This day  (the 26th), is going to be a long one. I was asked to standby at Kopernik for an interview at 9, so decide at the crack of dawn to check out Klungkung. Everything seems perfectly logical until my chain came off on a sweeping, dipping curve before Gianyar. Off came the panniers out with the tools, and after a continuous stream of swearing and sweat I manage to get the chain back on and jury rig the adjusters. Continued to Klungkung where I found the stadium looking like a huge laundry – people drying their stuff everywhere because there was a huge deluge of rain at 2am. The Bupati (Regent) of Klungkung (who I have noted before is an action man) apparently showed up at 3 am to help people move out of their tents. So the policeman on duty tells me. We agree that we both wish we had more like this Bupati!

A woman, an evacuee from Muncan village under the volcano Gunung Agung whose eruption is deemed imminent, attempts to dry her belongings that were soaked by flooding at the evacuation camp at the sports stadium in Klungkung after a deluge in the middle of the night

A grandfather entertains his granddaughter at the main evacuee camp at the sports stadium in Klungkung, Bali where as many as 4000 people from areas close to the volcano Gunung Agung are camped out in tents waiting for the eruption, the timing of which is unpredictable at the moment.

An evacuee from the Agung volcano danger zone walks back to his tent with coffee provided by relief workers in the sports stadium in Kklungkung, Bali.

After the interview, up to Kintamani/Suter/and then Menanga and Rendang. Checked in at the perbekel office in Rendang and they had received the Rp3 million Kopernik sent up and were using it for purchasing food. Good job. I continue down to my destination, Budakeling via Selat.

The road winds in and out of different levels of danger zones but it is a faster route, and where I need to check things out anyway. Having criss-crossed it 10 times now the potholes are familiar. I see people still loading up cut volcanic rock bricks, not wanting to lose out on sales. There is even a woman standing outside her open hardware store. Someone must be buying. Where a couple of days ago it was a complete ghost town there are people bustling here and there, ostensibly only during daylight hours then they head back to the evacuation camps. As everyone knows volcanoes only erupt at night…..

I stop to check out some guys broken down by the road to see if they need to call someone or whatever. With a touch of genius worthy of Mel Brooks, I forget the bike is heavily loaded and drop it elegantly in the middle of the road while doing a dead slow, tight turn. They rush up and help me instead. What a klutz. Meanwhile their wheel has come completely off, but they have someone coming. This is a day for things to fall off other things.

While there are at least 70,000 people displaced by now, there are still pockets who refuse to move as they feel they are in areas that are well protected. But the issue is that they can easily be cut off. Questions of course: do they have enough food stocks to last at least a couple of weeks? Can they cope with ashfall up to 1 meter high? And though they have great springs and good water, can they protect those from ash, do they have reasonably efficient filters? Etc etc. Questions keep popping up.

As I drive through some breathtaking scenery, Agung appears in breathtaking light. It’s very strange knowing that anytime soon that whole area could be just a pile of volcanic rubble. Whizzing down through Sibetan, at the village administrative office I still see loads of boxes and young men in clean bright t-shirts. I call the village secretary on his mobile and he says things are under control: “Aman dan terkendali”. Will come back later to discuss emergency evac with him but right now a small community in Budakeling is the greater urgency.

They are down in the plains, exposed, but because in 63 nothing happened to them the older people are digging their heels in to stay. Wayan Gin who works in Ubud meets me at a warung where I am slurping lunch. We meet the village leaders who rationalize it by saying they are 13.5 km away from the crater thus out of the 12 km zone, but now the zone has been extended to 15. How people have faith in the exactitude of these numbers…. while we talk a groupd of children start helping their mother load flowers into a buyer’s van. For a moment one of the leaders, Gin’s cousin, wears a wistful look “That is our main cash crop here. If the ash falls here that will all be gone…” he trails off.

Children in the village of Budakeling, located 13.5 km away from the crater of the highly active volcano Mt Agung, helping to load flowers into a buyers van. This one of the few sources of income this community has which will most certainly be completely disrupted if and when the volcano erupts.

Of course they are a bit conflicted too, but they follow the elders. And there is a ceremony in the village temple the next day that apparently they have to do when the mountain starts to rumble, a long held tradition. “We have to respect the Niskala” they say. The elders believe this will save them. It’s not an easy discussion to have. I make a crack about the old Arab saying: “Believe in God, but tie up your camels” (talk about cultural mis-appropriation!). They laugh and I think they begin to see the point that Gin and I are trying to make. So they promise me they will have a meeting later on at night to work out simple but effective evac plans. Today some of the elves at Kopernik office led by Mila Shwaiko whip up a simple but clear set of guidelines.

I head back and am halfway up the hill when a call comes blaring through the little speakers in my helmet. Hmm it’s 2pm and am not going to make it to the volcano observation post – have to go back to furthest reaches of Kecamatan Abang where I find a really miserable situation. About 200 people stuck in an abandoned market shed surrounded by rubbish… And if the ash falls thickly they’ll be cut off. So we chat and figure out what they need in the interim. I report back to the Cabal of Strong Ladies.

Today we send them a truck. Except they are not there. Suki Zoe tells me by messenger call that they have moved, or been moved, out further north to Penuktukan which is Buleleng regency – but more importantly it has better escape/logistics routes. But that’s only a few of the Abang lot. Hmmm so tomorrow the 28th might see me traipsing around the Amed area. I’m no expert in evac mapping but this just might involve a flotilla. We’ll see tomorrow.

On the way back I come across a BNPB (natural disaster mitigation team) putting up an alarm siren in Selat. This a few days after we’ve been at level 4 alert. It is acknowledgement that not only are there people up here during the day but possibly some who have refused to evacuate so far. The BNPB guys are friendly; everyone is united during these long, restless days of waiting.

Passing through Suter, I see Agung in the most incredible light with what looks like smoke at its peak. I take some shots, villagers crowd around. “Will we be affected here?” “Will it erupt? Will it be  soon?” I struggle to answer their questions.


text and photos ©Rio Helmi