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Climbing a Volcano: Mount Merapi

Merapi volcano is one of the world’s most active and dangerous volcanoes. It contains an active lava dome which regularly produces pyroclastic flows. -volcanolive.com

Scenario: 3 p.m. Friday in the office. Inbox: 1 new email. Email: Schedule. Lydia has Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday off (thanks to working 6 days straight and Independence Day). Lydia bangs head against desk “Why does Immigration still have my passport? Why?!?” 3:10 p.m. Office assistant approaches, “Hi, Lydia. Could you please sign this to verify that your passport has been returned?” The wheels in Lydia’s mind immediately start turning and she does an amazing coordinated dance in her head. Victor is right, I should go somewhere and not do work this weekend – he is right about things sometimes :)

One of my “things to do while living in Indonesia” items was climbing a volcano. Gunung Merapi (Mount Merapi, translates as Fire Mountain) is about 2 hours from Yogyakarta. I checked online and there was a flight for less than $40 one way from Jakarta to Jogja. I called Chloe, who is doing a language intensive in Jogja, and she was in. I called another friend, Zoe, in Jogja and she and her friend Sara were in. Chloe found a company in Lonely Planet who for Rp250,000 ($29) was willing to pick us up, drive us two hours there and back, provide guides for the 11 hour hike and breakfast. Why are things so cheap here?

Now don’t think I took this whole climbing a volcano lightly. Merapi is a deadly mountain. The last explosion in 2010 killed over 300 people and displaced hundreds of thousands of people. One of my teachers during my language intensive said that after the 2010 explosion, Jogja was gray and ashy for days. This is a mountain to fear and to respect. There are plenty of Javanese myths and legends connected to this mountain. Chloe and I checked with several companies and everyone said that it was now safe to climb.

I arrived in Jogja at 4 p.m. on Saturday. Chloe and I ate and went to sleep. Our driver picked us up at 10 p.m. and at midnight we had arrived at the mountain lodge and village from where the hike would begin. We drank some delicious Indonesian tea and set out at 1 a.m. with flashlights and jackets on. It was a challenging hike. You are really going up vertically for five straight hours to get to the 9,738 foot elevation. It is more challenging than usual because of all of the ash that covers the trails. Most of the guides were wearing surgical masks. I understood why when I blew my nose and realized everything was black.

We arrived at the plateau from which you can see all around. From there you have the choice to stay at the plateau or try and climb the straight vertical to get to the top of Merapi. Chloe and I got about half-way up the ash (we were sinking knee deep into it) and then it started to get light so we sat down. Honestly, I was exhausted beyond belief and the idea of going up more volcanic ash in my Converse (terrible shoes to do this in) was not appealing and probably ridiculously dangerous. Two people from our group of 20 (a bunch of European medical students came with us) made it all the way up. They said it smelled like sulfur and I saw their photos of the crater and I didn’t regret sitting and watching the sun rise.

This sunrise was one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen in my life. We were sitting on the side of a volcano above the clouds in Java and we could see other volcanoes poking up through the clouds.

We could hear the call to prayer while we watched the sun coming up. It was amazing. It was so quiet and beautiful and then the call to prayer carried and it was so hauntingly beautiful.

It was actually really cold before the sun came up, so when it did we sat and warmed up. The entire hike was a complete journey from cold to hot to fit to incredibly sore.

Before all of this, my shoes were actually blue. There is just so much ash on the trails and everywhere.

From Merapi we had a beautiful view of Mount Merbabu. And yes, I had to take a “Look I climbed a volcano” photo.

The way down on the volcanic ash pile that Chloe and I were sitting on was incredibly fun because we ran down, much like these fellows. One of them spoke perfect English and chatted with us saying that his sister married an American and lives in Texas. He and his buddies had pitched a tent at the base of this area and had spent the night there.

We got halfway up this:

Beautiful views in the land of many, many volcanoes.

The hike down was not easy. Our guide decided to go a shorter way and it was steep. My whole body now hates me. Really hates me. It hurts to walk up stairs. We kept sliding and falling on our bums because the ash made the trail very slippery.

The hike down offered amazing views, so through all of my physical pain I kept reminding myself to look up.

We descended down through the clouds. Many people live on Merapi because of the rich volcanic soil and they grow lots of tobacco.

Really, not a bad view for a farm.

The next day I took the train through Java back to Jakarta. I will post some photos from that amazing trip soon. I’m back in Jakarta enjoying my day off, tomorrow is Independence Day – we always get the day before holidays off so no actual paper is published on holidays. I am doing some of the work I avoided for climbing a volcano. Yes, I did learn a valuable life lesson: put off work and climb a volcano if the option presents itself.

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. daria szot #

    Quite the journey, I hope you had some Aleve around. The cites were stunning.

    August 16, 2011
  2. Adrian #

    >put off work and climb a volcano if the option presents itself

    Sounds about right ;)

    September 20, 2011
  3. Srini #

    Thanks for sharing your experience of climbing Merapi. I am itching to go up a mountain and am gonna book tickets to Jogja first thing I the morning…
    Cheers.

    May 6, 2012
    • Lydia #

      Enjoy your trip! Climbing Merapi stands out as one of my favorite trips/treks in Indonesia.

      May 6, 2012

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