also here, miles and miles away, caused the death of the population. Remains like volcanic bombs and ruines of the settlement can still be found in the forrest and on the pristine beaches. Secondly there was (and still is) Malaria. In the 1800’s the Dutch erected a settlement called Tanjung Layar with a prison for Sundanese pirates. Lots of people died from tropical diseases in this humid area. The hike is really nice and interesting. Ujung Kulon is also known for the very rare Javan rhino species, which we unfortunately do not spot. Many senses get excited again by the sights and sounds, and not to forget, the warmth.
Next stop, the Baduy tribe. A Sundanese tribe, living relatively remote in the Kendeng Mountains on Java. The people resist a modern and western way of life, and keep their own traditions alive. The first night we stay with an Outer Baduy Luar family. Their bamboo hut is very basic, there is not much more than an empty floor to lie down and sleep on. Communication is difficult. We do not speak Sunda, our hosts no English, but we manage. The next day we hike deeper into Baduy country. We realize how little people need to survive (and how spoilt we are). There is no electricity, no cell phone reception, no appliances, no toilet, no bathroom. Beautiful scenery opens before our eyes again and again. I love it here! The second night we stay in a village. We are the only guests and people show they rather keep to themselves. We feel a bit like intruders, until we meet a friendly gentleman from the Inner Baduy Dalam. No visitors are allowed in the area where they live, but they can still walk out to sell for example honey. Even though it is more basic than basic, we learn to relax. There is simply not much more to do but chat and observe the local population.
Few stops remain on this trip. The botanical gardens of Bogor. Beautiful, but a shock to be back in the hectic world after the quiet Baduy life. We pass the amazing tea plantations at Puncak pass on our way to our second volcano this trip: Papandayan. A huge, restless stratovolcano with various craters. Due to eruptions in recent history we cannot go up by car. We need mopeds. Scary how these guys race uphil, but we survive. We continue on foot to a viewpoint where the immense crater unfolds itself. Everywhere we look we see smoke and sulphur, we smell it too. A long hike takes us over the rim, in the crater and back to the mopeds.
Via the interesting island Candi Cangkuang, where we visit Budi and his mum for a cup of tea, we go to Kawah Putih (meaning white crater). A clear blue crater lake, with acidic water coloring the banks whitish. It is a touristic place for Indonesian tourists in their weekends, so it is very busy. We stay in Bandung, where we find quite some Dutch history, like Dutch phrases on buildings and Dutch architecture styles. Nice, ah well. I cannot change history, just can enjoy how things are nowadays.
Last event of the holiday is a downhil mountainbike ride from the Tangkuban Perahu volcano. It was almost cancelled due to volcanic activity. Luckily our guides know a backroad through beautiful tea plantations. We peek into the crater and see some fumes in the distance. Is it dangerous? Well, we are here now, let’s just enjoy it. On a nice mountainbike we go down. Over boulders and small dirt roads, through forrest. It is spectacular, scary at some moments, but also amazing to experience something like this. I just fell 2 times… My heart rate went sky high, especially when at the very end we pass a fence and a sign saying “road to Tangkuban Perahu closed”. Oh yeah, this thing was active. Volcanoes to the max to the galore.