Krakatoa: The Volcano That Needs No Introduction
When Krakatau (spelled Krakatoa in English) volcano exploded in 1883, the sound it emitted was the loudest in recorded history. This is the volcano of legends. The one that managed to change the color of the sky all over the world. The one that enthralled artists and created myths. The one that may have inspired the reddish background colors in Edvard Munch’s iconic “The Scream.” The one that happens to sit off the coast of Western Java, a mere 5 hour journey from Jakarta. The one I had to see.
When you are on one of the world’s most famous active volcanoes, some dramatic silhouetted groups shots are totally called for:
We left Jakarta at seven in the morning. Our driver stopped so we could all have some bubur ayam, chicken porridge, for breakfast and then we drove three hours to the Western Java coastal town of Carita. After a coffee and some bananas, we boarded a boat bound for Krakatau. On the way we passed floating fishing huts — a sign that dinner would be tasty.
Our first stop of the day was Rakata Island. Before the massive explosion in 1883, Rakata and Krakatau, today known as Anak Krakatau (anak is Indonesian for child, so child of Krakatau), were connected. Click here for a map of the area with pre-explosion outline. We snorkeled off of Rakata in the warm waters that had once contained lava.
Later, as we sat on the shore of Rakata eating our box lunches, enjoying the nature and good weather around us, we heard a rustling noise. A monitor lizard, who we named Bambang (after a certain someone’s middle name), decided to pay us a visit. His blueish purple forked tongue greeted us.
Bambang grabbed a piece of chicken we offered him and swallowed it whole without taking any bites.
Then the dear fellow had the audacity to ask for more:
None of wanted to carry Bambang on board, so we left him behind as we approached Krakatau. It was impressive to sail from Rakata to Krakatau and see just how big the area of pre-1883 Krakatau was, and what is left of it today.
Our guide, Mas Digi, a local surfer and affable guy, pitched our tents as we swam near the shore of our camp site. Digi grew up in the area and talked about running off of the volcano when it was a bit too active and watching lava bits fly into the night sky from a neighboring island. A reminder that this volcano is “alive.”
The sand was so dark and smooth, it could only be volcanic.
The beach was crawling with small crabs, who would quickly scurry out of your way. Plant and animal life is so resilient — everything that ended up growing on Krakatau is young and Digi told us many of the plants you see there now came from birds dropping seeds.
We began our hike up the mountain to catch the sunset. The views of neighboring islands were spectacular and the clouds and sky do amazing things at that hour of the day. The sulfur smell was strong and burned the inside of my nose. Since Krakatau is active, we only climbed to level one. To go to level two you need masks and special shoes, the reason soon became evident.
The gap created by the eruption:
We approached a steamy patch and Digi told us to touch the ground and the white parts. They were hot! Digi mentioned frying eggs on Krakatau before.
When we returned to camp, we feasted on fish, ikan kue, and shrimp in a tomato sauce.
At 5:30 a.m. Digi woke us and we began our hike back up. The early wake-up call was worth the sunrise views:
Digi was happy to take a nap in a selendang, a traditional Indonesian sling-like cloth. He looked very comfortable.
Our last stop before returning to the mainland was snorkeling off of Krakatau on the side of the island that remains charred. It was surreal to be snorkeling at the base of Krakatau.
As we drove back to Jakarta I noticed reddish bananas at roadside stalls. We stopped at one and the vendor told me the sweet bananas are called udang pisang, shrimp bananas. I was charmed by the name and a few minutes later I sat with a large bunch on my lap knowing I was bringing a bit of coastal Java back to Jakarta with me, in addition to all the sand stuck to my things.
Getting There: A quick Google search showed numerous companies that do Krakatau tours. Because they picked up the phone and because they quoted a price of Rp 1.25 million ($132) per person for our group (including all transport to and from Jakarta, guide, and all meals), we settled on Krakatau Tour and Travel. I was thrilled with the company. They were very organized, their itinerary was great and they were on time. Our guide Digi was terrific and lots of fun. They speak English, so ask for Thommy on the phone.