Merapi watch day one: October 2010 eruption

Trip Start Sep 12, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Vogels guest house

Flag of Indonesia  , Central Java,
Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Merapi watch day one: Morning briefing at 4am. Christian Awuy has been taking people up the hills of Merapi Mountain for twenty four years. Merapi is the most active of all Indonesia’s volcanoes and has been erupting regularly since 1548. Because it poses such a great threat it has been designated one of fifteen Decade Volcanoes and it’s activities are closely monitored with the aid of seven observatory stations. Attempting to ascend when alert status is 3, ‘stand by for evacuation’ is not permitted unless you are with Christian Awuy. He is the only person eligible to conduct treks up the slopes.

The photographer from Radar Jogja informed me that the latest reports at one o’ clock this morning included the formation of fire pockets. We set off at dawn and the trek took about an hour and a half. I spent the majority of the trek trying to get in front of the photographer's lens, shouting ''make me a star''. 
Summary: Big disappointment. The monster resigned itself to a couple of grumbles whilst hiding behind a thick layer of cloud. It simply had not rained enough last night. The trail to the ‘danger point’ had clearly been set out to ensure a quick evacuation if required. Heading east initially you move away from the summit before climbing directly up and then back on yourself in a westerly direction. But it’s dead easy. 

Our final stopping point was only two kilometres from the summit and better weather permitting, would have undoubtedly provided a spectacular view. I caught a very brief glimpse of a very tiny part of the volcano as some clouds parted for a few seconds.
Excitement was limited to a quiz in which we had to guess what plant we were smelling and the writer from Radar Yogya dramatically collapsing to the floor with a muscle spasm. Travelling usually by motor bike only (her words) she was not fit and she moaned ‘‘why does it have to be up hill’’. Dejected we began our descent in near silence. Along the hike we had seen locals collecting grass and wood. They venture up these slopes everyday regardless of the warnings. As we neared our starting point, Merapi flexed its muscles with a loud roar as if to say ‘doubt me at your peril’. Such a tease.

After the climb Christian told us that two geologists and one Volcanologist had declared Kaliurang a safe zone which was not at risk due to the direction of lava flow and the presence of a small mountain located between the town and Merapi. I’d heard that mass evacuation was sometimes in part, politically motivated for greater donation of supplies which often do not reach those they are intended for. Corruption within Indonesia is rife.  

With the afternoon came the rain and suddenly Merapi burst to life, making all sorts of eerie noises. Sleepy from the early morning rise, I climbed into bed for a nap.  
According to 2002 Volcanic Hazard Map Of Merapi Volcano the ’danger area’ we climbed to is frequently affected by Pyroclastic flows, lava flows, rock falls, toxic gases and glowing ejected rock fragment. Hence the importance of having radio communication with the Kaliurang observatory post. 

Despite the clouds, I headed to Gardu Pandang (view point) for sunset. It is approximately 6-7 Kilometres from Merapi but isn’t much of a view point, standing no more than ten metres high. It does however get you over the trees which obstruct the view from the ground a little and entry costs practically nothing.
The location wonderfully sets the stage for Merapi to dazzle and delight. Never mind the fact that you are in a characterless concrete tower with nothing but a wooden bench dumped randomly in the middle. The backdrop is perfect for the kind of spectacle Merapi is capable of producing as it sits between two densely forested mountainous hills. Merapi tantalisingly smouldered in and out of sight, in the heavily clouded sky.

Christian is originally from Manado in Sulawesi and introduced some of the regions cuisine to Kaliurang. I tried the delicious chicken panika which is a slightly spicy coconut curry.   
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