Exploding mountain - we woz there!!!!

Trip Start Sep 10, 2010
Trip End Feb 19, 2011

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Flag of Indonesia  , Java,
Monday, November 1, 2010

As luck would have it, when we awoke this morning the weather was glorious and, for the first time, we had a clear view of Marapi. It was gently smoking away, still spewing some ash into the sky but the wind was blowing north east, away from Yogya and Prambanan where we were due to visit in the morning.

I was slightly disappointed to see the volcano calming and but at least it meant we would get a clear view and Prambanan would not be so dusty and ash covered. The news was reporting calm returning to the region though some experts were saying it was still to dangerous to go close - the entrance to Prambanan is about 15 km from the volcano so we decided to stick with our plans and go nearer. And gosh are we pleased we did.

The volcano is magnificent, it dominates the whole region and is the 6th most active in the world. We got some good views from the car en route and throughout the time in Prambanan things were calm. Just as we were about to leave there was an odd dull distant noise behind us, and as we turned around, Marapi was exploding in front of our eyes. I was gob smacked, it was the most fascinating thing I have seen in my life - Cheu was not bothered, saying they had loads of volcanoes in Japan and this was nothing special. But the eruption continued to grow and grow as we watched.

It’s weird, you cant actually see any movement in the plumes of dust and ash, you just notice that the shape has changed as you are watching, but you cant actually see the change happening. I know on TV you see the swirling clouds and all that, but when watching it unfold, I don’t know why but you don’t see it happening. As I said, it’s so weird. As the clouds of ash grew bigger and higher we saw very clearly a phyraclastic flow starting to race down the side of the mountain that was facing us. We were a long way off at this point, maybe 13km away, but then I remembered hearing somewhere that these flows can travel at 120km an hour and temperatures can reach 500 degrees centigrade. That meant it could be with us in 6.5 minutes - my mind was working fast!!!!!!

I have to admit that I was getting nervous and asked Cheu if he thought it was sensible for us to get out of there and take cover in a building, but he was still cool about it all and thought I was being over anxious. There were a lot of small hills and canyons between us and the volcano, but still I was a bit jittery.

I should mention at this point that we were the only people in this area of the park, a few km walk from the entrance, when Marapi went off. There had been a couple of workmen restoring the ruins in the area in front of us but I realised they had all now disappeared, so I thought it was sensible to make a retreat. At this point Marapi was calming and so we sauntered off back to the visitors centre at Prambanan entrance to have some tea and then go to the train station. There was a TV there and the local and national stations were going crazy. There were some cautious people in the centre phoning their friends to say “if you are watching the TV, don’t worry, we are safe.”

The army had taken over the towns closer to Marapi and we could see film of hundreds of cars, motorbikes and people on foot fleeing from the towns and villages. We were never in any danger, we were always at a very safe distance but it still felt all very real to me. It really came as a bit of a shock to realise that, albeit from what was then a safe distance, we had seen a near disaster unfold in front of our eyes. The TV reporters were being evacuated too, but not before they had managed to get some small planes into the area where the phyroclosatic flow had been and it was a complete disaster. The landscape looked like something from a major Hollywood disaster movie - everything was burned to as cinder, miles of forest had been turned to dust, thousands of trees were covered in smouldering grey ash and much of the forest was now laying horizontally down the mountain instead of standing proudly vertical going up the mountain.

We did not hear of any human fatalities and hope there were none - we are on a train now 5 hours to the West of Yogya heading for Bandung - but I have to admit it was a thrill to see such a thing happening live before your eyes. An absolutely amazing sight which will remain a vivid memory for the rest of my life - or until the old brain cells get too depleted.

Cheu still says its just a silly volcano and cant get why I am so excited. We don’t have many volcanic eruptions in Scotland.

Bye the way, sorry about some of the camera shake and lack of focus in some of the shots; it was a scary moment and at times my knees and elbows were wobbling J
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Shirley Mcpherson on

OMG. I am so with you Tom. What a fantastic thing to see. I so wish i was there with you. This is amazing and the photos were bloody brilliant. Just keep safe. love shirl

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