A Valentine’s Day to Remember – Surviving A Volcanic Eruption in Indonesia

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Surviving A Volcanic Eruption in Indonesia

“That ain’t snow!”my brother exclaimed.

The three of us woke up at the ungodly hour of 4 am to take in what should have been a gorgeous sunrise at Borobudur, the last of the big three Buddhist temples we had left to visit (having already visited both Angkor Wat and Bagan). We stumbled out to meet our driver for the day who seemed to be covered in snow, either that or he had some serious dandruff going on. Just before offering him a bottle of Head & Shoulders, we realized, albeit very slowly (remember it was 4am) that the white stuff falling from the sky couldn’t have been snow as we were in Indonesia, not Canada.

Our driver, very nonchalantly explained to us that Mount Kelud had erupted just a few hours before and that we were seeing the fall out from that.

“Ummmm….I’m sorry what?!? So you’re saying that a volcano has just exploded?”

“Yeah, last night. We should go now.”

My brother and I looked and each other and although we probably should have been scared we started smiling from ear to ear realizing that being in the fall out of a major volcanic eruption is an experience most people would never get in their lifetime.

Volcanic ash

After hearing that Yogyakarta was well outside the evacuation zone, we decided to press on to Borobudur. On the drive we peppered the driver with barrage of questions about the volcano, how many he’d experienced, how violent was this one in comparison; we wanted to know everything we could about this incredibly foreign phenomenon. Driving along we snapped photo after photo of the road, still feeling high off the experience until we realized, wait a minute, this stuff is REALLY starting to come down. It fell heavier and heavier until all of a sudden we couldn’t see five feet in front of us!

Just then our driver veered right, narrowly missing a head on collision with a tree.

“Hati Hati!!”, I said to him having learned “Be careful” very early on in my Indonesian travels given the notoriously crazy drivers in this country.

Arriving at the site for the sunrise, we all kind of realized that the prospect of a clear view of the sunrise was unlikely but made the hike up anyways, along with a few other diehard backpackers.

At the top in the darkness we waited, sheltering ourselves from the ash that the harsh winds were sending our way. We coughed, our eyes burned and yet we stayed up there for some strange reason. There was no sunrise that morning but we’ll never forget waiting up there and being absolutely drowned in ash.


On the way back down the hill to the main gates, we remained naively optimistic that Borobudur would be open which of course there wasn’t a fool’s chance in hell of happening. We soon realized that it was going take weeks to get the grounds cleaned up and open to the public. Instead, we decided to get a little “Canadian” by making ash angels outside the main gates to the amusement of the few locals on the grounds.

Ash angels

Now remember, it was Valentines Day after all so Alyse and I found a few minutes to get a little romantic…

Valentines in Indonesia

While sitting down for some much needed coffee and breakfast, we were approached by a young teacher and his students wanting to practice their English. They had travelled for nearly a day to come to Borobudur all in hopes of practising English with foreigners. Some had even come from a town that had seen 76,000 evacuated that morning due to the volcanic eruption. The kids were something special. All three of us have said that the memory of chatting with the students that morning along with learning a new dance with them was one of the highlights of our entire time in Indonesia. My brother even went on to say that he’s never met teenagers anywhere who were so polite in his entire life and I could not agree more.

The drive home was almost as scary as the drive there, the only thing making it a bit better was the fact that the sun was out. Well I think it was I couldn’t see it! However, the roads were now blanketed with ash and even the driver admitted that his wife had called him concerned about his safety and that he was also nervous to be driving at that point. He told us that back in 2010 when Mt. Merapi erupted (much closer to Yogyakarta than Mt. Kelud), it wasn’t half as bad as the fallout we were experiencing. That one stuck with me.

Caught in a volcanic eruption

For the next couple of hours, Ryan and I set out with our cameras to take in the post-apocalyptic world that was Yogyakarta. It was amazing to see everyone out, kids included(!), sweeping up the ash as if it was just a big dump of snow like back in Canada, seemingly unfazed by what had happened. Here are some of the photos I took on that walk:

Kids cleaning up after the volcano

Statue with ash

Volcanic ash

Bicycles in ash

We had lunch later on and overheard some other backpackers pissed off that they wouldn’t get to see Borobudur which we found absolutely ridiculous given the fact that we had been involved in one of Mother Nature’s most powerful displays of force. Will I ever be in the fallout of another volcanic eruption? Probably not. Can I head back to Java and see Borobudur? Of course. We wouldn’t have traded that experience for anything. Sometimes the most memorable travel experiences come out of the crazy stuff you never could have predicted in a million years, you’ve just gotta roll with it!


Ross & Alyse



Lover of travel, photography, nature, movies, and nachos. If you love Star Wars and Lord of the Rings we'll probably become best friends.

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