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Who is afraid of Gunung Merapi? YOGYAKARTA - When in Yogyakarta it is hard not to notice the Gunung Merapi volcano, towards the north. The majestic 2900 meter volcano may not be the highest one around, that's for sure, but the volcano is active almost constantly, not only scaring the hell out of the people living on it's slopes, but also offering nice views in the early morning, late afternoon and many other parts of the day when the weather allows you to. Most of the time at this time of year - it's the dry season - there are small clouds in the sky, also (partially) blocking your view on the volcano.

A blocked view from the city however doesn't mean you can't have a look from elsewhere. Higher grounds will do it most of the time, but the main suggestion is you don't leave too late because the early morning often has clearer views than later on the day. Of course you can pick your own place to go, as some are on quite a distance from the city of Yogyakarta, most likely the place where you would spend the night. Directly to the north of the city is the tourist destination of Kaliurang, together with two more kali's (kali means river, but Kaliurang also is a town), Kalikuning and Kaliadem, and the district of Cangkringan.

The largest outflow of volcanic material in recent weeks can be found in Kaliadem valley, the hot debris reached a distance of over five kilometers.
The largest outflow of volcanic material in recent weeks can be found in Kaliadem valley, the hot debris reached a distance of over five kilometers.

These towns are all located on the southern side, where you can also see many of the recent outflows of volcanic debris and ash. As long as the villages haven't had any rain - it rained in Yogyakarta yesterday - they will be covered in a thin layer of ash, as if someone spray painted the entire area. People still live in the villages as they don't want to leave their livestock and property unattended. Most of them actually spend the night in tent shelters down the slopes, in camps that have been set up by the government and NGO's as well. People tend to leave their villages as late as possible, to return at the break of dawn, or maybe even earlier, only picking up a few hours of sleep a night.

Many villages might seem abandoned to the regular visitor, but as said before, there are still many people in the area, not always in their villages as they have to make a living as well by selling their products. They go out in the early morning to work on their fields. Many of them have to walk for quite some time, some of them are more lucky and have a motorbike or bike which they can use to get up on the slopes. The ashy environment, the higher you get the more ash there is, up to a few millimeters, causes health-problems for the villagers as the dry ash gets in their lungs, but engines can also get their fair share of problems if they don't have fresh air to inhale. Of course most of the time there are no ash rains as this only occurs sporadically and lasts for minutes, mostly depending on the wind.

A village in the Cangkringan district is covered in a thin layer of ash, causing everything to be light gray of color. There hasn't been any substantial rain to clear the ash. If more ash falls before any rain will come, this will probably cause problems as well.
A village in the Cangkringan district is covered in a thin layer of ash, causing everything to be light gray of color. There hasn't been any substantial rain to clear the ash. If more ash falls before any rain will come, this will probably cause problems as well.

Preparedness

So, the villagers stay, but what about the tourists? Well eeh, there you mention something. Kaliurang and other villages in the area are known to be tourist destinations, maybe not so much for foreign tourists, however they like to flock to those places as well in small amounts, but mainly for local tourists, who usually spend a day there during their days of or during holidays.

Currently it's 'big holiday', about six weeks of holiday for those in school. For those who can afford it, a day out is much easier in this time of year, since there are six weeks in which their kids are home. At the moment there are not many tourists in these area's to be seen. Local markets are open, but during weekdays, some stops and places to eat are simply closed because there aren't enough tourists to earn some money from. During the weekends more people gather here, so it's a little bit more crowded, but don't expect the usual (dense) flow of tourists here.

At least this makes traveling for those who want to go there a little bit easier. Roads are not jammed with thousands of motorbikes and many big cars from other cities like Jakarta and Surabaya. Most of the entry gates - at which a small fee has to be paid for each vehicle and person who enters the area - are not staffed at the moment. Most of them have a paper warning that the area ahead is closed for general public because of the volcanic activity. There is no check or whatsoever that you actually don't enter, however keep in mind that you really are in a volcanically active area, one where an eruption may occur any time.

The government has prepared a number of quite important things, they have put up tent camps in the villages at the lower part of the volcano, but also all kind of clear signals to people. This one marks a valley that is prone to hot clouds. Evacuation routes are also clearly marked, but in blue.
The government has prepared a number of quite important things, they have put up tent camps in the villages at the lower part of the volcano, but also all kind of clear signals to people. This one marks a valley that is prone to hot clouds. Evacuation routes are also clearly marked, but in blue.

Be aware that, however the area is officially closed, there is another way of earning money for the villagers. Most roads are blocked in the highest villages, so you can only have a remote view for free on the volcano, unless you really know where to go, you can pay the villagers some money to bring you to one of their places where they can see the mountain. Expect this amount to be several thousand Rupiah at days with relatively normal activity, but higher of course when there is much more to see. Some people even offer ojek services, meaning you have to park your own car or motorbike (not free of course) to use their services. Allthough this all might not be official, imagine that their main source of income, working on the local fields or mining sand and stones from the valleys has become almost impossible.

How to get there?

From the city of Yogyakarta you can go towards Kaliurang. Wherever you are in the city, most of the times it's most convenient to use the ring road, which indeed runs around the entire city. On the northern side there will be a road leading to Kaliurang, the street is named Jalan Kaliurang as well and starts almost in the heart of the city, so it's easy to follow it all the way up to the volcano.

Along the way, follow the road towards Kaliurang until you see a sign 'Merapi Golf'. There you enter smaller roads that will bring you to all kind of small villages including Kaliadem and Kalikuning. You will most likely be not the only disaster tourist at the moment.



Posted in Culture @ 15 July 2006 by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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