Krakatoa 2009


Through a little planning the previous day my route to Krakatoa would take me from Jakarta to Merak by train, Merak to Bakauheni by Boat and then from Ben to Kalianda by bus to then charter a boat to Krakatoa. Easy!! The best thing about the trip was the price, 300km to Kalianda all for a measly £6.50. The first train of the day had been cancelled so I had to I had to hang around the station for a couple of hours get harassed by beggars, guitar players and fruit and drink hawkers. By 1.30pm the queue for our train had grown considerably due to the cancellation and I wondered how the hell they were going to fit all these people on board. I was even more shocked when the train actually arrived to see that the carriages were already full to bursting point.

After a lot of pushing and shoving the entire platform and I squeezed onto the train and squeezed into a small spot. There was no were to move, people were sitting five to a three man seat and for me and a large backpack I had to stand it up in the aisle against the back to two of the seats and place my other backpack onto of it and was practically hugging them! The train journey which covered the greatest distance was the cheapest of all transport – £1 for 6hrs and 200km – beat that British Rail, though you were guaranteed a seat on BR. It was a comical sight really, hundreds of people all jammed into a carriage with the multitude of hawkers barging their way through to sell their wares. You had the opportunity, if you wished, to buy pretty much anything from backscratchers to watches, from fruit to batteries and torches, to fruit and drinks and snacks. Add to this beggars that sweep the floors for money and full bands that try to serenade the train for money. When I say bands I don’t mean a guy with a guitar, there were plenty of these guys. By bands I mean – a drum kit (3 piece), a keyboard player, 2 guitarists, a singer and a guy collecting money pushing there way through the hordes of people on the already full and bursting train.

Two hours in and still standing and I was now starting to get hot. It is here that things started to turn for the worst. All was safe as I had both hands on the top of one backpack which was on top of another. The train started to slow down as it approached another station and in the seat below people started getting ready and I noticed an opening for a small square inch of seating. As I pounced for the available seat I noticed that the top of my small backpack had a tear in it. On closer inspection the tear turned out to be a cut and then I soon realised that someone had slashed my bag. That initial rush of panic and adrenaline swept through my body as I rummaged through the top of my bag to see what was missing. They had my compact camera, quickly I looked around to see if the gentlemen I had suspected were still here but they had gone quicker than they had got into my backpack. Feeling mighty peeved I sat back down and tried to explain to the people around me why I was looking so flustered. I was more annoyed that they had managed to get my camera whilst my hand was on top of the bag rather than at my lack of security measures. The turn of events gave me a sudden lack of liking for Indo trains and people in general. Luckily the train numbers thinned out the closer we got to Merak and six hours after setting off I arrived in Merak.

The ferries to Sumatra run every two hours from Merak and within 15 mins of getting off the train a short walk to the port we had set sail for our two hour crossing. On the ferry I arranged a bus to get me to Kalianda and then eventually arrived at 10pm . The only guesthouse suggested (and in Kalianda) by the Lonely Planet was certainly budget. You had a list of room options from superior to basic so I chose superior (for £4) which boasted “spring double beds” and a fan. On entry to the room there was no shower just a Mandi, the smallest fan in the world and two single beds (i supposed they weren’t lying when they said double beds) and the springs on the beds dated back to the Victorian era. I was so tired that I would have taken a wooden floor and therefore still annoyed from the train journey went to sleep.

The next day was a chilled affair, walking around Kalianda and organising how I would get to Krakatoa. I decided to barter with a local fisher man for the use of his boat for the day and after 30 mins 500,000 Rupiah (£20) later and 5 packs of Sampoerna thrown in for him we struck a deal. Kalianda I guess doesn’t see many tourists as everywhere I walked I was greeted by “hello mister” flowed by lots of chuckles and lots and lots of staring. I now know what it feels like to be an ethnic minority.

There is nothing to do in Kalianda, 1 restaurant and one internet cafe and that is it. Two days later and it was the day of the trip to Krakatoa and a short moped ride down to my boat I found my boat captain attending to the longboat we about to cross the high seas in. I had a quick check of the boat to make sure of its seaworthiness (and life saving equipment which included radio and jackets) and then hopped on board with the captain and his son. Within minutes we were tugging across the ocean in his 20ft wooden longboat with his new lawnmower engine powering us through the choppy seas. Sitting at the front I was hanging on for dear life and getting very wet and sunburnt. Three hours later with a quick stop to fill up and to repair one of the battered stabilisers blood flowed back into my white knuckles and we had our first sighting of Krakatoa and Anak Krakatoa (“son” of Krakatoa which is the new volcano that has emerged and is growing by 5m per year) and more importantly calmer waters.

Krakatoa’s is most famous for the explosion in August 1883 which was among the most violent volcanic events in modern and recorded history. The eruption was equivalent to 200 megatons (MT) of TNT—about 13,000 times the nuclear yield of the bomb that devastated Hiroshima and four times the yield of the Tsar Bomba (50 MT), the largest nuclear device ever detonated. The 1883 eruption ejected approximately 21 cubic kilometers (5.0 cu mi) of rock, ash, and pumice and the cataclysmic explosion was distinctly heard as far away as Perth in Western Australia, about 1,930 miles away.

Near Krakatoa, according to official records, 165 villages and towns were destroyed and 132 seriously damaged, at least 36,500 people died, and many thousands were injured by the eruption, mostly from the tsunamis that followed the explosion. The eruption destroyed two-thirds of the island of Krakatoa. Eruptions at the volcano since 1927 have built a new island in the same location, named Anak Krakatau (Indonesian: “Child of Krakatoa”). The captain’s son turned out to be my guide for the day and with no English we jumped off the longboat onto the volcanic back sand and immediately headed for up the volcano. We were not heading to the top but to a level around 200m up the side to a great view point of where Krakatoa once stood and the surrounding islands. Thirty minutes later we had reached the view point and it was here that you truly appreciated the size and the power of the explosion that blew away half an island. Anak had recently been active (largest eruption since 1883 was in 2008) and the potential for disaster and the might of the volcano was made more apparent by the boulders that scattered the area. These boulders (some very big) had been blown out of the volcano some 500 away.

My guide wasn’t much help as no English was spoken so after thirty mins we descended down back to beach for lunch. He wasn’t much of a guide as he managed to get lost in the very short scrubland that separated the beach and the volcano! A quick lunch of pot noodle, plain rice, an egg and coffee and a swim around we had to climb back on board to start the crossing back. Luckily the waters were now calm and the crossing smooth as a pancake. Passing some beautiful and barren islands on the way back I fell asleep and was only awoken as we arrived back at the beach where we all got out and pulled and pushed the boat back ashore. Sunburnt, caked in salt, tired and still in awe of the day and the sights I had a mandi shower, food and passed out with hands still hurting from the boat ride over to the colossal site of Krakatoa. You can only imagine what the explosion must have been like but to all in the surrounding areas it must be terrifying living in the wake of such a mammoth slumbering force. Who knows when it will erupt again but one thing is for sure it looks a waiting time bomb that could go off any moment though not with the force of 1883, thank goodness.

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