Categotry Archives: travelling

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Komodo Diving

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Now the most exciting part of Komodo: its world-class diving sites!!! Komodo National Park is one of the most biological diverse habitats on the planet, both above and below the water surface. This still largely unexplored pristine underwater life is unbelievably remarkable, offering a mixture of different diving choices to even most experienced divers. Komodo seas offer spectacular biodiversity, magnificent macro opportunities, abundance of massive pelagic organisms, excellent walls, large open water pinnacles, crystal clear and warm waters, and often with raging ocean currents. Macro to massive, this is absolutely one of best diving sites on earth for sheer diversity of underwater life.

Diving variety in Komodo is amazing, offering every type of possible tropical diving. Some dive places are calm and relatively shallow, enabling you to crawl on the bottom looking at macro creatures such as tiny frogfish, pygmy seahorses, rare invertebrates and nudibranches. In the next place, you can be in a wide open water pinnacle with strong sea currents, watching big fish passing by like manta rays, sharks and dolphins. And in some other places, you can dive in caves and a live volcano.

Given the large size of the marine park and this much diversity of underwater life, there is so much to see in Komodo waters. There are many excellent dive sites around Komodo (between the main islands of Sumbawa and Flores), but distances between these dive sites can be quite far. So, the best way to explore Komodo seas is by liveaboard. Liveaboard diving trip to Komodo can range from days to weeks, leaving from different places such as Bali, Sumbawa, and Flores. One benefit of liveaboard is the opportunity to dive at remote and inaccessible areas. Liveaboard diving in Komodo is all year round, with best diving conditions from April to November (dry season).

We could not go for liveaboard diving since we brought our daughter together with us. We therefore opted for daily diving for four days from Labuan Bajo, the nearest town in Flores. Our daughter, S, stayed at the hotel with her nanny while we were diving all day. Our selection of dive shop was Lagona Divers located inside our hotel (i.e., Hotel Bintang Flores). The dive shop is owned and managed by Germans. We’re satisfied with the professionalism and friendliness of their dive staff. Every early morning, we departed from Labuan Bajo harbor to dive sites around surrounding islands in the marine park. The time for each boat trip from Labuan Bajo to different dive sites varies, ranging from 1 to 3 hours, which is not bad at all. Each day consisted of 2-3 dives. We normally returned back to the hotel at around 5 PM, just in time for playing with my lil S in the hotel’s pool, and for shower and dinner.

Selection of the dive sites depends on the divers’ passions and experiences. There are places for easy diving, where the waters are calm, shallow and ideal for macro diving. Also, diving in the waters of Komodo can be challenging. One example is that seeing sharks and manta rays in Komodo typically involves diving with high sea currents. The fast currents are caused by the higher tidal waters of the Pacific Ocean in the north flowing through the seas between Flores and Komodo into the Indian Ocean in the south. These ocean currents bring nutrients and planktons to keep the marine life in Komodo rich and very well fed. I actually enjoy drift diving very much because I’m a lazy diver. Haha… I just need to glide along with the ocean current flow without exerting any significant power for swimming. The sea current does the work, while I simply focus on enjoying the underwater beauty. It’s really relaxing.

Batu Bolong (meaning Hollow Rock) is my favorite dive site in Komodo. It has a small rock outcrop with a hole through it (i.e., the first picture above). Below the sea surface are massive steep walls and fascinating drop offs that disappear into depths. It is a view to behold. It is one of Komodo’s signature dive sites and a must visit for divers. The coral reef is healthy and in a superb condition, and the volume of fish here is amazing. The reef has not been targeted by fishermen, thanks to the rock’s topography and the strong sea currents. This dive site is also good to see large marine life as it’s patrolled by a variety of sharks, large groupers, giant trevally, napoleon wrasse and tunas. My dive master said that Batu Bolong always impressed every diver he took there.

My most favorite site for diving is Manta Point, which is an aggregation site for manta rays. Manta rays can be easily spotted at this place. We saw manta rays just on the surface even before the dive. During the dive, we spotted more than ten manta rays swimming in groups and patrolling the area. Manta Point is a relatively flat and shallow channel covered with rubbles and only with a few small coral blocks. This dive site often has strong sea currents. Divers can hang onto rocks at the bottom and wait for manta rays to pass by. Divers can go very close to observe the manta rays. Manta rays are A’s most favorite fish. He said that closely seeing these majestic giant sea creatures gently gliding through the water gives him an inexplicably peaceful feeling that can last for a long time. He said diving at Manta Point was his most memorable moment in Komodo. Manta rays’ gathering is typically a seasonal event, but NOT at Manta Point. It’s almost guaranteed that you will see manta rays at Manta Point all year round. This is what makes Manta Point a very special dive location.

Our diving in Komodo was truly an amazing experience. We both agree Bunaken certainly has more superb macro diving than Komodo. But due to overfishing in Bunaken that has destroyed its large fish population, Komodo is definitely better for seeing large reef fish. The diversity of marine life in Komodo from macro to massive is simply awesome. Swimming with manta rays in Komodo was unforgettable. We swam very closely to the manta rays. Equipped with our own underwater camera (not rental/loan anymore hehehe…), we managed to take some good pictures.

A German avid diver who had a record of more than 500 dives and had traveled around the world for diving said that dive spots could not be better than Komodo. That made us realize that we’re fortunate to have this natural treasure in our country. It’s heart breaking to witness the sea pollution and underwater destruction caused by irresponsible Indonesians who don’t realize the true values of Komodo’s beautiful nature. It’s good that protection of Komodo’s nature now is getting better as more tourists are coming there for sightseeing and diving. Four days of diving was too short, considering the high number of excellent dive sites in Komodo and some are accessible only by liveaboard. We will certainly revisit Komodo for more diving.

 

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Komodo, West Flores

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Officially chosen as one of the new Seven Wonders of the World in 2011, Komodo National Park was founded primarily to protect the endangered Komodo dragons, the world’s largest living lizards. Komodo dragons are only found on a few islands in the Indonesian national park. The park was also dedicated to protect its one of world’s richest marine environments. It is a popular destination for scuba diving. The park comprises a coastal section of western Flores that is the main island of the Indonesian province of East Nusa Tenggara. Komodo is only about 90-minute flight east from Bali.

This summer, six days of our vacation were allocated to discover the beauty of Komodo. We departed to Labuan Bajo from Bali after attending our best friend’s wedding. It is a small fishing town on the western tip of Flores, served as the main gateway to Komodo National Park. The town can easily be traversed on foot in only 15-20 minutes. Once a small fishing village, Labuan Bajo now has developed into a busy place for tourism since the time Komodo National Park formally became part of the world’s seven wonders. The town’s main street stretches only a few kilometers along a bay and up the hillside. Stores providing daily necessities can be found along the main road. Here, tourists can also find a range of eateries serving both local and Western dishes with very fresh seafood. The main road is also lined with lots of vendors selling lodges, diving and tours to surrounding islands. It is worth heading to the seashore to watch scenic sunset and to see ships of all shapes and sizes in the harbor against a background of lump-shaped islands.

Compared to Bali, West Flores is much less developed and less known to tourists. Hence, choices for a good hotel in Labuan Bajo are not many. Since we planned to leave our baby girl, S, with her nanny at hotel while we were diving all day, it was essential that our hotel had to be family-friendly and comfortable to stay. We selected Hotel Bintang Flores, presently the only four-star hotel in Labuan Bajo. Overall, we were pretty happy with it. The hotel combines local style with modern conveniences and international standard of service. Situated on a private stretch of beach facing Flores Strait, the hotel features a nice pool area with a beautiful tropical garden, offering a peaceful and quiet place to relax with amazing sea views. Be sure not to miss viewing the stunning sunset from the hotel beach. Our daughter, S, very much enjoyed her daily swimming in the pool. During our stay, the hotel was almost empty so we had the pool to ourselves. The sea accessible from the hotel’s beach is unfortunately not good for swimming. It is dirty with rubbish. It was heart breaking to see the pollution in such a beautiful location.

Due to lack of guests, the hotel did not offer a buffet breakfast and we were asked to order from the menu. We frequently ordered Indonesian dishes, which we thought were good. Our only complain about the menu was the unavailability of local food indigenous to Flores. It would be fascinating to taste local food that can only be found in Flores. The service was very good, quick and friendly. The hotel staffs were fantastic at keeping our child entertained. Poor my little S that she suffered from multiple mosquito bites. We found that mosquitoes in Labuan Bajo were much more voracious than those in other places in Indonesia. Thus, do not forget to bring insect repellent. Also, sitting next to smoking people in hotel’s dining area (and generally in many other places in Indonesia as well) was a nuisance to us who are accustomed to smoke-free environment like in US. Shuttle service to the town’s main street is also provided by the hotel.

To spot the indigenous Komodo dragons, we travelled by boat to Rinca Island that can be reached in 1.5 hour from the main island. The dragons also live on Komodo Island that is 3 hours away. The dragons tend to be larger on Komodo Island than Rinca, but it is easier to spot the dragons on Rinca. Arriving at Rinca, we were greeted by a park ranger who led us to enter the ranger station for registration. In the ranger camp were five Komodos lazily lying in the shade under an elevated house. Komodo dragons are cold blooded animals, so it is important for them to avoid the hot tropical sun to cool down their body temperature. Their sizes were impressive, more than three meters. Macaque monkeys can also be spotted in the camp. We opted for a shorter trekking route that took about 1.5 hour. The other alternative route is longer and takes about 3 hours. Armed with forked stick, the park ranger guided the walk through the forested island. We saw signs of nesting areas. Luckily, we located three dragons roaming in the wild. The dragons camouflaged perfectly in the bushes, looking like a stone. They are natural predators. They stalk and ambush their prey. The park ranger made sure that our walk was always within a safe distance from the most lethal dragons on earth. The ranger told us that the dragons must hunt in the wild for their food. Their prey includes water buffalo, deer, monkeys, wild boars and some exotic birds. What makes the dragons very dangerous is the infection from their toxic bites. Their saliva is loaded with a high level of bacteria, causing death after only one bite. We moved up into hills of the island to view the lush forests and the grassland dotted with palms. Rinca is a beautiful dry place that will best be appreciated by desert lovers.

While the food selection in Labuan Bajo may not be great, but the prices are. With its recent economic boom and rapid growth in popularity as a tourist destination, demands for accommodation and food are increasing quickly. Most of good restaurants in Labuan Bajo are owned and managed by Western people, who generally spent months before opening their restaurants, just for training their staff to speak better English and to provide excellent service to guests. Labuan Bajo is still in the process of becoming more and more tourist friendly. “Made In Italy” offers a special atmosphere with the best food and service so far — far better than one would expect in such a remote location. The Italian food served here is even good for European standards. Their pizzas are good, and their seafood pasta is certainly a must try. The restaurant next door is “The Lounge” where we dined in for their local seafood that was fresh and also delicious.

Because the purpose of our Komodo vacation was primarily to scuba dive, there were other tourist activities that we did not explore. This includes a trip to Kelimutu, a volcano containing three colored lakes, located in the district of Ende close to the town of Moni. The crater lakes are in the volcanic caldera and fed by volcanic gas, resulting in highly acidic water. The lakes change colors irregularly from red through green and blue, depending on the oxidation level of the lakes. Another alternative activity is a trip to Batu Cermin Cave that is only 5 km from Labuan Bajo where visitors can see beautiful stalactites and stalagmites. Tourists can also visit Cancar Village to enjoy beautiful panorama of spiderweb rice fields with lush and dry hills on the background.

See our next blog that illustrates detail of our experience on what we think is the most exciting part of Komodo: scuba diving.

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North Sulawesi Diving

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This year, A and I decided, since we are spending quite some time in Indonesia, to travel to Manado, located on the northern tip of North Sulawesi province, to explore the underwater beauty of Indonesia. For divers, North Sulawesi is a paradise. The coral reefs in North Sulawesi are renowned for its marine biodiversity as it is located at the center of “Coral Triangle”, a geographic area that boasts the largest variety of coral species not found anywhere else in the world. Why this broad area is so rich in underwater life is because it is the meeting point between the Pacific and the Indian oceans, bringing a wealth of nutrition to feed the numerous species. There are even more marine species here than on the Great Barrier Reef.

Three totally different dive areas in North Sulawesi are reachable within a maximum of 1.5 hours boat trip. The most well-known dive area is Bunaken National Marine Park. The truth is that when you are diving in the waters of Bunaken, you can see over 70% of all fish species that exist in Indo-Pacific. The underwater biodiversity becomes even higher if we add the additional species that can be found in the other two dive areas: the Bangka Archipelago and the Lembeh Strait. The coral life around these areas is absolutely remarkable.

There were not many hotel choices for us in Manado. Our preference was to pick a hotel that offers a diving package and is also near the dive sites so that we did not need to leave our ten-month old baby Shiori and her nanny at the hotel for a long period of time. Hence, we selected Seaside Resort Santika as our hotel and Thalassa as our dive center. The dive center is positioned on the premises of the resort, which is 15 kilometers north of the Manado city. The location of the resort and the dive center is on the mainland, amongst palm trees and flourishing mangrove forests, in the middle of Bunaken National Park. Such a strategic location enabled us to always come back to our hotel room in between each dive, to see Shiori. The breaks between dives brought great convenience to our stay over there.

We stayed at Santika for seven days, with four full days of scuba diving. The four-star resort is built on a large area of lush garden and is implemented with a good balance between Western demands and local atmosphere. The restaurant on the premises offers food both local and international. The view of Mount Manado Tua, the islands and the sea from the restaurant is simply spectacular. In the large garden, there are a free form swimming pool and a children playground, so that guests can experience a family-style atmosphere. Traditional massages and body treatments are offered by the resort’s spa. There is no beach at Santika since the resort is surrounded by mangrove swamps. Consequently, the resort constructed a long jetty, with a stunning view of Bunaken and the sea. The hotel room, especially the bathroom, was, however, below my expectation. The buildings are a bit old. Also, the taste and the variety of the food (especially the breakfast) needed to be improved. Some guests took advantage the free shuttle service to Manado (about 45-minute drive) for a dinner in the city. We went to Manado twice for tasting local food. Another blog about my favorite Manado foods is currently in the work.

Overall, we were pretty happy with Thalassa Dive Center. Each day, Thalassa offers three dives: two in the morning (8am and 10am) and one in the afternoon (2pm). Divers are given freedom and flexibility to create their own dive schedule. A night dive can also be arranged. Since the dive center is very close to Bunaken, we typically come back to the resort during surface intervals if the chosen dive site is not far from the resort. If we go to distant dive sites such as Bangka Archipelago and Lembeh Strait, we will need to leave in the morning around 8am and return in the afternoon, with a yummy lunch provided on the boat. Another good thing about Thalassa is that a large group of divers is split into smaller groups and placed on different boats, so that we do not feel overcrowded when diving. As part of the dive package, they prepared tasty local food for lunch and also delicious snacks with hot tea and coffee in the afternoon. I personally liked the food provided by Thalassa’s chefs better than the resort.

In summary, our diving experience was really amazing and very memorable. We will definitely return to North Sulawesi again someday for another diving experience. We explored many dive sites at Bunaken that have impressive, completely overgrown steep walls. Diving along the Bunaken’s steep walls gave me an interestingly eerie feeling as I could not see the bottom of the sea. But I was truly impressed with the abundance and diversity of the coral life. We saw schools of different kinds of small and big fish passing by the walls, such as turtles, sharks, barracudas, eagle rays, napoleon fish, parrot fish, sweetlips, butterfly fish, moray eels, etc. With the help of our dive guides, we discovered a wealth of very well camouflaged critters hiding in little cavities and corals on the walls. These critters include a great variety of beautiful nudibranchs, different species of sea horses, scorpion fish, lion fish, frogfish, stone fish, cuttlefish, and still many more. Our favorite dive sites at Bunaken were Tanjung Kopi, Mandolin, and Lekuan 1. In Tanjung Kopi, we saw many kinds of big fish including barracudas, parrot fish, and sharks. The colorful deep wall of Mandolin is impressive, and the strong current will give you a nice drift diving experience. And diving in Lekuan 1 almost guarantees that you will see turtles.

We also spent one full day diving in the north, at the Bangka Archipelago, formed by active volcanoes that extend from the mainland into the sea. The dive sites at Bangka are relatively new reefs, where the hard corals did not have a chance to grow yet. Underwater, we could see traces of volcanic rocks, covered with amazingly colorful soft corals. Here we not only saw big schools of fish, but also many special critters hiding in between corals and small crevices, such as pygmy sea horses, ribbon eels, frogfish, nudibranchs, various types of crabs, and so on. When the sea current is running, the soft corals bloom to catch all the passing nutrients. Although the visibility sometimes was not as good as Bunaken (due to the crashing waves), a visit to Bangka must not be missed.

We unfortunately did not scuba dive at the Lembeh Strait, which is on the east side of the peninsula. The reason was due to the long 5-hour round trip required to reach Lembeh from our resort by car and boat. So, we would have arrived back at the hotel very late at night, and it would not be good for my lovely Shiori. I talked to one of the divers who went to Lembeh. She said that Lembeh is covered with black sand both underwater and on the surface. There is no interesting reef in Lembeh, but it is a paradise for underwater macro photography because of the large selection of rare, exotic, and bizarre species. Exceptionally strange small animals usually dig themselves in the black sand and they are difficult to spot. So, the eagle eyes of our dive guides are definitely a big help in spotting them. Lembeh will be unquestionably a place to dive for us when we return to North Sulawesi later in the future.

Not having an underwater camera and sufficient time to purchase one, I was planning to rent one of Thalassa’s underwater cameras. But, very disappointingly, their underwater camera housings were all broken, so I was not able to rent and take my own underwater pictures. All of the underwater photos shown in this blog were taken by Natasha Monina, a sweet Russian girl we met in one of our Bunaken dive trips, who kindly shared her underwater photos with me. Thanks much, Natasha! Next time I scuba dive, I will buy an underwater camera first, not a dive computer, although Mr. and Mrs. Unger (a German couple we got to know in Santika) repeatedly reminded me of the importance of dive computers for our safety and health. They are absolutely correct! But I still can’t change my mind. Haha.

9

Cocoa Island Resort, Maldives

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A Maldivian honoring greeting “Assalamu Alaikum” conveys a fervently peaceful message that denotes the Islamic culture of the Maldivian people. Maldivians welcome visitors with open arms, to share their naturally beautiful shores which, for centuries, have always been a haven of tranquility for travelers. The word “Maldives” means necklace of islands. The Maldives is located in the southwest of India and is composed of islands grouped in ring-like formations which look like necklaces or garlands from the air. With its location on the equatorial belt, Maldives has a tropical warm climate and abundant sunshine throughout the year.

Three months ago, my family and I had a short and very pleasing stay at Maldives, leaving behind all our hectic schedule and busy activities, to enjoy a total relaxation on a small remote gorgeous island, the Cocoa Island Resort. Cocoa Island Resort is a private tiny island in the southeast of Male atoll (i.e., the capital island of Maldives), with a beautiful lagoon, amazing house reef, crystal clear water and white sandy beach around the island. Cocoa Island Resort, which is part of the COMO group, offers an access to COMO Shambala Retreat – a world class spa . It is a perfect place for pampering ourselves. The spa also has an Ayurveda, an ancient Indian tradition of healing, which helps rebalance our body, minds and soul using all natural treatments. The complimentary daily yoga should not be missed when you stay there. The hydrotherapy pool is also a big plus, which can rejuvenate and refresh our body.

We arrived there without a big plan. Our main priority was only to rest, relax, and enjoy a quality family time together. Travelling with our new 7-month-old baby girl, Shiori, was somewhat challenging but certainly very entertaining. The key was to enjoy every precious moment with her.

Our activities in Maldives were simply doing nothing but relaxing at the resort. We woke up in the morning, sitting on our overwater bungalow deck while enjoying the sunrise and the gorgeous views, and sometimes jumping into the lagoon from our deck before breakfast. One day we booked a spa massage for my mom, but unfortunately my spa session had to be called off because of the need to take care my precious Shiori. Additionally, we also joined their complimentary yoga class every afternoon. The yoga class was easy to follow. The teacher was from India and well experienced. In the end of the class, a cold towel along with a Como Shambala ginger tea was provided for your enjoyment.

Diving is another popular activity at Maldives. Not only Maldives has some excellent coral reefs but it is also well known for its abundant and very diverse fish life that sets it apart from other dive destinations. Numerous channels between atolls allow nutrients to always circulate the Maldives through the currents’ sweep. This results in a vast number of fish consuming the passing feast. I started diving at Maldives with no high expectations, because I knew that Indonesia had much better dive sites. But then the reality of diving in Maldives was really above my expectations. I was truly amazed with the quantity and diversity of the fish I saw. The dive instructor even said that I was fortunate at that time to see unusually diverse assemblage of fish during the dive. He said we could not have a better dive than that in that particular area. I saw napoleon fish, moray eels, tunas, eagle rays, gray reef sharks, sea turtles and many other kinds of fish schooling during my dive trip. For non divers, snorkeling around the house reef is a must. Cocoa has direct access from your overwater bungalow to the house reef. Even though the corals are not very beautiful (compared to Indo-Pacific corals) but you can see various different kinds of marine life around the house reef. It is truly an unforgettable experience.

Now let’s talk about food at Cocoa Island Resort. Located by the sea and the resort’s infinity pool, Ufaa restaurant offers fine Southeast Asian and Mediterranean cuisine. Interestingly, Ufaa was presided over by an Italian Chef. They had a daily menu that always changes day to day so we could always try something new. The food was excellent. The seafood was always served fresh and tasty. In addition to daily menu, the restaurant also offered a set of Indian and Thai dinner menu on selected days. For a romantic and memorable dinner experience, you can ask your butlers to prepare a private candle-light dinner under a simple tent by the beach with water lapping at your toes.

We also went for a private dolphin watching cruise during sunset. We probably saw more than a hundred dolphins rhythmically dancing and playing with each other. The dolphins were friendly and swimming very close to our boat. It was a fabulous ending to our stay at Cocoa Island Resort before we returned to Male to catch our flight back to Indonesia.

5

The Eruptions of Mount Merapi

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Around 400,000 people are currently without homes and had to take refuge at temporary tent shelters, after Indonesia’s most active volcano, Mount Merapi (which literally means “Fire Mountain”), erupted on October 26th, 2010. Since then Merapi continued to sporadically spit out hot clouds and fiery lava. Experts say that the recent eruptions are the most violent listed for Merapi. Rescue workers have been recovering bodies from the affected villages and at least 300 villagers are dead due to burns and respiratory failure by hot volcanic ash. Nearby airports are still closed due to air travel safety reasons. Even US President Barack Obama was forced to cut short his whirlwind Indonesian visit because of volcanic ash clouds. The volcano’s intensity has decreased significantly, but a danger zone remains within a 12-mile radius from the volcano. When the eruption is going to end still cannot be determined.

Merapi overlooks the densely populated city of Yogyakarta in Central Java Province, and is only 30 miles away from the city of Solo/Surakarta, my beloved hometown. I’ve been staying in Solo since mid October, and now would like to blog my experiences with the Merapi eruptions. Fortunately, Solo is within a safe distance from Merapi, so the eruptions do not pose serious danger so far to life in Solo. Volcanic ash rains quickly struck Solo a few days after Merapi’s first eruption in October, enforcing officials to close Solo’s airport for several days. An airborne flight from Jakarta to Solo in which my brother in law boarded was forced to turn back to Jakarta after reaching (but not landing at) Solo, because some volcanic ash reached a certain height above Solo’s airport.

Three weeks after the first eruption, A and I traveled to some of the affected villages to see the destruction from the eruptions.  Our drive started from Solo to three affected villages: Cepogo, Selo, and Musuk. The three villages suffered from evident physical damages resulted from Merapi’s hot clouds. Thick volcanic ash blanketed homes and streets. Trees were all white, covered with thick gray ash. Their leaves were burnt by the acid ash. With heavy rains, the thick ash turned into mud. Consequently, many trees fell (some landing on houses) and rooftops collapsed because they were not strong enough to support the heavy burden of the ash. Dozens of villagers, including children, were busy cleaning their homes and main roads, some scooping ash from the ground while others sprayed water.

Merapi buried surrounding crop fields with a thick heavy layer of ash mud. Farmlands within 12 miles are now dead and it is difficult to determine when the fields become arable again. Experts believe it could take years for the farmlands to become productive again. Snake fruit industry is hardly hit by the disaster as it is one of the most important commercial plants that local residents near Merapi grow.

Our final destination was the Ketep Pass/Hill, located between Mount Merapi and Mount Merbabu (another mountain north of Merapi), which offers a spectacular view of the Central Java’s big five: Mt. Merapi, Mt. Merbabu, and Mt. Sindoro, Mt. Sumbing and Mt. Selamet. However, when we were there, we could not see any parts of the mountains because of the thick ash clouds from Merapi.

I also went to one of the evacuation camps in Sleman (a suburb of Yogyakarta) which accommodates around 22000 people. The evacuees took shelter in Maguwoharjo Stadium, which is a football stadium and the home for the soccer team “PSS Sleman”. Most of the refugees are farmers who lived near the slopes of the volcano. It was a very relieving sight to see that they had shelter and enough aid for food, clean water, medical supplies and clothes. Hundreds of Indonesian soldiers were involved in every form of assistance, from logistics to health support to cooking and playing with children.

The stadium and piles of boxes of donation

Many humanitarian organizations, private parties and volunteers showed concern for the victims of the disaster by setting up new tents for food aid distribution. High piles of boxes of water and instant food could be seen at the aid reception area, managed by volunteers. Teams of doctors from nearby universities came to the stadium to help with health and sanitation issues caused by prolonged stays in the crowded stadium. Even, evacuees could benefit free haircut and wash provided by some hair salon employees. It was amazing to see that many people were trying to help the Merapi victims by giving whatever they could give.

They’re wondering when they could be back to their villages

The refugees preferred to stay in the stadium building, rather than in the provided tents. Mats and blankets were the beds of choice. Some used piles of donated clothing as their beds. One of the refugees said they had no problem with food, as it is always available. Snacks and instant noodles were always readily provided. The situation for children was more bearable. Classes from damaged schools were taking place in the stadium. Children could make a lot of new friends coming from different school districts. Teachers had their hands full of activities entertaining children, hoping to help heal the trauma after evacuation.

Refugees in the Maguwoharjo Stadium

Despite the small comforts in the evacuation camps, many evacuees hoped their stay there would not be long and they could go back to their homes soon. Many refugees said that they were worried about their future as they had lost their crops and livestock, which were their main source of income. Indonesian authorities promised to compensate evacuees for livelihood and livestock lost to the eruptions. Let us all hope and pray so that the distribution process of the disaster fund relief can go smoothly without any major obstacles.

Preparing food for evacuees

I also would like to note that, although aid supplies are adequately available in the evacuation camps, people who are already back in the affected villages obviously still lack of food, medicines, baby supplies and other kinds of goods. So, for readers who are still planning to provide aid to Merapi disaster victims, I would suggest to send the aid supplies directly to the affected villages.

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