There was another volcanic episode in the news this evening. Mt Etna has been active in Sicily for weeks but now, Mount Sinabung in Sumatra is back in the news too. It’s been blasting volcanic ejecta five kilometres into the sky for a few days. The ash rains back down as choking, abrasive dust. That might seem awful but it’s relatively good news if you live beside an active volcano on The Ring of Fire.
A few years before the Sumatran Mount Sinabung awoke from a four hundred year sleep in 2010, I had hoped to travel to Borabadur in central Java for the weekend. I was already in Jakarta, so the trip to visit the world’s largest Buddhist temple wasn’t as extreme as you might think. The idea was to fly to Yoyakarta and drive to the 9th century Mahayana temple for the day.
Beautiful Mount Merapi is just 25 km from the temple. The local take is that Merapi is a sentient being that chooses to erupt. It chose that week, a few days before I might have been there. I was advised, no told, not to travel. That was good advice because Merapi is famous for its long and cyclic history of pyroclastic flows. You might think of Pompeii. The poisonous gases and tephra at about 1,000 °C in nuées ardentes can flow down slope at 80 or more km per hour. Think total destruction and burial. Like Pompeii, where vitrified brains have recently been recovered from people killed two thousand years ago.
Think of the large town of Saint-Pierre in the Caribbean’s Lesser Antilles. Mount Pelée erupted there in 1902 and killed 30,000 people in just a few minutes. And back on Java, Merapi itself wiped out thirteen villages and 1400 people in 1930.
Staying on Java, and Jakarta, a colleague was attending a business breakfast in a small function room in the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta one day in 2009. He didn’t die when a suicide bomber burst into the meeting room and detonated himself. Several businessmen were killed and a waiter too. My colleague took a long time to recover from very serious injuries that changed his life forever. He returned to work eventually and we admired him greatly for doing so.
I remember meeting him around the time of his retirement. We shared a passion for motor sports and we both drove extreme cars for a while. No matter mine, this is about his. He driven to our office where he showed me around his street legal replica GT40 which he later toured around the US for a while after retirement. The 40 refers to the height of the roof from the ground. So low I couldn’t get in. Except it was the 43 inch, replica version that I was unable to fold myself into. I was carrying a neck injury at the time otherwise, I’m certain I’d have made it. Can you imagine, he travelled the US with his wife in there too. That’s dedication for you.
Caveat emptor: my daily musings may not be complete let alone correct.