Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Going to See the Volcano, Day One in Yogyakarta

The view from the bike
I was met at the train station by Namda, the driver, tour guide and hired help for the Green Garden Bed and Breakfast which is located in a residential area on the northeast side of the town.  He was riding a scooter.  With my backpack on my back, I hopped on the back and Namda took my daypack and attached it to his front.  We were off to the hostel.  There was traffic, but not nearly as much as in Jakarta where I’d been told will come to a standstill in a few years, with everything gridlocked.

Rice paddy outside of Yogy
I found Yogyakarta much more agreeable than Jakarta and the bed and breakfast was delightful.  My accommodations in Jakarta had been nice; although, there wasn’t any real atmosphere to my “hostel room.”  The hostel itself was a collection of small apartments with two bedrooms in a high rise complex.  I was on the 26th floor.   Green Gardens is a traditional style home operated by Anita and William, a Dutch couple who purchased the property last year and moved here from the Netherlands.  It’s not air conditioned, but with fans and evening breezes and cool title floors, it’s very pleasant.  Outside, there is a hammock under a shade tree and tables and chairs.  Every day when I came back from my travels, a piece of chocolate and a pot of hot water and tea bags were waiting by my door.  The place is peaceful.  Yes, I could still hear the calls to prayer that start at 4:30 AM from the local mosque, but it was nearly as loud as in Jakarta where dozens of mosques cry out in competition or maybe in an attempt to drown out the sounds of traffic.  Instead, here in Yogyakarta, I’d roll over at the 4:30 AM call and continue on sleeping, waking up around six or seven to the sounds of birds chirping.  I ended up spending four nights here instead of my original plan of two, allowing me time to rest and leisurely see a number of sites in the area.    

There was only one other guest staying here my first night—a guy from Dublin, Ireland.  I’ve learned that there are fewer travelers at present visiting Indonesia (and very few Americans).   Although there was probably a dozen or so tourist on the train with me (and no Americans that I met), that’s not very many considering the number of hostels and hotels here.  That evening and again in the morning, we talked about what to see around Yogy. 

We ate breakfast together, served by the staff of Green Gardens.  On the table were an Irish and an American flag!  After breakfast, he checked out, heading to Mount Bromo. 

Cemetery (see the bare trees on distant ridge)
Destruction from November 2010 eruption
Later that morning, I jumped on the back of the motor scooter with Namda and we rode off to see Merapi, one of Indonesia’s more active volcanoes (which is saying something as they have plenty of active volcanoes).  We headed up to the foothills below the volcano, to a village that was destroyed in the eruption last November.  It was eerie riding toward the mountain, with smoke curling out of the top.  As we got closer, I realized there was more than one plume of smoke.  We passed rivers silted up with ash.  Then we got to where the road was closed.  Namda parked the bike and told me that I could hike up, maybe a kilometer or so, and he’d wait.  He told me I had as long as I wanted, that he’d wait.  I set off climbing the steep street formerly known as Kaki Putin through the former village known as Kinah Rejo .  At first, there are rows of small stands selling refreshments and souvenirs: water, soft drinks, chips and bananas, along with photos of the erupting volcano.  The road was steep.  For the first kilometer or so, I pass venders, but then there are none.  I keep climbing.  In the distance, on another ridge, I could hear a chainsaw cutting dead trees.  Occasionally I passed tourists also climbing to stand in awe of the awesome mountain.  I kept going till there were no one left around me.  

Alone, fatigued and hot, I sat on a title slab of what use to be the floor to a house and noticed that I’m was feeling a little dizzy.  Checking my blood sugar, I discovered that I was low, so I eat a candy bar and wait, looking at the destruction surrounding me.  Homes have all been destroyed and walls that still stand are buried with feet of volcanic ash.  Several vehicles can be seen that were unable to make it out in time and have been rolled, crushed and partly buried, their paint and tires burned off.  A few trunks remain of the trees that once existed, but most of them are gone.  Much of the hillside has been planted with saplings, but it will be years before they are strong enough to stabilize things.    To my east, on the far distant ridge, there are many trees still standing, but they are all bare, having been killed by the volcanic emissions.   I keep an eye peeled at the smoking volcano, watching its emissions change from white to dark brown and back to white.  It’s a sobering sight.

Notice the ash level against the door frame
Going back down is easy.  The wind picks up, rustling through the reeds of bamboo and leaves of banana trees that have made a comeback in this otherwise barren landscape. It’s surprising that so soon after a violent event like this, the vegetation is already lush.    Namda and I stop for lunch at a restaurant further down the mountain and sit over a pond of overstuffed gold fish.  I have soto ayam (chicken soup) and mie goreing (fried noodles) with seafood.   Namda eats fried chicken (ayam goreing).  Afterwards, we clean our plates by dropping the leftovers into the water and watch the fish fight over it.  We’re back at Green Gardens a little before 4 PM.  That night, I walk around the neighborhood and down to a small restaurant where I have a bowl of Nasi goring especial (fried rice with egg) and tea.  Dinner cost 13000 IRD or about $1.50.   Anita had told me that if I wanted a beer, I could buy one at the Circle K, so I pick up a bottle of Bintang at the Circle K (yes, just like the Circle K’s we have in the US) for 25000 IRD (a little less than $3).   Still tired and fighting jet lag, I went to bed early. 
Mt. Merapi


  1. The volcano photo is impressive and from what you write the effect of it are, too.

  2. What Tim said. I saw the effects of eruptions in Hawaii, but the ones you are seeing are much newer.

  3. Wow. Thanks for sharing. I was glued till the end. That's cool about the flags on the table.

  4. so far so good, stay safe and eyes open.

  5. That must be an interesting feeling - to be on a mountaintop in Indonesia, with no one else in sight. I'll bet you are having some awesome prayer time.

    I loved that they put the Irish and American flags on your table at the hostel. A lovely touch. :)

  6. You are moving well. Very interesting write. Keep going.

  7. I'm always a little nervous when walking on a volcano and I've never been on one that was smoking!

  8. Well described. The details are sharp and the reflections purposeful. Excellent photos. Keep on keepin' on.

  9. Great to read of your adventure Jeff, keep the posts coming.

  10. We are seeing this area of the world thru
    your eyes and find it to be very interesting.
    Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

    Liz Sylvester