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Kalianda and Mt Krakatau

Written on: Thursday May 15th, 2008

A journal entry from: Around The World Without A Plane

Most of you I imagine have been on a rollercoaster at some point in your lives, queued up for more than an hour perhaps and then sat or hung thereat its disposal for the next three minutes. Those three minutes may have been so enjoyable to warrant wasting yet another hour or your life inching along once again behind a group of sweaty, pubescent school boys all releasing a constant tirade of the best swear words they know for that three minutes exhilaration again. Now imagine that you didn?t have to queue at all, in fact you didn?t even have to get off the rollercoaster, you merely sat on it as it went round and round and round the track????for 32 hours, and then you have some notion of what I sat through on the twisting, hairpin roads from Bukittiggi to Kalianda. 32 HOURS!!!! I was weary when I got off, it was late afternoon, but I had an unexplainable longing not then to leave that bus. Maybe it was due to a bond we had formed together over those many hours or how the seat had moulded perfectly to the shape of my ass. Nonetheless I did get off.Anyhow enough of the bus anecdotes, one might start to believe that?s all I?ve done since I?ve been on Sumatra and one wouldn?t be too far from the truth but here I was in Kalianda, right in the very south of Sumatra, just a few miles from one of the most anticipated sights on my agenda since I had first planned this trip ? Mt Krakatau. Krakatau, back in 1883 was responsible for the most destructive volcanic explosion in history, producing an explosion equivalent to 13,000 Hiroshima bombs, killing over 36,000 people, sending a wave at over 400mph as far as South Africa and plummeting the temperature 5C lower with the plume of smoke, ash and debris it sent 40km in to the Earth?s atmosphere. Reason alone to be in awe.I managed to arrange with two locals to take me out to the island of Krakatau which is now actually 4 islands, as when the volcano exploded in 1883 it took one of its sides with it. Now in the place where Krakatau used to sit is a smaller volcano, but growing by 15cm every month called Anak Krakatau or Son of Krakatau. I spent much of this day under a cloud of worry for many reasons. First off, I was paying a fair bit of money for these fellas to take me by boat to Krakatau, which I thought I could see from the beach in Kalianda. Secondly, when I got to the boat that was apparently going to be leaving from the harbour, neither the harbour nor the boat had lived up to my expectations. The harbour was actually just the back garden of somebody?s house and the boat was a tiny, thin wooden rowing boat type vessel, so narrow that I couldn?t actually sit down in it because my hips were too wide and filling up with water before we had even got out to sea. Furthermore it had pieces of bamboo tied together with rope extending out to either side to add some buoyancy. How thoughtful of them. My guide even had a pan with him to scope out the water filing up in the bottom. I figured my camera wouldn?t last this one.Then on the way out to sea I began to really consider just what Krakatau was, it?s untameable wrath, and what a 40 meter wave coming towards me might really look like. I don?t worry very often, but when I do there?s normally good reason. But as with the other times on this trip that I can recall being stressed about one thing or another it turned out to be the right decision and cement itself towards the top of the highlight list. After about an hour chugging along at sea I began to snap away at what I thought was Krakatau, a relatively big island, covered in a blanket of green trees, rising up in the middle to its volcanic peak. My guide laughed at me and pointed way in the distance ?That Krakatau over there, not here.? There was nothing I could see in the distance except dark blue seas and multiple waves looking bigger and angrier, salivating in anticipation at getting a chance to toss our miniscule excuse for a boat around. But within 30 more minutes of sitting in the middle of these seas I could make out on the horizon the outline of a few islands. In the middle, unmistakably was Anak Krakatau. It wasn?t as big as I?d expected, and not as tall as one of the other islands situated behind it, but it was as stereotypical a volcano as you could get. I forget about the waves coming over the top of the boat, about the price I?d paid and even about how dangerous Krakatau was, I was just fixated by it. From the boat the island appeared perfectly round, palm-tree covered at the bottom, with the volcano walls rising up at a 45 angle to its outlet at the top, the 800 meters that it has climbed to since rearing its head from the sea in 1930. My worry began to transform in to excitement as the adrenaline began to flow.There is currently a recommendation for all boats to stay outside of a 3km radius of Krakatau because of its unpredictability at erupting, so 20 minutes later what the hell I was doing posing for handstands actually on its black volcanic sandy beach and cooking up my own fresh fish lunch under the shade of its palm trees I?ll never know. Krakatau must have sensed I can?t cook for toffee and just as I tucked in to my last bite of fish voiced his disgust. I?ve neither heard nor felt anything quite so powerful as what I then heard and felt. Krakatau erupted. The ground underneath my feet shook and a deafening crack followed by a godly rumble from the Earth?s core emanated around us. It was time to get the hell out of Dodge. The summit itself was hidden from our sight by the tops of the trees and so it wasn?t until we had escaped in to the boat and had retreated far enough out in to sea that Krakatau?s emissions could be seen. I was exceedingly lucky to have my camera filming when Krakatau erupted again, this time showing us the visual power of its depths. It sent a mushroom cloud of gases shooting up in to air and catapulted boulders as if they were pebbles to all sides of the island. Krakatau must have got wind that this balding, little English man with dodgy knees had been on his way for the past 7 months to visit and as such had decided to really put on a show for me. If there had been more of an audience I would have led the standing ovation, as it was my guide and driver, looking more terrified than I was thought it might be an idea to get to Jericho and hide.My eyes didn?t leave the sight of Krakatau until it had receded from view (just in case it decided to lob a boulder at me). It is one of the most amazing things I?ve ever seen on the Earth and has increased my passion for volcanoes 10 fold. My guide joked with me on the way back to the mainland as while we were on the island I asked him if we could climb to the summit. Can you imagine the view I would have got if we had? If Son of Krakatau is as angry and as powerful as it showed itself to be I really wouldn?t have wanted to piss off his Dad.