It’s a steep final ascent. Every step now is a struggle in the deep volcanic ash and you have to draw deep to keep going. Hell. How much longer is it going to be before you finally reach the crater’s rim?
Physically you are shattered. Your thighs burn like buggery and your Achilles tendon feels as if it could snap at any moment like an over tensioned guitar string. And your throat is so parched you can’t even swallow - let alone talk.
But at last you reach the rim! You peer over the edge, breathless and in awe of the breathtaking spectacle that greets you, but then… you lose your footing… slip … and tumble forwards into the great crater - never to be seen again …
And that’s pretty much what happened to Daniel Fetersan, a 25-year-old Swedish tourist, who tragically plunged to his death into the active Mount Batur volcano in Bali.
Volcanoes are the connection between the inner earth and the world we live in, so it’s not surprising that many people are fascinated by them. But they are also very dangerous. I’ve been up a few myself and have always been amazed at seeing nonchalant tourists just walk around the rim of the crater as if they were standing on a stepladder or something!
In Indonesia there are at least 129 active volcanoes across the country – many of which could potentially erupt in the future. When you climb a volcano, plan the ascent to arrive at the summit at dawn and, if you’re lucky, you’ll be treated to a breathtaking sunrise – amongst, inevitably it seems in Indonesia, a sea of pop noodle packaging.
Here are some interesting facts about some Indonesian volcanoes:
Krakatau. The eruption of Krakatau volcano in 1883 was so huge that the top of the volcano literally blew off, creating the loudest sound on human record. The sound of the eruption even reached as far as Australia, some 3,450 kilometers to the east! Huge tsunamis were also generated, with waves up to 30 meters tall (no Ancol is not a good place to buy a property!).
For months after the Krakatau eruption, the world experienced unseasonably cool weather and brilliant orange sunsets – great news for artists like Edvard Munch whose painting "The Scream" was inspired by the vibrant twilights in Norway. Less than 80 years ago, Anak Krakatau rose from where the crater of its parent, Krakatau, used to be, and this is the volcano that you can see today.
Mount Bromo is not the largest volcano in Indonesia but it is famous for the vast sea of sand that surrounds the volcano and because of the ethereal, unforgettable spectacle it affords (the caldera is so impressive that when you walk up to the crater it really feels as if you are on the moon or something). The volcano is also sacred to the local Tenggerese people and every year they hold a sacrificial ceremony (called the Kasodo ceremony) in which they throw chickens and goats – among other things - into the crater to appease the Gods and bring them good fortune.
East Java's Mount Bromo
Tambora. When it erupted in 1815, it killed at least 92,000 people – or more people than in any known volcanic eruption. This was a “seven” grade volcanic eruption, making it the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history. So huge was the eruption its impact was far reaching and it created global climate anomalies - 1816 became known as the "Year Without a Summer" because of the effect on North American and European weather. This led to Europe’s worst famine in the 19th century and many Irish people fled to America.
Gunung Agung is a massive volcano in Bali and the Balinese believe it to be a replica of Mount Meru, the central axis of the universe. The most important temple on Bali, Pura Besakih, is located high on the slopes of Gunung Agung. When Gunung Agung last erupted in 1963-64, the lava flow stopped just meters short of the Pura Besakih temple! Amazing or what?
Gunung Agung as seen from Lembongan Island
Lake Toba. This is now a huge lake but what created the lake was a grade “eight” volcanic eruption (described as "mega-colossal") 69,000-77,000 years ago, making it the largest explosive volcanic eruption within the last twenty-five million years. Nearly all humans living at the time were killed – either directly or indirectly from the effects of the eruption.
To give an idea of its magnitude, consider that although the eruption took place in Indonesia, it deposited an ash layer approximately 15 centimetres thick over the entire Indian subcontinent; at one site in central India, the Toba ash layer today is up to 6 metres thick and parts of Malaysia were covered with 9 m of ashfall. In addition it has been calculated that 10,000 million metric tons of sulfuric acid was ejected into the atmosphere by the event, causing acid rain fallout.
Sort of puts today’s global warming hysteria in some perspective doesn’t it? :)