Thursday, November 5, 2009

Volcano Has Anti-Climax

A failed final volcano attempt. Read on...

In my last blog I left you on the road to Mount Bromo in Java. Things are a little different here: now that I'm out of Bali I'm finally within my planned budget of 3 Rupiah per second (or 120 billion Rupiah per millennium for those that like to think long term) and now well on my way to not running out of money by the time I finish up in this 'world' thing (and go home - not to Felix Heaven, whatever that would look like).

I arrived late in the afternoon at a town called Cemoro Lawang, which was doing its best to imitate a Himalayan village as it's 2500m above sea level. The town is perched on the edge of a mindblowing 10km wide caldera with a smaller active volcano at the centre - Mount Bromo.

At 3am I went on a jeep jaunt to a nearby mountain as well as the rim of Bromo as it squirted suffocating sulfuric clouds at us (I've kept my body clock near Melbourne time to maximise my utilisation of sunlight). Then, just before I was about to catch the bus back down to the plains, I get a message from Dad telling me that Bromo is ho-hum and that Gunung Semeru, the highest mountain of Java at 3700m, is the real deal. Thanks Dad. I certainly couldn't walk away from that one so I packed my bags and descended into the enormous caldera surrounding Mount Bromo for the start of what was supposed to be a three day trek.

This caldera floor is surrounded by 700m cliffs and is covered in a fine volcanic sand, called the 'Sand Sea', that makes the landscape look extremely Martian. It's even strewn with random rocks flung from nearby volcanoes and occasionally the odd whirlwind twists by. Despite the fact that it's over 2km above sea level it's still extremely hot. I spent the next four hours or so clomping through thick sand, watching the two volcanoes erupt on either side of me (the guide book actually has a warning about pyroclastic flows) and wishing I'd been able to offload the 900 page 'Anathem' to a worthy recipient by then.

Eventually, the steep caldera walls revealed a zigzagged path to escape the desolate landscape and ascending it I found myself on a narrow track up one the spurs of Gunung Semeru. After another 10kms or so, getting towards evening, I walked into a tiny village called Panu Rani which was set in a small valley by a lake. Judging from the welcome I got I felt like the first Westerner to set foot here in years. It was pretty difficult to find somewhere to stay as my Indonesian is yet to reach Conversation Grade, but I managed to use sign language and animated body movements to get a bed in some guy's house.

This guy turned out to be the best English speaker in town - a very old trekking doyen. After a delicious homemade dinner from which I was distracted by being covered in a 150mm thick layer of kittens he approached me about my mooted Semeru climb.

"To climb. Gunung Semeru. You must. Take two days. But there is. A requirement." He warned.

"Err, yes?", I asked.

"You must. Get a permit. From the National Parks Office down the road."

So I mosied off down the street, but nothing was open at that time.

"Ah, I couldn't find it", I told him.

"Yes. That. Is because. It is closed." He told me.

"No worries", I said, bypassing my annoyance for the chronology of this discovery, "I'll go there in the morning. Is there anything else I need?"

"Yes. You must. Have three things. 1) You are fit? You are healthy? You are not ill?", He asked.

"Ah, yes, I'm all of those things", I replied.

"2) You have food? You have water? 6 Litres!"

"Yeah, well I'll buy them in the morning from the shop on the corner".

"Good. 3) You cannot climb Gunung Semeru! No Gunung Semeru for you!".

"Huh? Why's that?", I asked, horrified.

"Because Gunung Semeru. Is erupting! My son-in-law. Will take you. By motor-bike to Tempung. In morning. Good night!"

So that was that. No climbing of Semeru. And to top it all off, when I looked at it in the morning it was fine - hardly erupting at all. I reckon the old guy just didn't want me to go - but since he was the only one around with a tent there was nothing I could do. A bit of an anti-climax that one.

Well, I was off to Surabaya - city of industrial scale docking infrastructure - but that's another story...


  1. Ah Felix your relentless pursuit of volcanoes must continue! Please bring Anathem to London with you, as Douglas might like to read it. (Tee hee)
    I suggest you try Popocatepetl, very convenient to Mexico City. Last year we visiting Etna which was surprisingly lively and lovely.

  2. Did not like. This post. Was terrible. No I like it LOTS! Is GREAT!

  3. Felix ... I'm glad to see you went for the Real Deal !! ...even though you FAILED !!

    perhaps you could build a road ???

    Brian Firth

  4. Are you going to Sumatra and still wanting volcano action try one outside Bukit Tinggi - Merapi. You climb all night and avoid the heat. get there at dawn - very tired -- but Sumatra had a bad earthquake...