:: View of the volcanoes shrouded by clouds from the airplane::
Flirting with the fury of one of the world’s most active volcano may not sound like the usual tourist fare, especially since just last October, Mount Merapi (or the Sacred Mountain of Fire) erupted and claimed over 200 lives. However, exploring the volcanoes that form the spine of Java offers me a chance to understand how geology influenced the lives and culture of the locals who live in the highlands.
By the time I visit the most active volcano in Indonesia, Merapi (28 kilometers north of Yogjarkarta City) is still constantly puffing smoke. What makes it dangerous is not only the toxic plumes but also its sheer unpredictability. Lava-spewing peaks aside, I bear witness to what was once a river bend, now nothing but a flat ground, buried deep by the recent eruption.
:: The majestic mountain views of Merapi::
:: The 2010 eruption buried villages and an entire river bend. The curves of the winding river still visible::
Indeed, hell hath no fury like a volcano’s scorn.
Among the Javanese, Merapi is widely feared – having erupted dozens of times in the last century – contributing to the ancient belief and a plethora of local myths that the volcanic gods must be appeased. At the foothill of the volcano, I caught a glimpse of the picture of Maridjan, the volcano’s spiritual gatekeeper, on a banner. He was found in a prayer position in his house when the ash rolled in and buried him alive.
I have many reasons to be fearful and I tried, albeit fleetingly, to imagine the what ifs but instead, saw a quiet terrain with vents breathing steam. As smoke curled up from the crater of its peaks, I could see how this volcano inspired so much fear and reverence from the locals.
:: Locals making their way down a winding path under in the scorching heat::
In the past, to get to Yogjarkarta, you have to take an eight-hour train from Jarkarta. Now AirAsia flies direct to Yogjarkarta from Singapore. You can choose from hiring a local guide to trek around or zip up the mountain via bike tours made available at the base of Merapi.
It is best to check with the local guides before you plan to hike up Merapi. Much of the area is within unrestricted zone until further notice.
What I’m Wearing: In the month of October, it is still relatively hot. I wear a cotton shirt and jeans. Do throw a shawl over your shoulder if you choose to wear spaghetti straps. Slather on a lot of sunscreen. I use my trusty Shiseido’s SPF 35 sunscreen.
Read more about the eruptions here.
This trip was jointly sponsored by Air Asia and Indonesia Tourism Board.
The full-feature story of Yogjarkarta was published under Singapore Press Holdings.