“It Must Stay Sleeping:” Mt. Agung Shakes Bali

Written Nov. 21 // A closing to our column Solivagant, Fiona Hindmarch’s self-discovering journey throughout Bali after becoming cancer-free has lead herself and her writing to grow indefinitely stronger, with the eruption of Mount Agung shortly after her return comes a reflection of her journey, herself, and the culture within Bali.

When I set out planning my trip to Bali seemingly a lifetime ago, I was interrupted by the threats of a volcanic eruption from Mount Agung. The end of September saw Bali thrown into chaos and on to high alert as seismic activity began to rise rapidly. Mount Agung is Bali’s largest volcano and erupted last in 1963 with devastating consequences when more than 1000 people were killed.

I spent more than two weeks before my trip watching the development of the tremors in Bali. Even though there was little media coverage here in the UK, Australian news feared the worst. I followed the Australian media and checked on a daily basis as 40,000 were evacuated from the no-go zone. Day by day the evacuation area was widened and more locals were forced to leave their homes and set up camp in temporary accommodation.

At that time, the government in Bali were advising tourists not to change their plans but instead to be cautious and steer clear of the evacuation zone.  I was nervous to travel to Bali but many tourists already there were showing no signs of difficulty or danger in the country. After researching, the threat of the volcano was at that time confined to a specific area. The UK airports were not on high alert and airports in Bali were still running with no disruption. I made the decision to continue my plans and head over to Bali.

Throughout my trip I witnessed many locals making offerings to the Gods, in hope that this would keep the volcano from erupting. I asked about the volcano and its dangers. “It must stay sleeping,” they said, “it’s not happy.” Making these offerings is a daily routine for them and something they love to give out to the universe.

The locals believe that there was less tourism due to the media hype surrounding the volcano and this had affected the island. I was obviously steering clear of the evacuation zone but the warnings didn’t put off everybody. During my time I met a German couple who set off at the early hours of 3 a.m. and had planned a trek up that way. Another showed me a video that he had taken the day before when he had climbed up Mount Agung, to show others what was going on up there. I personally thought this was madness as all the seismic graphs showed it could blow at any minute.

This was back in October, the weeks that followed suggested that some were over cautious. No eruption had taken place even though there were tremors. I felt several while I was there but nothing large scale. Locals were worried and many struggled to move their families and livestock away from the evacuation area. With so many moving into temporary shelter there was a big impact on family life and livelihood. Tourists were staying away, this, in turn, affected the usual day to day trade. With no eruption on the horizon, Bali’s government suggested that many locals should return home. From a tourist point of view at the time of being in Bali, anticipating the fury of Mount Agung was short-lived. It didn’t seem on anybody’s radar. The severity was much an out of sight, out of mind opinion. I spent several weeks moving around Bali steering clear of the no-go zone and chatting to the locals about the situation. “We pray it sleeps,” was still their response.

With little or no word of the eruption in general tourist areas people were merrily going about their business lapping up the sunshine and enjoying beautiful Bali. If you had never seen a newspaper or heard a radio program you’d be forgiven for thinking there was no threat to the island. I too flitted around the island occasionally catching sight of the beast that was Agung in the distance, then remembering the very real threat it was holding over the people of Bali. As a traveler it’s easy to avoid the no-go zone, steering clear of Agung and continuing to enjoy the island. The real threat is obviously the danger of the eruption and devastation left in its path. Not only will locals have the destruction to clean up but the lack of trade brought to the island through tourism. This will continue long after Agung is quiet.

Leaving Bali I sat staring out of the plane window, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky let alone any sign of ash or smoke. I felt a sadness and a fear for the people of Bali. I returned to the UK a few weeks ago, Agung still on high alert. Today as dawn broke, Mount Agung was seen spewing volcanic ash. The alert level has been raised and Bali is on national disaster warning. Red lava is visible, glowing on Mount Agung at night and the large-scale eruption is imminent. The activity surrounding the crater stirs fears in the locals. With the ash cloud looming airports have been closed and flights disrupted for the past three days. In total, approximately 100,000 people have been evacuated across a six-mile danger zone. The mountain rumbles louder every day and threats of a natural disaster are very real. You can prepare for this but it won’t be stopped, this is bigger than you or me. I can’t help but fear for the people of Bali and their bountiful island.

As tourists, we have the option to come and go, making memories; but the natives only option is to stay and pray to the Gods as they merely playing a waiting game. 

 

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