Volcano Chasing. Getting close to Mt Kelud, Java.



The volcano Mt Kelud had exploded a week earlier. Flights across Indonesia and Northern Australia were disrupted, 76,000 people were evacuated, Yogyakarta and Malang had been blanketed in ash, and the temples in Borobudur were closed (and due to risk of acid rain from the ash remained closed for a further two weeks). One small volcano in Java did all this? I wanted to see it.

Catching the train from Malang to Kediri, the nearest town to the volcano, the ticket seller seemed reluctant to sell me a ticket and asked me if I was sure I wanted to travel there as "They have big problems now".  That was the reason I wanted to go there...

Five hours later I arrived in Kediri, a typical Javanese town, crazy motorcycle traffic, an abundance of cheap clothing stores, Chinese shops selling everything including Bintang Beer (not cold but acceptable in the circumstances), and many warung selling tasty street food on every corner. Typical, except for the large piles of ash everywhere, arranged neatly as if it were snow waiting to melt. The ash was still in the air and got everywhere, under my shirt, between my toes, and in my eyes and nostrils. I headed for a small hotel, 'The Riz' which was spotlessly clean, a real credit to the staff considering the mess outside the front door.

Early next morning I negotiated with the street ojeks (motorcycle riders) to take me as close to the volcano as possible. All were reluctant, they saw it as dangerous, and believed the road would be closed 5km from the volcano by the army. I agreed a fairly lucrative fare to take me to the army checkpoint to take some photos. Ten minutes after living Kediri I could see the volcano in the distance, huge plumes of smoke were still pouring from the crater. The closer we got, the larger the piles of ash. Roofs had collapsed on some buildings under the weight, and the empty road was covered in a thin layer which we threw up as we sped towards Kelud.

The 5km mark was reached, with no roadblock. We continued to the gate of the Kelud National Park, it was deserted, but the gate was open. My driver stopped, unsure whether to continue. I offered to buy him cigarettes and lunch, that sealed the deal and we were off again. We could hear the volcano now over the noise of the bike as we got ever closer. The landscape was one of utter devastation as the pyroclastic cloud had burnt all around us, and knocked trees over like matchsticks. Burnt trees were still smoking as we passed them.The crater wall could be clearly seen to have collapsed, unleashing the deadly cloud and ash that had covered the island.

All animal life had vanished, no birds could be heard and there was no sign of the monkeys that used to live in the trees here. The only noise was that of the volcano, until the sound of sirens reached us. The police had arrived, and seeming somewhat surprised to find us so close to Kelud, asked very politely and firmly for us to leave immediately. Time for lunch...