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Kali Adem: Yogyakarta, Central Java

Not long after the recent horrendous earthquake that hit Yogyakarta and left countless homeless, Gunung Merapi once again raised its ugly head and spewed out lava threatening even more lives.

When we up at Kaliurang recently, I decided to take a look at some of the devastation caused by one of the most volatile volcanoes in the world.

Driving up to Kali Adem was no Sunday drive. It is one of those places where the molten rock and lava flowed until finally coming to a halt; all in its path, destroyed. Up on the slopes of Gunung Merapi all seemed quite normal until the higher we climbed.

The pot-holed asphalt soon gave way to pot-holed compressed volcanic ash and rock. I suppose I really wasn’t surprised to being stopped at a roughly constructed entrance booth. I paid the Rp5,000 per person and Rp5,000 for the vehicle. The oddest thing was that with the receipt he gave me three surgical masks!:

Barrie: “What are these for?”

Attendant: “For protection. There is still a lot of ash and stuff up there”

Barrie: “I see. Would you like me to operate on Gunung Merapi while I’m up there?”

Attendant: “Huh?”

The steep and rough track up to the ‘viewing area’ was unsteady underfoot and, slippy. As always in situations of disaster in Indonesia, somebody wants to make a quid and a few amateur photographers had set up stands displaying photos of the various stages of eruption. Good luck to them, I say, because they braved the dangerous elements to take the quite excellent photos. Of course there were the ubiquitous T-Shirt vendors et al.

When we reached the flattened-out area, I was taken aback by the stillness of the destruction. Actually, I really shouldn’t have been that surprised considering I had seen worse. In 1994 I had driven down from Semarang in the north of Central Java to Yogyakarta at the time Gunung Merapi severely erupted causing millions of dollars in damage and countless loss of life. It was, heartbreaking.

Kali Adem, which means ‘cold river’, nevertheless reflected the awesome power of a mighty volcano.

As I looked around it reminded me of a lunar landscape in appearance. Everything was ashen-white, boulders and rocks of all sizes strew the ground for as far as one could see – rocks of all colours and it was mind-boggling to comprehend that most of these solid objects came from the bowels of the Earth.

Gazing northward into the valley, burnt crisp and grey, the cold hardness of a lava flow filled the area from slope to slope – a cold river. It was eerie to think that only weeks that ‘cold river’ was an orange-red river of molten lava.

In front of me, half-buried houses – their roof’s heavy with volcanic ash, exemplifying the disruption to daily life the mountain had caused.

It was at Kali Adem that two observers took refuge in a concrete bunker during the violent eruption and lava flow. Unfortunately their hopes of safety in the concrete box were dashed and subsequently they were buried alive. Frantic efforts by rescuers were successful, however.

In the distance lush green valleys were a stark contrast to that of the lunar area of ‘cold river’. I never did use the masks given to me but there were a few curious tourists who obviously seemed affected by the dense air.

We left Kali Adem with one thought in mind – always respect the mountain and its awesome power. Beauty can be vicious.