Mt. Agung – You’re not in Kansas anymore!


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I grew up with prairies, forests, and the sky-blue lakes of northern Minnesota. The earth under my feet didn’t move. Ski hills were hills. They didn’t erupt. My nervous system calibrated to this solid certainty and made assumptions.

I’d heard of The Ring of Fire – first when the scratchy voice of Johnny Cash made the song popular – and later when the Science Museum in St. Paul brought the reality of volcanoes and earthquakes to the tundra.

The IMAX film produced by the museum introduced a different world. I watched mountains spewing fire, their molten guts dribbling down like icing on a cake. I remember the shiver of terror and the thought that followed: why would anyone live there? And yet, fascination gripped me. For weeks afterwards I felt a bit off-kilter and walked around humming, “I fell into a burning ring of fire,” under my breath.

Fate takes interesting twists. Was that day a foreshadowing of things to come? Now I live in Indonesia. This nation has the most volcanoes and earthquakes of any other place in the world. I’ve transplanted my Midwestern beliefs about solid ground to a country that shivers and belches daily. What was I thinking?

For the past week, Mt. Agung, 25 miles from my home in Ubud, has been threatening to blow. There’s a side of me that has gone untested until now. I’ve never faced a looming natural disaster. Ever. In northern Minnesota the worst we had were blizzards. Roads closed, 4 – 10 foot snowdrifts piled up, and school was cancelled. Yippeee!

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Waiting on Mt. Agung is different energy. With every tremor, adrenalin floods my system. I have caffeine jitters though I haven’t touched coffee for months. And there’s an overwhelming helplessness that triggers people in different ways. Some get angry. Some rush out to stock up on food, water, flashlights. Some spring into action organizing shelters, collecting donations, working round the clock. Some cry.

I haven’t gotten angry, and I haven’t cried. But I’ve worried, and I’ve haunted the news channels as well as Twitter, Facebook, and the Indonesian government sites that dole out information in careful bites. Through it all, I’ve realized how little I’ve changed. Something in me needs to know, needs to suss out every factoid and warning. In the U.S. we get used to 24/7 reporting when disaster strikes. We expect to be fed a non-stop diet of fear and distress as stories repeat and images burn their indelible imprints on our retinas.

There’s a better way – I’m sure of it – a kinder way. Somewhere between getting ready, and having done everything I can do, there must be a quiet place in the mind to go and wait. There must be an off switch that allows silence from the clamoring voices and peace in the midst of uncertainty. In the interest of self-preservation, I’m determined to get there. The well-being of my Midwestern nervous system depends on it!



Kintamani, Mt. Batur, and the ride of my life!

Kintamani. Even the name sounds magical, like Shangri-La, or Katmandu. Getting there was equally as perilous, or so it seemed on the back of Ketut’s motorbike. Kintamani is a village high on Mt. Batur overlooking a lake of the same name. We passed these spectacular terraced rice fields on the way.

Rice terraces

Farming the mountainside

The elevation of Mt. Batur is 5,600 ft., and the road up has the tightest switchbacks I’ve seen this side of Norway! As it happened, the road down did too. I so wanted to take a photo of the impossible curves but stopping would have meant instant death, and letting go of my stranglehold on Ketut to grab my camera and shoot from the back of the bike…well…that wasn’t gonna happen! I think I held my breath for 30 minutes. Then, suddenly, we rounded a curve and there it was!

Lake Batur

A flat, straight stretch of road in Kintamani

Behind me is a vast desert of lava from the eruption of Mt. Batur. At the left is a tomato garden. There are red onions, cabbages, and tomatoes in plots nestled among the outcroppings of volcanic rock.

There are two peaks, Mt. Batur and Mt. Abang, and between them is the caldera, the flat open land that resulted after a major eruption. The ground is jagged and lumpy where the bubbling, flowing lava solidified. It more closely resembles desert than tropical island! Bali has many faces.

Hot Springs

One of the advantages of an active volcano in your back yard is the occasional fissure in the earth that allows hot water to bubble out. There is a charge of 150,000 Rp or about $16 to use these pools.

Hot pools of varying different temperatures by Lake Batur.

There were three women in the far pool and while we watched a young man in a sarong served poolside drinks. I felt the water…it was HOT!

The view from the pools.

The sun was out and there was hardly a breeze, but the air up here is much, much cooler than the daily average temperature in Ubud. There were times on the motorbike when my polar fleece would have been a welcome addition!

Leaving Batur and Kintamani…

What a delightful day, and the icing on the cake was meeting Ketut’s parents! They don’t smile for photos, but they laugh and joke constantly the rest of the time.  I do love the Planet Hollywood t-shirt with the sarong!

The one time in my life I felt really really tall!

Then it was time to head back to the curves and swerves for the trip home. Ketut doesn’t drive slowly, but he is careful. I only screamed once. That’s really good for me.

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