I’ve been waiting out Merapi’s action here in Jakarta, working at the Jakarta Field Station at Atma Jaya University. It’s almost been two weeks since I’ve mengungsikan diri (self-evacuated) from the breathing Fire Mountain, and I’m ready to brave the challenges ahead.
The good news from MetroTV last night is that while Mount Merapi is still quite active, the intensity has diminished. The danger zone is now 10km, I believe, (but this is changing, sometimes it goes back up to 15 or 20km, i don’t know). And some refugees, pengungsi-pengungsi, are leaving to go back home finally. This is great news for them, as it’s getting really tedious just waiting for most; I’m getting anxious to go back to Yogya when I’m in this giant city with hundreds of malls and countless hours of shopping ahead…I can only imagine what it is like living in the base camp.
OH! There was a crazy Belgian dude, Daniel Moyano, that climbed near Mount Merapi to film it on November 14-15, just for the heck of it because he loves volcanos. They were showing his clip on tv last night. It looked basically like layers and layers of ash everywhere, and the crater was still emitting large billows of smoke. At least he didn’t get killed by a giant heat cloud. These heat clouds (or ‘pyroclastic clouds’ when English tries to be more scientifically sophisticated) are most interesting when translated:
In bahasa Indonesia, it is called awan panas, literally translated as “cloud heat” – the basic, obvious view.
In boso jawa, it is called wedhus gembel. The first word, wedhus, means “goat or sheep”, and the second word, gembel, is described as “unkempt, tangled, unruly [for hair]”. Together they mean “ordinary Javanese goat” according to a Javanese-English dictionary by Robson and Wibisono (2002). And when uttered in the context of a heat-and-gas-emitting volcano, it means “heat cloud”. One Javanese man said that they use this word because it adequately captures the form of the cloud; it’s heavy and dense like a sheep’s wool.
And in French, it is called les nuages de mort or “clouds of death”, which is true and really obviously quite morbid. At least that’s how this article on Daniel Moyano’s ascent describes those pyroclastic clouds. Indeed, in early November, these deadly clouds of 600-800C raced down the slopes of Merapi and just burned people in its path.
Sometimes I still can’t believe that volcanoes are real [be warned, some pics are unsettling], and not just a part of the landscape in a far-off, imaginary setting like in Lord of the Rings. But then I remember that I saw Merapi erupting. And took pictures of it (so I can prove I wasn’t hallucinating). And that I can see Merapi from my house in Yogya. And that 100 000 people were evacuated. And that over 150 have died because of Merapi. And that my local friends called me and were wondering if I had left or not, because they were leaving too. And that it was raining ash and sand. And that I had to wear a mask inside the house. And that it smelled like sulphur. Volcanoes mesthi be real, dong.