Saturday, 14 May 2011

The Original Rumble In The Jungle

Today I ticked off another one of my bucket list items - I visited Krakatoa, the volcano that in 1883 famously blew its lid and gave Europe stunning sunsets for half a decade.

I don't know how long I've wanted to visit the island but with my time in Indonesia counting down to single digits I knew I had to take this opportunity, and with Rae and Oscar back in the UK I have a lot of free time.

It was easy to make the arrangements - I found a tour company that did a one day trip, I picked my dates and told a local travel agent what I wanted. A day later I had my flights, hotel and tour voucher in my shaking hands.

I flew Jakarta on Friday (the 13th - I'm not triskaidekaphobic but I am starting to get nervous about using Indonesian airlines), stayed at the airport hotel and at 6am the next morning my driver picked me up for the 3 hour drive. That's 2 hours on toll roads and highways to Cilegon, followed by an hour on a road that tarmac seems to have forgotten about (but potholes and dust remember it quite well) to Carita.

From the marina at Carita beach we took a twin-engined speedboat out to the archipelago, some 60km distant. After 10km the skies cleared enough for me to see the classic volcanic cone-shape of Krakatoa. My guide explained that what I was looking at was Mamma Krakatoa - the remains of the original island that was destroyed in 1883 when the three separate volcanoes that made up Pulau Krakatoa exploded. As we neared Mamma K I could see that she was indeed just a chunk and had a towering cliff-face on one side that made it look like somebody had taken a bite out of her.

The island we were heading for was Anak (Son of) Krakatoa, a small volcano that started emerged from the sea in 1927 and has grown to about 200m since. We landed on the beach, next to the only forested spot on the island and notified the government officials of our presence. A quick walk through some juvenile jungle growth saw us on the ash covered slope of the volcano. My guide explained that we could not climb to the summit as it was out of bounds due to the constant cloud of noxious sulphuric gas that constantly drifted up from the crater. Did Krakatoa's son have halitosis?

I felt a bit let down by this information but once we started up the side of the volcano I was relieved - walking on soft, loose ash isn't easy at the best of times but in +30C and the heat of the volcano itself the 600m hike to the view point was punishing enough.

It took us forty minutes to get to the edge of the safe zone and we passed pyroclastic bombs, lava fields and a small valley that was covered in a crust of sulphur. At the "top" the view was amazing and while the other tour groups were all taking the opportunity to snap the volcano's peak I turned around and enjoyed the view of his mother which was only a kilometre away.

Forty minutes up and ten minutes down - we were back on the beach and in the boat in no time, circumnavigated Anak Krakatoa, and a spot of snorkeling on a reef off Krakatoa itself so I took the chance to swim ashore and properly visit one of the most famous volcanoes in the world.

On the way back we were treated to a pod of dolphins doing some leaps in the air as they chased their lunch through the water. Above them were a pair of eagles who were following the dolphins in the hope of grabbing a snack of their own.

I'm now sat in a dust covered Toyota Kinjang, belting down the highway to Jakarta and looking forward to a shower. All in all it was a cracking tour.

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