The morning of the 30th is an almost normal day. I wake early and do some chores – today I will join the daily coordination meeting held in Kopernik offices. I swing by Agung Siaga’s central post in front of the Arjuna statue in Ubud, and immediately like the people I meet – youngish, counterculture/permaculturish, smart, relaxed and alert. This whole experience of the last few days has brought me in touch with so many different people across the spectrum working hard and thinking carefully about what they are doing.

I create a What’sApp group that links us all together. I head off to Kopernik. I know these meetings are important but for field people it can cut deep into their day. Basically my mission for the day is to assess what’s really happening after the Governor has ordered people who are out of the danger zone to head back to their villages. I’m sure there is confusion going out there as to who can go where, but also I have a feeling some people from the red zone are just fed up with waiting and are going back – I’m hoping not, but am uneasy.

Finally, well past noon I ride out up past Rendang, dropping in at Selat on Pak Gusti Lanang Rai’s warung across from the police station: here the few people who drop in are always greeted heartily. I go in and serve myself a plate of rice and veggies, scoff it down, wash my hands again then make myself a cup of coffee. This has become a little tradition amongst those who know him and are doing some kind of work during this crisis. There’s no other warung open nearby – “Serve yourself, take what you need.” he booms. The cops hang out here and you get free info too! Once again he refuses payment, and once again I put down some money for him to donate. “Ok, if it’s for donations for evacuees I will collect it…”

Then with the police’s blessing I set out for Sebudi and Pasar Agung high above Selat, deep into the red Zone 3, though there is a roadblock on the road that leads upwards. I want to check what’s really going on up there. I am amused when they ask me to please follow the one way road around the block first before turning left and skirt the primitive obstacle that serves as roadblock. As I speed up the mountain, I see one or two small groups of men. And suddenly one or two trucks carrying sand! Aha, this is what I was wondering about. I stop one of them: “Oh we are locals” the driver offers, “But outside trucks are not allowed.”. Hmmm. A little further I come across a group of young men who tell me that in the quarry they are loading manually, and no excavators are working. Even as the volcano threatens them they are wrenching what they can out of it.

Pemangku Nyoman Sujana and his sister.

I continue, and the dogs are hungrier looking and fiercer. Just when I think there is noone left as I get into Sogra proper, I run into a small group led by the priest Pemangku Nyoman Sujana who is up here briefly from an evacuation camp in Klungkung to check on things. At first he is suspicious. Then he tells me that the day before he had caught some men riding an all terrain vehicle who had apparently broke into a house. As it is all abandoned, the temptation for thieves willing to risk their lives must be big. I record part of his rant on video. And he is especially scathing about the priest Mangku Mokoh who posted a video of himself on top of the crater rim. One of the men with him simply spits out “Campah… (“scorn upon him”) – now we’ll have a bunch of copycats looking for glory. Who will rescue them if something happens? What is he really looking for, a name for himself?”. Mangku Nyoman Sujana chimes in, he demands that “Red zones should just be closed off, guarded and secure.”. They hastily prepare to leave back to the Klungkung sports stadium.

And it’s up to Pura Pasar Agung. The road is lonely, unswept, leaves everywhere. Monkeys scamper as I pass. Eerie. Finally I get to the top – oops! I forgot that the actual road doesn’t join the Bebandem road. I’m certainly not carrying my bike up those stairs! So I head down an unknown road through the forest. I come across Pak Komang Suda outside his house. As I talk to him about his cattle (all sold cheaply), and what he might do in the future his eyes go glassy and he stares down the valley.

Komang Suda of Br Sebudi in the vilage of Sebun.

I keep heading down, guessing at forks in the road; swearing when the road turns into a bit of an off-road thing. The Versys has been doing great but this is just on the edge of losing it. I stand loose on the pegs and more or less let the bike take it’s own course. It’s kind of symbolic of these last two weeks! I

Then suddenly a small pick up comes a round a corner with three guys in it.

“Hello, are you from here? Have you come to pick up your belongings?” It’s kind of half question, half bait. “Oh no, we’re from Bangli here to pick up some wood”. “Oh, so you are buying?” and they answer carefully “Oh we haven’t really bargained yet..”. I feel uncomfortable, but this is not my fight. Especially as there are three of them… But now I get a real taste of what the Mangku is spewing about. Onward. Miles later I come across a shiny black Kijang van – and there’s a reporter from Bali’s RADAR magazine interviewing the head of the local school; apparently all the pupils are now down in Klungkung.

Checking our NGO WhatsApp group, I see the IDEP people are going to make a donation to Br Sanggem across the valley from Sidemen. I just continue guessing at forks and finally find myself coming through the green, lush ricefields in north Duda, right near the crossroads to Sidemen. I stop at one camp in a Banjar community hall and chat briefly with the Kelian of Umasari who are camped here. Basically they are well enough provided for; partly because they are on the main road. Down to the valley floor across the river I head up to Uma Anyar, and down a dead end road (for cars at least).

There I find the other part of Umasari, Umasari Kangin, huddled in the Banjar pavilion of Dukuh. 60 people with not much at all. I send in a list to the What’sApp group. I go up to Sanggem and am relieved I made the right call. Sanggem has piles of foodstuff to last them a few days and even a medical team. The Bendesa Adat is totally supportive and also tells me that I made the right call. This is becoming a common phenomenon – camps on the side of main arteries do well for donations, and those on tiny by-roads or in cul-de-sacs get much less attention.

Time to head over to Les through Kubu. It was a late start and I don’t feel like riding thru Kubu late at night. In this arid near wasteland there are silent quarries, ghost like excavators, and plenty of silence (see lead picture). The mountain looms over the whole Kubu area. It’s hot too. Finally I roll into Tianyar and check out one of the POSKOs (coordination posts) for fund raising for evacuees. They are polite and helpful. This is  “Mandiri” (self reliance) camp central. The mandiri camp phenomena – camps set up by locals for mostly their neighbouring villages, is especially problematic here on the eastern flanks of Agung as conditions aren’t great. Water and logistics are especially difficult due to distances. And Tianyar’s danger status has been subject to much local debate. They take me to a house (large by Balinese standards) in a huge compound. 143 people, one toilet/bathroom. Half of them sleeping directly on the ground. Hmmm – I snag volunteer G who is about to head home to Denpasar for a “break” from Les, and he drops in on his way. We are all into this, but he really gets into it – we figure a minimum of three more toilets is needed. So we organize the next days excavation and installment.

Sleeping on the ground in Tianyar

It’s 7pm now, so we head back to Les. G has changed routes – that Kubu stretch is apparently not where you want to be alone late at night. My chain sounds weird but it seems minor. I pull into a Segara Lestari, a small hotel on the beach run by Gede Yudarta. Rucina is in Ubud, and is lending me her room. Pak Gede greets me and shows me in. I head to the dining hall unshowered (I wasn’t going to stay the night but too tired to head back so have no overnight bag). And as ‘chance’ may have it run into people from Peliatan who are related through marriage to Pak Gede. One of them is the son of the late Ibu Arsa of the warung which used to be “tamu” central in Peliatan in the 70s. So we have a bit of a reunion, and having spent a good part of the day by myself I talk too much about Gunung Agung and other things I know nothing about; we have a hearty dinner served on a communal table.

Salt makers in Les.

The next morning the salt makers are out early. Rucina has set up a poverty alleviation program here, and the salt makers are part of it. Dewa is fishing. I pack up the bike and head to the already somewhat notorious Les camp. I’m waiting for Abe, the Kopernik volunteer who is to organize the materials for the toilets in Tianyar. No luck, it’s pouring rain in Kintamani and the poor bugger is apparently soaked and freezing somewhere in those low lying clouds wrapping themselves over the ridge.

Wandering around the Les camp I sit and chat with Nengah Mangku Murta from Dusun Bonya, Ban. “I sold all my 8 cows. They were worth 15 million a piece. I got 2 million each. But we need ‘bekel’ (provisions)”. It’s a recurring theme. He is a strong, powerful looking man. So far he, unlike some of his fellow villagers, is abiding by the government order to stay put, but it must be murder for him, sitting around waiting. Bonya is high up on the slopes.

Above: Nengah Mangku Murta in the Les camp. Below: Kids in the Les camp.

I head to Tejakula, as I had a message from Stuart McDonald that there are neglected camps in Tejakula and Air Sanih. In Tejakula there is a group of 200 evacuees in the village admin office’s hall – it’s clean and cool, they even give me coffee. There are also another 400 spread out through the village. What they don’t have is proper cookers. A quick call, and it’s Stuart to the rescue. Time to head back to Abang, I want to see the effect of the reversal of the evacuation order in some villages. Abang is particularly problematic as most of it will be “safe” but in many parts for example, much of their water comes from Ababi on the mountain, and when the mountain erupts it will be a miracle if that supply is not interrupted. And it’s likely that they will be cut off by road which means logistics to get other supplies will be difficult too. When I stop in Tirtagangga at my usual warung stop, a couple of guys tell me about evacuees in Ngis and Tiste. As I head that way my chain really clanks. Uhoh..

Time for a final u-turn!  I head back to Ubud through Karangasem. I find a mechanic with a paddock stand and we concur the chain is buggered, and the back sprockets are goners. So much for aftermarket chains – should have stuck with the original! Determined, I limp to Candi Dasa stopping twice to get my tools out and readjust the chain – but by now the bearings are shot in the back axle.. I get to Watergarden in Candi Dasa and throw in the towel. It’s 2 o’clock and I’m over it. Stash the bike, organize a car, and call Duta Intika/Kawasaki to pick up the broken bike. I doze in the car, waking up occasionally to chat with the driver.

Today, the 2nd it’s another mid morning meeting but I’m chafing to go. I fill the pick-up with tarps, vegetables and blankets and take Cat up to Sibetan where there is group from Jungutan refusing to move on. It’s a difficult call whether to help them there or not as parts of Sibetan are in danger zones, but they are in a less exposed area of Sibetan. We drop it all off around 5pm, then head to Abang as the light is almost gone, to briefly get a feel of what’s up in Ngis. I chat with some of the women in the evac camp in one of the banjars. They’re not so badly off but the alarming thing is that some of them have moved back up to Poh, near Ababi up on the actual slopes of Agung. Banjar Poh is a bit of an administrative anomaly – officially it’s part of Bebandem which lies over a hill and quite a distance away. In Ababi a few families have moved back too. “They said: we waited for two days, and now the quakes are lessening, it’s safe.” the women say.  Unlike others, those who returned decided not to sell their cows as they have heard the stories of all the price gouging, and instead decide to keep them on the mountain.  Cows are so central to their economic survival that it just about determines all their actions now, however irrational. The women add “Can you give us some spending money? We’re stuck here without any income whatsoever. We can’t even sell cassava.”.


text and photos ©Rio Helmi