Merapi’s Fingerprint

Shadow Puppet MasterIf Bali is the gem of Indonesia then Yogyakarta is most certainly the jewel of Java. I arrived by bus from Semarang and at first glance was a little confused by the amount of dust blowing around in the bus terminal.  I couldn’t remember Yogyakarta being this dry and gritty from previous visits.

The light brown soot caked everything. Buses and taxis appeared as if wearing Audrey Hepburn sunglasses. An effect of the wiper blades cutting through the dust and leaving two perfectly symmetrical arches  through which driver and passengers could view the oncoming world.

After a minute and feeling a little stupid I realized it was ash…more was to come.

I have visited Yogyakarta several times and always found the people here to not only be incredibly friendly but also fiercely proud.  They appear to display a joy in explaining the virtues of their city, ensuring you get from A to B without problem, and always requesting feedback, positive of course.

How do you like Yogyakarta?

This question is one of a seemingly standard set that run the gamut from your age to marital status to profession.  A “No” answer to the marriage question will then take you on a whole other journey of questions designed to help the question giver gain insight into the western mind.

I am guessing it doesn’t do its job in revealing any answers since the questions being asked haven’t changed over the last 15 years.

Getting around Yogyakarta is easy.

Becaks are everywhere and for a small fee, will take you anywhere. The city ripples with history, charm, and character.  It is the center for arts and culture. From music, batik, and dance, Yogyakarta is the cultural epicenter on Java.

It is home to several world heritage sites with Borobudur and Prambanan being just two. It is also the home of the sultan and his palace is magnificent. There is nothing more regal than watching a gamelan orchestral recital in the middle of a sultans home, with you as his guest.

Yogyakarta is colorful, peaceful, interesting, and laid back.

I would be ignoring the obvious if I failed to mention the current situation in Yogyakarta regarding the eruptions of Merapi.

The largest one was yesterday.

The mountain is 35 kilometers north of the city which, until yesterday, was considered completely protected by virtue of this separation. The direction of the crater points its blasts northwest; away from downtown.

I woke yesterday morning and opened my hotel room door.

It opens directly onto the hotel pool and allows me, on most days, to vacate my room and plunge into the pool in no more than a pair of well executed strides. The pool itself is surrounded by moss-covered walls. These in turn are adorned with plants hanging in pots shaped like Javanese masks. A river stone pathway meanders its way around the edges eventually leading to a cavernous hallway that exits to the world outside.

Today it was different.

A layer of thick white ash created a blanket over everything. The gorgeous blue glass that skirts the pools edge is now white. Red clay roof tiles, vibrant greens of tropical palms, purple and orange orchids, teak furniture, water in the pool…all now milky white and fully coated by Merapi’s fallout.

Everywhere, in hotels, on the streets, people are out with buckets and hoses ensuring their city doesn’t stay grubby and grey for long.  Cars are being washed, streets swept, grass hosed down to bring some green back into the cities color palette.

It was impressive to see this collective effort by Yogyakarta’s citizens.

The pride I mentioned earlier is in full force. It has been 25 years since ash has reached this far yet everyone seems to know exactly what is expected of them. Not even a volcanic eruption was going to dampen the beauty of the city when a spit and polish was all that is needed to bring it back.

Of course there is another side to this tragedy and that is the loss of life.

Villagers trapped by the blast either inside or just outside the initial safety zone became victims of Merapi.  Farmers along with entire farms, and livestock were lost.

The financial and emotional burden to these people is enormous. The military stepped in, rescue efforts were mounted, and disaster funds created for those in need distributed. From watching the news it is eerily similar to Hurricane Katrina…only more organised and with a quicker response time.

It makes you wonder!

Tonight is another night. The safety zone has now expanded its circumference to 20 kilometers.  The nerves of the city are starting to show; especially for those of us who don’t live here.

Several expats have now moved out of the north and are seeking refuge in my hotel.  The mountain has had a tendency to get upset in the wee hours so it remains to be seen if I will wake to once again find my doorstep under the white ashen fingerprint of Merapi.

For photos of Indonesia click here.

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58 thoughts on “Merapi’s Fingerprint

  1. An incredible experience to have witnessed, and to see everyone pulling together to clean up Yogya…we visited one of the villages that had been wiped out by that eruption on the slopes of Merapi and the villages were surviving under hurriedly thrown together lean-tos, selling anything they could lay their hands on to anyone who passed by. When I asked why they kept returning after each eruption they replied…it’s our home.

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  2. Although you mentioned it at the beginning, I was still surprised by the toll the eruption had on the city. What an emotional roller coaster you would have been managing, the beauty and tranquility of the city and the fall out and tragedy of the volcano.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Tim, that is crazy that you experienced that. I feel bad for the people who lost their farms and got hurt. That is heart-breaking. I do love the people’s spirit and how they all join and help each other after a disaster. Great post and insightful. =)

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  4. Yogyakarta ‘a city that is fit to prosper’. I believe prosperity is a component of a society that sticks together (collective efforts). I love the biker. He must the notorius phantom biker.

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  5. It was really nice to read about Bali, Indonesia. It is nice to know that people of Yogyakarta .are very friendly. It was sad to know about volcano but people are very courageous to fight against it. When I saw the picture of a motorcyclist with safety measures, i thought it is a statue. Its always nice to know about different places and their cultures.

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  6. What an incredible place. The ash photos are very interesting to see, something I have never seen before myself. Its great to see people persevere through those things however.

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  7. Once again thanks for bringing us along for the ride. You took some great pictures and wrote a great post about your experience. I really felt like I was there covered with ash and cleaning up everyday. very nice post

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  8. Wow that ash is incredible! Amazing that everyone comes together to clean up though. It looks like a stunning city- and being able to wake up and jump in the pool is definitely enviable!

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  9. You are certainly right Tim, Yogyakarta really was a nice a place to visit. Even if I didn’t really like it on my first arrival, the locals turned out to be super friendly, the food was great and places like the water castle, Prambanan or Borobudur were simply stunning. Only a full volcano eruption I did not experience and even if your ash grey photos look quite interesting, I am more than happy to have missed this experience… 🙂

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    1. Yes it’s not an experience I would want again and not one I would be inclined to share…except in a story. Glad you enjoyed Yogya when you were there. It is a great city.

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  10. Hi Tim,
    I admire how your travels have provided you with such a broad base of life experience.
    And I certainly love visiting your site. The pictures combined with your writing inspire me.
    to see these places. Yogyakarta is now on my list for 2015!
    Have a great week!
    Bill

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You to Bill and glad you are enjoying my stories. I have no doubt you will this city to be exhilarating and one full of personality and pride.

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  11. It’s exciting and scary at the same time. I’d love to see a volcano, inactive of course, up close. But reading about what you see here, knowing what happened historically in places like Pompeii, I’m just as glad not to have them poolside or even in my backyard.

    Over from LI group BHB

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  12. Hi Tim,

    When I read this, the only thing came to my mind was – Wow!!

    What an experience that must have been for you – the adventurous soul!

    But I am amazed with the spirit with which people came together to meet the challenge. That is the true power of human spirit. Thank you for sharing this amazing experience!

    Regards,
    Kumar

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Believe it or not, I have never been to Indonesia. Only worked with their government. Am well aware that Bali is a fantastic place and your story and photos confirm it. Have come across active volcanos on the Philippines though. Interesting experience.

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  14. Oh my! It sounds as though you took all of this in stride! I think I might have panicked…yet the most wonderful thing to read was about these friendly, proud people. The pictures look beautiful, but the ash! Oh My! I hope you trip ended well.

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  15. Hey Tim. I have never had the dubious pleasure of an active volcano but great to see the human spirit triumphs as usual and people quickly get to the mundane business of cleaning up. Great photos and as always you effectively bring the reader into your world

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    1. It was exciting to be there but that comes from someone who had little in the way of property or loved ones to lose. I am glad I was able to give an account of the experience. Thanks Paul, Tim

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  16. It sounds quite fascinating but so sad about the volcano. Ash just permeates everything. I remember a friend of mine who was affected by it mentioning that she had just had to vacuum her cat!

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