June 5, 2012

Mount Merapi (Part 1)

Last weekend I had the chance to climb a mountain (finally). Being from Revelstoke, I wanted to climb a mountain or two while in Central Java. Being on the other side of the world, it is a little different than back home. Basically, all the mountains around here were formed by volcanic activity. Mt. Merapi is no exception as it is Indonesia's most active volcano. Here is a 'borrowed' photo from the last eruption in November 2010:
Around 350 people died in this eruption, as the lower slopes of Merapi are populated by many villages and farms. Thousands of people are actually in danger every time this volcano becomes active. I guess back in cozy Canada it might be easy for me to say, "Why on earth would they live there, so close to danger!?"  When it is your home town, and your family has always lived and farmed there, what can you do? Not many options when you have nothing else. What would I do? It also has to be considered that thousands could have been killed if they did not obey evacuation orders. Volcanic eruptions is part of the culture in this area, and even part of local belief systems. There was a local spiritual leader (Mt. Merapi Guardian) killed in the last eruption who's job it was to watch over the volcanoes spirits. He apparently was found dead kneeling in a position of prayer. I have also read that each year offerings are thrown into the cauldron as gifts to the spirits. 

I am amazed each time I learn a bit more of the tough times the Indonesian people often go through. Following an earlier eruption of Merapi in 2006, the city of Jogyakarta (less than 30km from Merapi's peak) experienced an earthquake that killed over 5000 people.  After spending a bit of time here in Central Java, it is almost unfathomable to comprehend such an event happening. 5000 becomes a bit more than just a statistic from a distant country with distant problems. They're real living Mom's, Dad's, kids, neighbours, friends...actual people.

I have no culture context for such a disaster, I couldn't imagine part of my home town being wiped out, and then having to go on with life to avoid going hungry.  So much we have to be thankful for! 

Okay, back to the Mt. Merapi of two days ago, perfectly safe for a leisurely hike with friends!
We left early in the morning, and were hiking for almost an hour before the sun came up. The fog lifted a wee bit at that time, and then set back in until we were almost at the top. No pic's of it here, but the higher elevation fauna was pretty neat! I was hoping to see a monkey run across the trail, but no luck. Since Java is so populated, areas of wilder forest and jungle are a little sparse. A lot of larger animals have been extinct for quite awhile.
Above, some Indonesians taking a break on the side of the trail. At the higher heights, all the green was gone as it was all killed off in the recent volcanic activity.
Pit stop in the fog.
Above, Niko and Sid making their way up the loose volcanic rock. This part was a little dicey because the gravel is so loose and unsettled.
To my left is Mt. Merbabu which Salatiga sits quite close to. It is a bit higher than Merapi and has not been active since the 1700's.
The cauldron where the action happens. As usual, pictures don't always give good perspective. The rocks right in front of me are a few feet away, and the cauldron bottom is about 1000ft below. In between is pretty vertical. If consistent with the last few decades, this lava dome will collapse and produce another eruption in the next 10 plus years.
Sid enjoying the view from the most recent true top of Mt. Merapi!
Mt. Merbabu from Mt. Merapi.

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