Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
Submitted by viravira on 19 February 2014 • Destination
After 8 hours of sleeping and waking up several times on the Taksaka Malam train, Norman and I finally arrived in Yogyakarta at 5 a.m. We were excited ‘cos we were about to start our furniture hunt for each of our homes! We walked to find a taxi at the station’s main entrance but found none. Instead, I noticed a few people putting medical masks on their faces.
“Could this be related to the Mount Kelud’s eruption?” I murmured, half asking to Norman, who was clearly in the same oblivion. We had checked our social media before hopping off the train, and read that Mount Kelud in East Java had erupted before midnight. But Yogyakarta is, according to Google Maps, 282 km away from Kelud!
“It’s a big eruption and the wind had blown the ash westward. It’s all over Yogyakarta,” said the woman at taxi stand, after telling us that the official station’s taxis are all out. We then walked further toward the gate in the midst of ash shower. It was like snowing, but the weather was in normal temperature. Norman and I laughed at each other when we saw our heads were all covered in gray flakes, making us look like old people with gray hair.
We found a taxi all covered in ash. The driver agreed to take us to Via Via Guesthouse in Prawirotaman area. Little did he know, it was a very difficult drive to get there, though it was only about 4 km away. Only a few minutes on the road, the windshield was perfectly covered by ash. We couldn’t see anything! The driver didn’t want to turn on the wiper because it would scratch the window glass. He poured water to the window from outside and wiped the spot in front of the driving seat with a piece of cloth. He did that several times before finally dropped us at Via Via Café.
We thought the guesthouse was located behind the cafe. Turns out, it’s 200 meters walk from there. The staff at the café, who just came to clean up, kindly gave us medical masks. It was necessary to wear them while walking through the ash shower. It was still dark and I wore my sunglasses to prevent ash getting in my eyes. Still, we had to take a few stops and hide under the shades to clear our eyes and make phone calls.
Volcanic ash isn’t like the usual dust, let alone snow. It’s said to be sharper and when you breathe the air with volcanic ash too much, there’s a fat chance your lungs might be scratched. Or something like that. As the driver said, it could scratch the windshield let alone my fragile lungs. So the streets were gray but it was no ground to make dust angel!
The city had been covered in ash when Mount Merapi erupted in 2010. But the volcanic ash in Yogyakarta that time stopped showering the city in only 2 hours. So the Via Via Guesthouse staff was sure that this time would be the same. Turned out, ash kept on falling almost all day long!
It crossed my mind to go back to Jakarta and postpone our furniture hunt. But seeing the locals kept doing what they do, though some businesses had to be closed for a while, I thought that we could actually still go hunting. After all, later we found that the ash shower only happened for a single day.
We went by a hired motorbike with masks and helmets on, and I put on my raincoat since I didn’t bring my jacket along. Anything to cover up. The roads were all dusty. We avoided main roads where big cars were, and cursed at vehicles that went too fast, leaving too much dust flying behind them and made the roads with very low visibility! There were times when we could only see 5 meters or less in front of us. Smaller roads were less dusty because there were fewer vehicles, and residents watered the streets around their houses with buckets of water and various sizes of hose.
Watering the streets and houses and letting the ash down the drains is an easy way to get rid of the dust, but later I found out that it’s not really a smart thing to do. The ashes would settle in the drainages and perhaps block the water way, whereas volcanic ash actually makes good compost. So it’s wiser to gather the dust in sacks or buckets and store them as composts later, though it does take more effort and time to do it.
Javanese people in general is known to be nrimo, or what is known as a character that accepts things, don’t complain much, make the best out of what they’ve got, sometimes seeming to be defenseless. They’re also known to look at the bright side of things, which is a character I admire.
When talking about this volcanic ash ‘tragedy’, Wawan, one of the Via Via guesthouse staff said to me, “This is good, mbak. Just like after the Merapi eruption, we will have good harvest.”
“How long did it take, after the eruption?” I asked.
“Well, just the following harvest season. Of course, at first the crops died, but then about a year or less, they had really good harvest,” he said behind his mask while sweeping the terrace. It’s sweet to know that the ‘victims’ could have such a positive outlook at the incident. I’ve read about volcanic ash being a good compost from my elementary school textbook, but this time I heard it directly from the people near Ground Zero.
“Some people canceled last minute,” said Dani, another staff of Via Via Guesthouse, on people that had booked rooms but failed to show up. “But what can I do, it’s a bad time for everyone, so we understand,” she continued with a giggle that almost always follows her sentences.
Airports of Yogyakarta, Solo and Surabaya were closed. The only way people could come in and out of Yogyakarta was by train or bus, and that depends where they were going. Nearby towns were also covered by ash, like Solo and Magelang.
Guests in our guesthouse that came all the way from Germany, Switzerland and Singapore were stuck and couldn’t see Prambanan or Borobudur temples. But they made the best out of their time in Yogyakarta. Some went to museums and learned to make batik, some went to the Keraton (palace) for a tour. I guess in a way, these guests have learned the art of ‘nrimo’, too.
Disasters may happen, but many times you could turn them into gifts by making the best out of what you’ve got!