Sunday, December 23, 2007

Krakatau Eruption - December 2007

Anak Krakatau burst into life again in October of 2007. I've made four trips out to the island group over the years but have never been lucky enough to see an eruption. This time I didn't want to let an opportunity slip away. It's important to get up close and personal with an errupting volcano at least once in your life (as long as it doesn't cut it short). Particularly with Krakatau (or Krakatoa as it is known in the English speaking world) being one of those natural wonders that is etched into our collective memories. There are few who have not heard of the great eruption of 1883, the cataclysmic explosion and the ensuing tsunami that was recorded as far away as the English Channel.
A visit to Krakatau is easily a weekend trip if you're based in Jakarta or flying into Jakarta on a Friday early in the evening. My favorite point for getting a boat out is not via the better known Anyer and Carita in Banten Province on the West Coast of Java but the less direct route departing from Kalianda in southern Lampung. Anyer and Carita these days are much more visited by Jakartans with all of the usual crowds, rubbish and traffic. Although it takes a little more time, chartering a fishing boat from the sleepy fishing village of Kalianda in South Sumatera is a much more interesting option than braving the hoards in Banten.
Some facts about Krakatau. The 1883 eruption was one of the most violent volcanic events of modern times around 13,000 times the yield of the bomb which destroyed Hiroshima. 36,417 lives were lost from the Tsunami and pyroclastic flows over open water according to the records of the Dutch authorities. Spectacular sunsets were viewed for many months afterwards around the world and average global temperatures in the year following the eruption dropped by 1.2 degrees due to the huge amounts of sulfur dioxide gas ejected. Krakatoa is directly above the subduction Zone of the Eurasian Plate and Indo-Australia Plate at a point when it makes a sharp bend from the horizontal coast of Java towards the more verticle coast of Sumatra.
My strategy for a weekend trip to Krakatau from Jakarta is to leave work on Friday a little early and catch a bus from a Slipi bus stop on Jl S Parman to the port of Merak in Banten where ferries cross over to the port of Bakauheni in Lampung. From Bakauheni there are numerous little Angkut or "bus vans" which will drop you off within Kalianda. Alternatively, larger buses crossing the strait on the ferries are happy to squeeze you in and will drop you off at the turnoff to Kalianda where you can get a motorcycle taxi to a hotel. I left Jakarta at 6 pm and made it to Kalianda about 11 pm on Friday night. In other years I have taken Silver Bird taxis to Merak, rented cars and taken private vehicles across. The cheapest way is definately the bus from the Slipi bus stop.
Fishing boats out to Krakatau can be arranged by any of the hotels in Kalianda but it is best if you call in advance otherwise they may have all gone fishing. Hotel telephone numbers can be found below. I didn't call in advance and had to go down to the small fishing port where the fishing boats were unloading their morning catches and didn't get away until 11 am on Saturday. It is best to get one of the larger fishing boats with shelter from the sun, one of my Krakatau trips was in a smaller outrigger style boat and I ended up burnt to a crisp. Avoid using the local harbourmaster to assist in securing a boat because the price will inevitably go up, possibly considerably.
The boat trip takes four to five hours and passes other islands such as Pulau Sebesi whose entire population was wiped out in the 1883 eruption. The captain of my fishing boat Bapak Kumis put down a couple of lines and caught two Ikan Tongkol which he barbequed on a kerosine stove. A very tasty supplement to my instant noodles!! Something to remember, every time I take a trip on one of these fishing boats I kick myself for forgetting earplugs. They operate extremely noisy diesal engines, and it is difficult to find a place on the boat where you can escape the noise (overboard perhaps). Stop off at a chemist to pick some up before you leave Jakarta.
The approach is long and slow. At first it is indiscernable in the horizon haziness then it very gradually looms into view. My first site was of a cone without any of the expected ash clouds, and I thought perhaps it had become dormant again. My thoughts were proven wrong as in about five minutes it threw up a column of ash. It was erupting approximately every five or six minutes emitting huge pillars of smoke that gradually drifted away to the southwest dropping ash and sometimes pumice into the sea. The Krakatau island group is actually four islands Pulau Rakarta, Pulau Sertung, Pulau Krakatau Kecil and Pulau Anak Krakatau. The active volcano, Anak Krakatau or child of Krakatau, started emerging from the sea in 1923 in between the other three in the area of ocean where three other craters stood before the 1883 eruption.

The 2007 eruptions have opened up a new crater on the western side of the cone and it is easiest to view from a the relative safety of a boat circumnavigating the island. It's an awesome site seeing the powerful blasts of an erupting volcano, the huge bolders that sail through the air and the red hot lava that streams down the mountain. Krakatau in 2007 does not dissapoint. I had been told by the people in one of the Kalianda hotels that it was fine to stay the night on Anak Krakatau but after hearing and seeing some of the huge explosions I instructed Pak Kumis to make a beeline for one of the other islands. We ended up dropping anchor at Pulau Krakatau Kecil where we had a safe view of Krakatau blowing its top.

Some prices and other information:

Bus from Jakarta to Merak = Rp 20,000
Ferry to cross Sunda Strait = Rp 9,000
Bus from Bakauheni to Kalianda = Rp 20,000
Motorcycle Taxi to Hotel = Rp 5,000
Night in a decent hotel room at Hotel Kalianda = Rp 100,000
Fishing Boat Charter = Rp 800,000